New Pub proposal stirs concerns in Farringdon Road

2011bA controversial Scottish brewery is applying for  a Licence to convert what was previously a restaurant into a bar, at 54 Farringdon Road.  This adjoins the existing Betsey Trotwood pub.

The brewery is controversial because of its aggressive marketing of very strong beers, some of which have been banned by the Portman Group, a brewing-industry group which promotes responsible drinking.

The application is also within the Clerkenwell “saturation zone” declared in 2011.

As such, the applicants have to show that the granting of the Licence will not add to the familiar issues of drunkenness and antisocial behaviour already encountered in the area. Consultation recently concluded on including the entire ward of Clerkenwell  within such a zone.

The applicants seem unable to me to discharge this burden of proof.  I have several problems with it, and have made an objection.

Vertical Drinking

First, it will for most purposes become a ” drinking establishment”, and a “vertical” one at that.  The applicants’ emphasis (judging by their web site) is exclusively on the consumption of beer.

There appears to be no detail in the Licence application about the type of food on offer, despite the application for a late-night refreshment licence.

We don’t need any more of them in the area – that’s why it’s a saturation zone.

Location of Premises

Secondly, the premises  adjoin one of the busiest roads in the area, which sees a great deal of traffic, all night.  As the traffic volume diminishes, speeds increase.

Smokers and others standing outside the premises are therefore at serious risk, particularly once intoxicated, of stepping, falling or being pushed into the carriageway and being injured.  This was a recurrent problem with the former “Ghost” nightclub on the west side of Farringdon Road at this point.

Any pedestrians attempting to pass along the road on the pavement are highly likely to have to step into the road to pass by smokers and others standing outside the premises.  I regard this as unacceptable.

The other hazard is that the premises adjoin a railway cutting some 12 metres below ground level, equipped with high voltage overhead cables.  Some drinkers may climb onto the walls of the cutting and fall into the cutting, with fatal consequences.

Probability of Anti-Social Behaviour

The premises are unsuitable because of their relationship with nearby residential premises, consisting in particular of :

The Peabody Estate, Pear Tree Court, Warner Street, Herbal Hill Gardens and Clerkenwell Green.

I estimate that residents of  some 500 flats will be affected.

Then there is the problem of arrival and dispersal routes.  Although the premises are on Farringdon Road and near Clerkenwell Road, the routes by which people arrive and disperse are not confined to these roads.  Peabody residents have consistently reported the use of their estate as a through-route (and as a toilet) by intoxicated people coming and going to licensed premises in the area and it is highly likely that these problems would increase should No 54 reopen as a vertical drinking establishment.

Strong Beers

The applicants are notorious for the unusually strong brands of beer they sell. In view of the issues raised above, it seems to be particularly important that, should the application be granted, a restrictions should be placed on the strength of beer they sell.  Patrons are likely to arrive from other venues with an impaired judgement about the strength of beer on offer, and thus to be incapable of understanding whether it is  appropriate for them to consume it.

Hours of Operation

The applicants wish to sell alcohol until 0030, and food until 0100, every day of the week.  This is a very late time for the sale of particularly strong beer, and seems likely to aggravate the problem of drunken departure.

The hours also seem to me to imply that final dispersal will take place up until 0200.  This is highly unacceptable and may deny nearby residents the chance of proper sleep.

There will now be a hearing at a Licensing Committee meeting, probably next month.

12 Comments so far

  1. [...] it’s quite possible that objections may be raised – in fact local councillors have raised a number of (somewhat alarmist) concerns, indicating that they will be opposing the licence [...]

  2. Ben on January 23rd, 2013

    The focus on the strength of Brewdog’s beers is interesting. The fact that the beers are strong is reflected in their price, and the quantities in which they are served.

    Example: http://pics.lockerz.com/s/278709372

    Note that one of those beers is 18.2% ABV, but also costs £4.95 for a third of a pint. I can’t imagine your average wall-climbing binge drinker handing over £15 for a pint, when they could just pop next door to the Betsey Trotwood and knock back two or three double spirits for the same price.

    Similarly, a 330ml bottle of Brewdog’s 32% ABV beer will set you back £35 if you buy it directly from their website. Add on markup for buying it in a London pub, and you’ll probably be looking at £40+ a bottle (and a beer most commercial-lager drinkers will only take a few sips of, before bursting into tears).

    Is this really likely to encourage patrons with ‘impaired judgment’ to consume high strength beer?

  3. Dr Matt Lodder on January 23rd, 2013

    I don’t think you understand what these “high-strength” beers are, how they are consumed, and who they are consumed by.

    BrewDog are an experimental craft brewery, producing and selling premium, connoisseurial beers to a specialist client base. The strongest of their beers currently available is 41%, sure (so “high strength” it was, briefly, the highest ABV beer ever brewed), but it’s not sold, or consumed, like a Fosters or Stella would be. It’s sold in shot glasses at £6 a time, like a premium spirit. I can’t imagine you make such a fuss about a pub selling vodka of the same ABV in the same measures.

