Publican Local Focus: Camden crawl

By Matt Eley Matt

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage, Nightclub, Beer, Camden

Few places have been immune to the recession over the past 12 months or so, but some pubs are still thriving. Take Camden Town, for instance. The...

Few places have been immune to the recession over the past 12 months or so, but some pubs are still thriving. Take Camden Town, for instance. The North West London tourist hotspot draws people from across the world, wanting the latest fashions from the flea markets and eager to spot the places made famous by the movies, or featured in songs.

And, as you would expect of a place synonymous with popular culture, Camden Town boasts dozens of pubs.

In fact, make that scores, because on a pub crawl from Mornington Crescent in the south, up past Camden Town Tube station and north towards Primrose Hill, you remain in the NW1 postcode area and can easily clock up a half-century of watering holes.

These range from uber-cool music venues, packed with youngsters sporting skinny jeans and silly haircuts, to spit-and-sawdust traditional boozers.

But the ones that are thriving are those that have diversified - offering more than just the traditional pub experience.

You won't find many with post office services, but they are more likely to take advantage of their function rooms by staging music, comedy - or in some cases full-scale theatrical productions.

The Camden Head, for example, benefits from customers attracted to its own entertainment as well as bigger venues down the road. "We are based near (music venue and club) Koko, which has some big acts, and we are the first real pub on the way there," assistant manager Dan Goodall explains. "We get some great comedians and are really proud of the music we put on.

"The recession has not been bad for us and we are actually seeing an upturn in trade. Unlike some other places in London, Camden has benefited because the weak pound has attracted more tourists."

In some cases, Camden is bucking the trend on a wider London scale. The paths to the capital's pubs are not paved with gold. Just take a walk around the East End and you'll see many once-thriving local pubs now boarded up.

But this sad trend is apparent in Camden Town too. A few roads away from the main drag towards the housing estates it is evident that NW1 is also contributing to the fabled 52 closures a week.

Licensee Michael McLoughlin said the last year has been the toughest in his 17 at the Parrs Head, which sits at the feet of several large tower blocks.

"The smoking ban started it off and ever since it has been tough with supermarket prices, the price of beer and people just not having any money," he said.

So, despite displaying a veneer of being recession-proof, Camden Town is really not that different from any other community in the country.

Yes, it has the benefit of attracting tourists and a lively arts scene, allowing pubs to survive that might have folded in a different environment.

But those that are thriving are the ones that diversify, consider their offer and make sure they are giving customers what they want.

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Dan Woodall is assistant manager at the Camden Head, which is part of a small chain owned by local entrepreneur Michael Nicholas

How much will a drink cost me?

A standard pint of lager such as Foster's is £3, premium lagers are £3.50 a pint. A pint of Adnams is £3. It's £1.80 for a Coke and £3.60 for a 175ml glass of wine.

Do you do food?

We are now just starting to and it is proving popular, but the split is still about 80/20 wet/dry. We do standard pub grub such as baguette and chips for about £5.50. Burgers are about £7.

Who are your customers?

We get a mix with a lot of tourists and a lot of locals. We have benefited from the pound being weak and people coming here for their holidays. A lot of people from different parts of London also come to Camden for a night out.

What attracts people?

We have an excellent selection of music and we get good-quality live bands. We also like to see ourselves as a friendly pub, we are not for the skinny jeans brigade, but maybe for people who are a little bit older, if not more mature.

What are the issues affecting trade in Camden?

People have not had the money to go away so we have benefited from them staying here. More places are opening up in Camden than closing down.

Michael McLoughlin is lessee at the Admiral Taverns-owned Parrs Head, near a group of housing estates away from the centre of Camden

How much will a drink cost me?

A pint of Carling is £3.10 and John Smith's is £3. A bottle of Coke is £1.40 and wine is £3 for a 175ml glass.

Do you do food?

No, we are 100 per cent wet apart from selling a few nuts. I don't have the space for a kitchen.

Who are your customers?

Most people live on the estates around here, but times have been hard with the recession and people are not coming out as much. A lot of the flats have now been sold for student accommodation and they don't tend to come here.

What attracts people?

This is a local community pub and that is the appeal. Sky Sports is very important to our business as well. Of course it is expensive, but we can't do without it.

What are the issues affecting trade in Camden?

The recession - people want to work but a lot of my customers are broke and haven't worked for a couple of months. They haven't got money to spend in a pub and are more likely to get drink from supermarkets and off-licences.

Tony Crotty is the manager of the Enterprise Inns-owned Oxford Arms on Camden Town High Street - near the tourist-trap markets

How much will a drink cost me?

It's £3.40 for a pint of Foster's and £3.50 for a premium lager. All our real ales are around £3.25. Coke is £1.30 and a 175ml glass of wine is £3.50.

Do you do food?

We do, but the split is still about 70/30 wet to dry. We do all sorts of pub grub such as breakfast, fish and chips and lasagne for about £6.50.

Who are your customers?

There are a lot of tourists, but we have also had a theatre upstairs for 25 years which brings in a lot of people before and after shows. There seems to be a lot of people about 40-plus re-living their youth at the moment too.

What attracts people?

The theatre is a draw and we also have Sky Sports. Tourists love the real ale and the food is good quality and reasonably priced.

What are the issues affecting trade in Camden?

There used to be more people coming in from the suburbs but with the economy the way it is, that's not happening. Camden is not immune to the recession, and even though the tourists keep coming, there's been a negative impact.

Henry Conlon is licensee of freehouse the Dublin Castle on Parkway. The renowned music venue has been in the Conlon family for 35 years and has given acts such as Madness and Travis their big break

How much will a drink cost me?

It's about £3.50 a pint of standard lager. But the key thing with us is we are part of a local discount card scheme where people who live or work in the area are entitled to 20 per cent off.

Do you do food?

Not a bite. There are 35 places competing for the food market on this street alone. People come in here for a drink and for the live music.

Who are your customers?

They are generally between 18 and 40, but it is not unknown to have a few grannies in here who like to come and have a dance. We also get people from the music industry watching the bands.

Related topics: Licensing law

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