Do you ever make ridiculous associations between subjects in your head, and then find it impossible to ponder for too long without returning to the same absurd thought? Well, I have truly outdone myself this time, so here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write in my journalistic career: micropubs are the Scrappy Doo of the UK on-trade.
And I’m not talking about the weird, live-action film released in the noughties where Scrappy Doo was the antagonist, intent on wreaking revenge on the rest of the gang. I mean the Scrappy Doo brought into the mix to save the show’s ratings back in the late 1970s. Micropubs share the same qualities as this fictional Great Dane puppy, if you really (really) think about it.
They are obviously pretty small, but are also courageous, bravely challenging various attacking monsters (or, you know, restrictive local councils, business rates, taxes and landlords) and are incredibly loyal to those they adore. I’ll stop with the Mystery Inc stuff now, I promise.
Micropubs are tiny merely in square footage, for their hearts are as large as the communities they serve.
The people behind these pubs are known to vehemently stick to their guns, serving real ale from trusted smaller suppliers – and some don’t allow phones to encourage real life human interaction (it is still possible).
In short, they don’t take any shit. With rents on properties becoming unfeasible in more areas as commuterville uncurls its claws ever further into the land around the UK’s cities, people are understandably turning to no fuss smaller properties that can be easily converted into a drinking den.
Micropubs can open without too much fanfare in the most unusual spots, creating a home from home for locals, and they are almost always an absolute pleasure to stumble upon.
LIVING LA VIDA LOCAL
Back in 2016, David Catterall submitted a planning application to his local council in West Malling, Kent, in the hope of changing a one-bedroom house next to an unsuspecting alleyway in the picturesque market town into a space where the music is kept low to let conversation flourish, mobile phones are discouraged (although there are no harsh enforcements like a fine jar, which have been favoured among other micropubs) and people can enjoy real ale without a fuss.
West Malling already had six popular pubs, but The Malling Jug’s success – it was completely full on a Sunday evening when I last visited – is a testament to the micropub’s role within today’s on-trade culture. It is dancing to the beat of its own drum.
The pub’s sister site The Dartford Jug recently opened to a positive reception with no official marketing or advertising. These social media-shy setups are, in truth, defying many of the conventions and innovations we champion in this magazine.
But their concepts are built upon an entirely different foundation to traditional pub operations. Not every microventure will be a success of course, and that’s just how business works sometimes.
For now, I’m very thankful that regardless of the rates, rules and restrictions that threaten the on-trade each year, there are still folks out there willing to take the risk in their local community and create a pub for their people.
EXPERT OPINION: Is there enough thirst for micropubs?
Sam Spencer of Bruton Knowles, a hospitality, leisure and healthcare property specialist, delves into the growing trend of micropubs and asks whether these unique establishments are here to stay
There are now 2,000 micropubs across the country housed within a number of former shops and post offices. This is the highest number on record since the 1930s, with a sharp increase of 64% in the last four years alone. But, are we seeing these micropubs close just as fast as they open?
Without careful research and a unique selling point, a micropub may not necessarily be the lucrative endeavour it appears on the surface. We find owners don’t always fully research the full extent of initial investment required with any small start-up. Costs for licensing, business rates and insurance can quickly impact cashflow.
And finding just the right location at the right time can take fine judgement backed by excellent research. Many potential owners may think that larger cities are the best place to open a micropub given the high footfall and complementary neighbouring businesses.
However, a lot of UK cities such as London, Leeds and Nottingham are seeing restaurants, pubs and bars opening (and closing) almost daily. Those left standing are the ones that have something different to offer. So, it is no surprise that suburban residential areas offer a more welcoming economic environment for the micropubs.
Local communities are not only keen to see and visit exciting pubs opening on their doorstep, but as a local community, they want to support businesses that contribute to the vibrancy in their area. So, is there still a thirst for micropubs?
With lower rents, a love of quality craft beer and a community to claim it as its own, customers will always enjoy micropubs in suburban areas as they offer a real return to the local.