    Even their more standard fare, which can push 8% ABV or higher, are sold in appropriate measures, usually in halves or thirds of pints depending on strength and style and at prices upwards of £8 per pint equivalence (even pushing £10 or £12). I think BrewDog are actually ceasing selling all beers by the pint at some point in the future, simply because it’s not how craft beer should be or indeed is consumed.

    No-one comes into BrewDog (or Craft) and starts drinking the expensive, strong beers on a binge. This is not the drink-’em-quick, get-’em-pissed approach, and in fact BrewDog and their ilk do great work at educating beer drinkers and weaning them off cheap, nasty, mass-produced corporate brews. Their pubs aren’t full of lairy teenagers, or pre-clubbers getting loaded up, or alcoholics. Their approach to beer is more like that of a specialist wine bar selling pricey vintages to wine fans (wines, let me remind you, have ABVs higher than most of the keg fare at BrewDog). In fact, I’ve spent more on a pint bottle of craft beer (£30, made by Mikkeler as it happens) than I ever have on a bottle wine.

    You are basically condemning not only one particular brewer, but an entire movement of innovative, artisanal craft brewers, based on nothing but tabloid scaremongering, misinformation, and ignorance.

    I work in Clerkenwell and would certainly welcome the opening of this new venture. BrewDog are fantastic ambassadors for the pub and brew trade, as they take beer and its culture seriously, treating it (as all pubs should but so very few do!) as an interesting, complex drink, supporting independent mircobreweries around the country and the wolrd in the process. If all pubs were run like BrewDog is, the country would be a better place!

  4. Matthew Forbes on January 23rd, 2013

    Having frequented bars already run by the applicants, I would like to point out that these bars are frequented not by the usual drink as much as possible to get drunk types, but more the going out to meet with friends and relax types.

    Yes they have had dealings by the Portman Group (an industry self regulating group looking out for the interests of the big brewers more than the consumers), but this was due to the packaging of the beers rather than the strengths.

    Vertical Drinking
    Obviously a brewer’s website is going to be focused on beer, being their main product and source of revenue – however nearly all the bars serve food of some description, be it cheese boards, pizzas, burgers, cupcakes or olives. Until they get into the premises and see what space they are working with, will decide what food they will sell.

    Location of Premises
    Having looked at the premises it appears that the building sticks out from the low wall you are worried about. Most smokers will probably congregate by the wall, meaning they are only taking up the pavement that is not lost to the building.
    If speed on the road is increasing at night, surely that is an issue with motorists and not pedestrians, and as such speed cameras or traffic calming measures need to be implemented, the applicant has no control over this.

    Probability of Anti-Social Behaviour
    They have already successfully had a previous application that was turned down due to being a “Violent Crime Hotspot” – http://democracy.leeds.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=35437 over ruled as it was felt that the clientèle would not be the ““get it down your neck” drinkers but rather better heeled customers.” – http://cornerstonebarristers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Brewdog-Judgment.pdf

    Strong beers
    Yes they company sell strong beers, but also charge corresponding prices for said beers. Also the stronger the beer the smaller the measure you get – http://sphotos-g.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/553189_532781513407860_1971092495_n.jpg is a picture of the prices of the beer sold in the Camden bar, as you can see there is no £1.99 pints, and the stronger beers are marked as 1/2 pints. Being in London, these are the prices you should expect to find in this bar. The staff are all trained to a high degree and educate as well as supervise who and what gets served.

    Please understand that not all pubs are out to get people as drunk as possible, as quick as possible, then wash their hands of the issue. This company is trying to raise the profile of beer so it’s no longer seen as for louts who are only interested in getting drunk and starting fights. I would urge you to take a trip to one of their establishments in either Camden or Shoreditch and experience the bar for yourself and see what they are doing and trying to create before the Licensing Committee meeting, so that you have all the facts at your disposal and can make your objections with clarity and a better view of the overall picture.

  5. George Allan on January 23rd, 2013

    Thanks for these thoughtful posts.

    I am afraid quite a few applicants for premises licences in the area have advanced arguments about how up-market their clientele is likely to be, but this has not been our experience, so you will forgive me if I am not swayed by these points.

    I read the Leeds magistrate’s decision before writing my post. I think the disorder problem is, as the licensing legislation puts it, a feature of the “cumulative impact” of the sheer number of licensed premises in the area, and the great difficulty of attributing the resulting problems to any single set of premises, which is what the current legislation requires before action can be taken. The community, Police and ambulance services have had enough, dealing with the existing problems, and don’t want the risk of having to deal with any more.

    Please see my other posts about the saga of the Ghost Nightclub (opposite 54 Farringdon Road) whose proprietor told the Licensing committee how much his cocktails were going to cost…and how this would ensure that the clientele was up-market (etc). Much disorder, noise, violence, traffic chaos, drug dealing, and a shooting later, the Police and Licensing Committee finally saw through this argument.

    That is after all why we have a saturation zone, which is likely to be extended (by a Council vote tomorrow) to the whole of Clerkenwell.

