A look at the rising popularity of the micro pub
In George Orwell’s ideal pub, the Moon Under the Water, the author favoured a Victorian ambience. No pretence. Even the stale tobacco smoke, a sight that few people born after 1990 are able to remember in public houses. Lager had yet to make its presence known properly fifteen years after his article was published in the London Evening Standard.
He also states the lack of background music. That the radio would stifle conversation in the same way big screen televisions do so to a point today. Plus he insisted that his pub would have more than one room. Not only the Public Bar and Lounge, but also a Ladies’ Bar and an upstairs dining room. Apart from the lack of a ladies’ bar and fewer partitions, this could describe The Sportsman on Mottram New Road in Hyde to a tee.
With today’s climate, a pub with four different rooms wouldn’t be built. Pubs tend to close instead of open but, bucking the trend, is the Micro Pub.
Why Micro Pubs?
Micro Pub is a modern-day term. We have always had micro pubs, though they have never been referred to as such. The traditional street corner alehouse could be a micro pub, if it opened in 2017 instead of 1907. There has been small pubs since the late 19th century and earlier. Two prime examples in Greater Manchester are The Queen’s Head in Stockport and The Circus Tavern, Manchester’s smallest pub. Not only the city centre’s smallest pub; it is smaller than some of today’s micro pubs (only one cask ale is sold).
What the pre-micro pub era of micro pubs have in common with their contemporaries is atmosphere. Smaller pubs allow for one thing: good conversation. An intimacy where talking to strangers (and sharing their tables) are encouraged.
Where today’s micro pubs differ from small pubs is their layout and the kind of sites they use. Sometimes, the landlord lives away from the pub instead of over the bar; particularly so with modern shop units. Likewise with single storey buildings. The landlord may insist on using the first floor for additional seating space – a smaller version of the upstairs dining room or function room.
Shop units are a popular option for micro pubs. Other non-pub associated buildings are used: for example, public toilets. Both types of units in their converted forms are attractive to customers (easy access and a good town centre location) and micro-publicans (vehicle access). With smaller units, profitability per square feet is greater than, for example, an estate pub.
Space limitations can stymie the amount of cask ales served at a given establishment. If the premises lack cellar access, cask ales can be served in gravity fed form. There, barrels are placed at a 45º angle towards the floor or the glass. Alternatively, smaller barrels could be placed underneath the bar top. Or there could be a wide range of bottles, available for consumption on or off the premises.
In most cases, micro-publicans go for a range of beers served a short distance from their premises. This, not only due to the expense in logistics, is also a shop window for local brews that Pubcos wouldn’t deal with. Some smaller concerns may be unable to meet, for instance, Heineken Pubs’ or J.D Wetherspoon’s terms (see also supermarkets’ relationships towards suppliers).
With a wealth of bottled beers and locally brewed cask ales, they offer drinkers a real choice. Sometimes, a major pub chain’s real ale offerings or choice of guest ales could be jaded to some drinkers’ tastes.
A selection of micro pubs
Here’s Top Beer’s favourite micro pubs within the North of England.
179 Lee Lane, Horwich, Lancashire, BL6 7JD
We stumbled upon this gem next door but one from The Bowling Green. The whole pub takes up a single dwelling of a terraced house and is kitted out in modern style. There is a wide range of bottled beers, plus cask ales and craft keg beers. On our visit, the salted caramel craft keg stout was unbelievable.
2. Crown Point Tavern
16 Market Street, Denton, Lancashire, M34 2XW
Few micro pubs can lay claim to being visited by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. The Crown Point Tavern, situated in a 1970s shop unit, belies its architectural leanings by having a traditional pub interior. Its cask ales are worth sampling with ⅓ pint taster glasses available.
3. Browton’s Bottle Shop
8 Fletcher Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, M34 2XW
A bottle shop which offers a good selection of continental bottled ales and British beers. Simon Browton’s enterprise has gained popularity throughout Tameside for its good atmosphere and wide selection of bottled beers. If you’re in Ashton, a nice change from the usual offerings.
4. Bridge Beers
55 Melbourne Street, Stalybridge, Cheshire, SK15 2JJ
Opening early last year with great fanfare, Bridge Beers offers regular cask beers (gravity fed) from local breweries. Many of which are within a ten mile radius of Stalybridge including Mouselow Farm’s offerings. There is also a good selection of bottled beers and an upstairs room, which is akin to having a cheeky drink in your parent’s bedroom with your mates. Whilst you’re housesitting.
5. Calan’s Micropub
3 The Courtyard, Bridge Gate, Hebden Bridge, West Riding of Yorkshire, HX7 8EX
Situated in the centre of Hebden Bridge, Calan’s Micropub has an ever changing selection of cask conditioned ales, from as far afield as the Orkney Isles as well as nearby Todmorden. Inside, its intimate seating layout encourages conversation with complete strangers, which is preferable to the outdoor seating. On our visit, we had the fantastically titled Mildy McMildface, Trinity Brewing’s dark mild.
Pork pies and Stoodley Swirls – both locally baked – are available behind the bar. Plus the beer is well priced – cheaper than a lot of pubs in Hebden Bridge at £3.00 a pint (and no mass produced lager in sight). A small, friendly, micro pub where the quick pint becomes four in no time at all. Highly recommended.
6. The Market Tavern
Brighouse Market, Brighouse, West Riding of Yorkshire, HD6 1JX
Since the market traders’ mess hut and toilet was converted to a micro pub, The Market Tavern has become a valuable addition to the Brighouse scene. There are six to eight cask conditioned ales at any one time, plus the usual pork pies to go with your pint. Its layout is well thought out with the toilet away from the public bar. No quick pint or two in Brighouse is complete without calling into The Market Tavern (plus, if you want something substantial afterwards, Blakeway’s Fish and Chip Restaurant is a stagger away).
Any more honourable mentions?
Feel free to add to our six pack of micro pubs, or elaborate on the six we have mentioned. Do you have any more favourites within their proximity? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 30 May 2017.