Welcome to the June/July 2021 edition of London Drinker.
Happily, on Monday 6 April and there having been no spike in COVID infections, the Prime Minister was able to announce that Step 2 of the Government’s roadmap could proceed on 12 April. Although cold, it was dry and many of us were more than happy to be back drinking good beer with friends. The rules were much the same as before, although now all customers had to register for Test & Trace. As usual, there was the odd false rumour or about-turn, depending on how you see it. It was reported in the press that pub staff would have to check customers’ ‘phone screens to ensure that the QR code check-in had worked but this did not materialise in practice.
Not all pubs have outside areas that they could use, of course. According to the Morning Advertiser, less than a quarter of the 90,000-odd pubs in England were able to open. Those that could not were, at least, able once again to sell take-away alcohol.
CAMRA’s National Chairman, Nik Antona, marked the occasion with these words, “Pubs matter and are a vital part of our communities. We are all looking forward to enjoying the social and wellbeing benefits of being back at the local – and enjoying a pint of delicious local cask beer. It is vital that our pubs and clubs get as much support as possible over the coming weeks and months during this partial reopening. With outside-only opening and then the return of table-service– only indoors in a few weeks, many pubs will struggle to make ends meet after an exceptionally difficult 13 months. For those going back to the pub today, as well as considering BYOB – ‘bring your own blanket!’, we’d like to ask pub goers to be patient and courteous with pub staff who are doing their jobs in difficult circumstances and with a few extra rules than we are used to when we visit our local. For those pubs that can’t reopen yet, please do consider supporting them with take-home beer and cider which is allowed again from today.”
Sadly, there were some problems. The police felt obliged to issue a Section 35 Dispersal Order covering the Soho and Strand areas for the period 24 to 26 April. They reported that this arose from an increase in anti-social behaviour, including ‘intoxicated groups urinating in the street and staging street party style gatherings’.
The weather over the May Day bank holiday weekend was disappointing but all credit to those publicans who made a variety of clever arrangements to keep their customers warm and dry. There were some enterprising drinkers as well. I heard a report on the radio that, on one rainy day, a party turned up at the Gypsy Hill Brewery’s taproom wearing swimming costumes.
The next key announcement came on Monday 10 May. Again, happily, all was well and so, on 17 May, we were able to move on to Step 3 with pubs able to reopen indoors. As expected, the existing restrictions: table service, the ‘rule of 6’ (or two households), wearing masks and Test & Trace, remained in place. The increase in the number allowed to meet outdoors to 30 might open up the possibility of more pubs holding small beer festivals.
The final step, Step 4, is scheduled for no earlier than 21 June (announcement due on 14 June). It was originally stated that, from then on, there would be no legal limits on social contact but this was with the proviso that the Government would be issuing ‘revised guidance on continuing to minimise the risk of transmission’. As early as the beginning of May, however, senior politicians were warning that social distancing and the wearing of masks would have to continue. A number of prominent people in the pub trade, including Patrick Dardis of Young’s and Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s, have been particularly insistent on there being a return to service at the bar, rather than table service. No doubt this will be clarified in due course. The Prime Minister said that, this time, the regulations would be issued early enough for businesses to implement them properly.
Cask is Back!
Understandably, the production of cask beer fell during the various lockdowns as a consequence of the reduced demand and the wastage that occurred. To encourage brewers to resume brewing it and pubs to stock it, CAMRA joined with a group of trade organisations, including the Society of Independent Breweries (SIBA), Cask Marque and the British Institute of Innkeeping, to create a new campaign called Cask is Back. The message, which I suspect most readers will be in tune with, is that Britain’s national drink, fresh cask beer from a local, independent brewery, is best enjoyed in a pub, social club or brewery taproom. This, of course, applies equally to traditional cider. The campaign was launched to coincide with outdoor drinking on 12 April and so, where their local pub could not open until later in the year, it also encouraged people to support them by buying take-home beer and cider there. The website for CAMRA’s Pulling Together campaign (www.camra.org.uk/pullingtogether) continues to list local pubs and breweries offering take-home beer and cider for collection or home delivery.
Please show up!
Finally, I have heard reports of people booking tables at two or three different pubs or restaurants for the same day and time and then choosing which one to go to on the day. One pub in Essex reported 250 ‘no shows’ over the first weekend. I’m sure that readers will agree with me that that this is simply inexcusable. After all that they have been through, publicans deserve to be treated with more respect than this.