Hamish Champ: London Calling?

By Hamish Champ

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Money

According to legend or myth or whatever it was, Dick Whittington was persuaded by the peeling of bells to stick to his guns and return to seek his...

According to legend or myth or whatever it was, Dick Whittington was persuaded by the peeling of bells to stick to his guns and return to seek his fortune in London.

Many have followed and it now seems an increasing number of brewers whose heartland is literally hundreds of miles from the capital are looking to do the same. Last week I spoke to two who said they were looking at opening a pub in London, seeing it as an opportunity to plant a flag in the country's largest city and act as an ambassador for their brands.

Someone once said to me if you can't make money running a pub in Central London you should seek an alternative career path. I'm sure it's not as simple as that, but I work in the centre of town which means I'm able to observe what a ring-fenced economy it is; never mind the weekend, pretty much every night of the working week sees lots of pubs in Central London positively heaving. It can prompts the question: 'Downturn? What downturn?'

Many such pubs can tap into the ever-present tourist market. Visitors lap it up, even when the offer is not up to scratch. I'm often witness to bewildered, camera-toting, map-clutching visitors - Japanese, Americans, Spaniards - shuffling through the doors of boozers in a seemingly never-ending stream of money-making potential. They gather and gawp at the bar before retiring to a seat somewhere in the back of the pub in the expectant - though often vain - hope that a member of the already-under-the-cosh bar staff will eventually come over and take their order.

Pubs located on the main tourist patches often earn tens of thousands of pounds a week without even trying. When their standards of service slip, as they often do, it can bring a Londoner like me to near tears. "They're not all like this!", I want to cry. A licence to print money, though? Perhaps. Sadly the damage to the overall reputation of British pubs by establishments that pay scant attention to the details can be enormous.

It is also worth noting that not all in London glistens. In the outer areas of the capital there can be found pubs that are virtually empty on a Saturday night. I drove past several this past weekend.

Why are they bereft of customers on what should, for the more densely populated suburbs at least, be one of the busiest trading nights of the week? Are they just, well, not very good, barely appealing to anyone? Or are supermarket deals keeping the punters away? Is it the expensive beer in pubs? The smoking ban? 'Dancing On Ice'? Dinner at a friend's house? Take your pick, as they say.

There are of course plenty of things to do of a Saturday evening. But in my book the best place to start - and often finish - is a really good boozer. But then maybe I'm just old fashioned…

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