It’s been a bad decade for the pub industry. Since 2005, Ireland has lost 1,500 of them, while the UK has lost 25% of all its pubs since 2008.
With rising rent on one side, and the looming threat of the ‘chain pub’ on the other, independent pub owners in particular have started to feel the pinch.
But those that adapt survive. Here are six pubs that are far from the ordinary – or just downright odd, and all the more brilliant for it.
If you get the chance, go visit them…
A small establishment with an expansive beer list and a 1920s-living-room vibe, Cork’s Hi-B is a decidedly odd place. A gent’s loo like a sewer, a sound system made up exclusively of vinyl LPs, and a tyrannical owner who has been known to prowl the premises in his pyjamas.
But the pub’s notoriety rests on one thing above all: On pain of expulsion, mobile phones are banned. This could have gone one of two ways: a burgeoning reputation as a popular indie pub with a cool gimmick, or immediate bankruptcy. Fortune, it appears, favours the brave, and Hi-B is now a thriving venue with a regular, and fiercely loyal clientele.
Hidden down a side street near Finsbury Park station and covered with a writhing mass of ivy, it’s not immediately obvious why the Faltering Fullback is so special.
The main drinking room contains a pool table and music area, flanking several rows of wooden tables and benches. Nothing to see here, except perhaps flashbacks to your school cafeteria. The main bar room is covered with vines and creepers, with guitars and bicycles hanging from the ceiling. Pretty cool, but par for the course in London’s quirkier establishments. B+ must try harder.
It is only when you step out into the garden that the hype begins to become real. For obvious reasons, large beer gardens in London are few and far between – this pub solves the problem by building up. The result is a three-storey wooden labyrinth of greenery-covered merrymaking.
Some pubs have to work hard to be interesting, quirky and different. But some pubs are simply born that way.
Hewn into the cliffs near the coastal town of South Shields, the aptly named Marsden Grotto claims to be the only pub in the UK to pull its pints inside a cave. From the 1700s, the caves served as a den for North Sea smugglers before a canny barman gained a liquor license some time in the 19th century.
The interior is the stuff of folklore – a jagged cavern of dimly-lit rock faces, supposedly haunted by enough ghosts to form a football team.
You might think that even in the age of the digital watch and the escalator, the simple act of drinking would retain a certain low-tech purity. Not so for the Westbourne Pub in Swansea – one of Britain’s first ‘iPubs’. Visitors can order drinks from a tabletop iPad, and pull their own pints from a row of self-service taps.
“The system has a strict dispensing mechanism”, said landlord Mark Lingwood in 2014, in response to the obvious question. “People can’t pour any more than what they’ve paid for.”
The pub has now doubled down by adding an in-house webcam, accessible via their website – great for punters looking to see if their favourite table is free, or for foreigners wishing to learn about Welsh drinking culture.
There is no one way to translate a pub’s charms into the 21st century, and while some do so by revamping their look, or buying an extra dartboard, others turn their attention back to the bottom line – the booze.
Though craft beer breweries are now ten to the dozen in most major cities, Seumas’ Bar on the Isle of Skye boasts an extraordinary whisky collection. You can find over 450 malts stacked together in their famous ‘wall of whisky’ – perhaps enough for a dram or two.
Alternatively, if selling liquor no longer seem lucrative – don’t. A Lancashire institution, Fitzpatricks Temperance Bar features a conventional-looking bar stocked with conventional-looking bottles, none of which contain even a drop of alcohol. The temperance movement began in the early 19th century to save the common man from Satan’s liquors.
For entirely obvious reasons, most of their establishments have now closed down – but Fitzpatrick’s valiantly fights on, conjuring up an ever-evolving menu of milkshakes, herbal tinctures and non-alcoholic root beers. Strangely enough, it’s flourishing.
- Press Association