    It is normal for applicants to submit sample menus for the food they propose to serve, rather than waiting until after they have moved in. I don’t think it is right for drinkers to colonise pavements and force passers-by into the road (a “Red Route”, no less – so Islington doesn’t control it.)

    I will take your advice, Matthew, to visit one of Brewdog’s other premises soon. But I am under no illusions that a formula that works in one area automatically works in another.

  6. Ian Prise on January 23rd, 2013

    I’m a regular visitor to the first bar Brewdog opened in Aberdeen. A lot of the comments made by those who have commented above are indeed true. Brewdog provide an entirely different drinking experience, based around drinking for pleasure rather than effect. In the nearly 2 and a half years since the Aberdeen bar has opened I have seen no evidence of any sort of trouble in or immediatly outside. I’m sure if you were to talk to Grampian Police they would be able to tell you the same thing.
    Yes some of the beers sold are high strength, but are sold in smaller measures appropriate to the strength, and do take longer to drink, due to their strength so overall the amount of alcohol consumed is usually less, than if the time had been spent drinking normal strength, cheap lagers.
    No Brewdog beer has been “banned” by the Portman Group, although one did require a name change, having been given a name which was deliberately provocative with the intention of provoking a reaction.
    Your comments regarding the railway cutting I regard as utterly ludicrous, in relation to this application. If the railway is inadequately fenced as to prevent access, by anyone sober, or drunk then that is surely a matter for Railtrack or the Health and Safety executive.

  7. Matthew Forbes on January 23rd, 2013

    I’m glad that you are going to have a look at what they are doing in another location, and am under no illusion that you will automatically change your mind.
    This is an area you are proud of and want to look after, and rightly so, but you have to realise that looking at some of the reasons you give for objecting, makes it seem you are making a bit of a mountain out of a mole hill, but that’s just my perspective.

    On the subject of price, Brewdog and Mikkeller (the other brewery who are going to own half the bar) are both higher priced breweries. They do not have the capabilities of Diageo, Molson Coors, Heineken or any of the other mass produced breweries that produce the standard lagers found on sale for £1.69 a pint or £10 for a 24 pack. All the Brewdog bars use Facebook and Twitter to let people see what beers are on the pumps and the prices/measures. If you have a search you will quickly find that the pricing is pretty much consistent throughout the UK with some cities costing more than others due to the cost of business rates.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  8. Dr Matt Lodder on January 24th, 2013

    I’m sad, George, that you still continue to compare an artisanal craft beer pub with a cocktail-heavy nightclub. The two are not even remotely comparable in clientèle (actual or target), atmosphere, drinks menu, approach, attitude or philosophy.

    Will you take the time to find out how many times the police or ambulance have been called to BrewDog in Camden or Shoreditch (or to Craft Beer Co. on Leather Lane, which has a similar demographic)? Or how many times anyone has been shot at any BD pub, anywhere in the country?

    I appreciate your concerns, but they are entirely unfounded, and, as I’ve already said, seem to be based on nothing but a knee-jerk, tabloid-driven reactionary spasm. I’m a long time LibDem voter, and expect better from LibDem councillors. Please take the time to assess this proposal on its actual merits, rather than on the tabloid-soaked version you are imagining.

  9. Gerry S on January 28th, 2013

    > “I am afraid quite a few applicants for premises licences in the area have advanced arguments about how up-market their clientele is likely to be, but this has not been our experience, so you will forgive me if I am not swayed by these points.”

    Can you please provide specific evidence of this claim?

    This whole thing reads like you are a couple of high school level students given an issue to debate and have to appropriate sides. Certainly your arguments are alarming and alarmingly hollow.

    There is already a bar as near as makes no difference from the exact location of this proposed establishment. How can you possibly invent a series of potential issues with the immediate locale if they are not presently an issue with the preexisting establishment? There is only fallacy and no logic in your argument. Indeed to me it seems highly contrived; indeed suspiciously so. At best I would consider this self promotion by the councilor or an attempt to look involved in the community.

  10. Padraig Gibbons on February 6th, 2013

    For what it’s worth I was in Brewdog’s Shoreditch bar last night and saw four drunk men being refused service. I’ve also seen the bar staff refuse to serve the stronger beers in anything other than 1/3rd measures.

    Whatever one’s opinion on their marketing techniques they seem to be a responsible licencee.

  11. Duncan Borrowman on February 7th, 2013

    George, I am afraid you are just wrong on this one, and I agree with all that the others say above. I happen to be chairman of a social club that has a big reputation for real ales. Orpington Liberal Club http://orpingtonliberalclub.co.uk/real_ale_9.html . I have visited craft bottled beer bars and they are just as portrayed above. Nothing nicer then a bottle of Innis and Gunn Rum Finish and a bowl of Olives at the Leith Beer Company, and not a drunk in sight.

  12. Gerald Preston on February 8th, 2013

    I’d also suggest maybe a visit to the nearby Craft Beer Co on Hatton Wall/Leather Lane which serves a similar sort of market and clientele

Leave a reply

Clerkenwell Liberal Democrats

T: 020 7359 4625
E: