Pubpaper 730 – 50,000 students feed a lot of pubs.

Posted: 11th October 2013 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week I visited Manchester to go and see Russell Brand live, having a few hours to kill before the gig, we parked at the bottom end of the city and slowly made our way on foot to the venue a couple of miles away.  It is the first time I have visited the city in a couple of years and the day just confirmed that it is probably my favourite city in the country to visit and probably the only big city I’d be happy to have to commute to on a daily basis, as I did for 3 years in a previous job.  We visited a couple of bars on route, with a nice pint of their own lager at Odder in the heart of the university area, followed by a stop off at the pub which sits behind the venue for the gig itself, the Aspley Cottage.

The pub on the face of it fails a lot of tests when considering if to drink at a pub. It is very much a traditional boozer, but looks like the last redecoration was when Maggie Thatcher was in power and the drinks selection was poor with only big brands on the bar and slightly overpriced with it.   There were also some strange types hanging about, but given we are sitting there just before a Russell Brand gig I consider that par for the course.  However the staff are friendly and served customers quickly which goes a long way in my eyes.

We overheard one of the staff saying the place was a “goldmine” and I can well believe it.  The area surrounding it is some what run down in places, so rents will be reasonable, and there are no other bars on the main road for about ½ a mile as far as I could see, so it has got the pre gig beer market sewn up.  When you have several thousand people descending on the area five nights a week, you only need 100-200 of them to fill the pub over the preceding hours and you are coining it in.  You don’t even have to try with the beer as people will put up with a generic selection for the convenience and the one off nature of the visit.  At least you are getting a genuine pint and not being charged £3.90 for a can of Strongbow or Tuborg poured into a plastic glass as per the bar inside the venue, at least Dick Turpin wore a mask!

What I did notice is that most of the pubs I remember in Manchester City Centre haven’t changed a lot since I worked there 6 years ago, the big brands still dominate the Victoria Station end of Deansgate and its good to see that bars like Temple (occupying the old underground toilets near Oxford Road station) and the Peveril of the Peak (with the best example of a polished tiled exterior I have seen on a pub) all doing good trade still, with Knott Bar at far end of Deansgate looking busy as always.  It shows that a good pub will survive the test of time without the need to re-invent itself every few years.

Regarding the big brands, Manchester is big enough with its population of 500,000 (not including Greater Manchester which adds another 2 million) of which 50,000 are students to support drinking venues of all types of which there are over 400 if you include clubs and cafe bars.  This brings me back to Halifax and its surrounding towns, the population is relatively small compared to this major city with the whole of Calderdale having only 204,000 people in total as well as having many less people of the peak drinking age between 18 and 30 than Manchester has students, who outnumber them 50,000 to 28,000.

There is only a limited capacity for any business, pubs and bars included, and these students sustain a huge number of the Manchester pubs for the 9 months they are present in the city, also remembering that close proximity can take a drinker to a greater number of venues over the course of an evening that if you went out in Brighouse, Elland or Hebden Bridge.  Halifax or Sowerby Bridge is the only real place where a sustained pub crawls are truly possible, with Hebden having to take in pubs on the outskirts to achieve the same thing.

Yes, we have lost a lot of pubs, but those that have survived are the better ones.   A combination of economics, geography and demographics means we can support less pubs per head than bigger cities.  We need to look after those pubs which are there to serve us still.