|A vintage Billiards medal by Pinches of London. A game and dress-code from another era, although Billiards has not yet been completely overtaken by Snooker.|
The continued loss of traditional drinking pubs and community locals is creating a vacuum for pub enthusiasts like myself which no amount of off-the-peg chain bars and new-build family dining 'pubs' are likely to fill. The reasons for this decline are manifold, but certainly includes the serial neglect and sometimes deliberate running-down of otherwise viable pubs by some of the larger brewers and pub owning companies. But whatever the underlying reasons, the fact is that some of the older traditional boozers are now just too big to succeed in the current market without major investment from people who genuinely care about our pub tradition. Some of the smaller brewers have shown this commitment, the Project William partnership with Everards Brewery being an excellent example. Another example where people with a genuine enthusiasm for pubs are filling the gaps left by the larger cash-strapped operators, is the relatively new concept of the Micropub.
Micropubs have been around for a few years now, but it's within the last year or two that the concept has really taken off, probably a direct result of this spiralling decline of traditional wet-led pubs. Small, bespoke licensed premises specialising in quality beer and cider, and the very best traditions of social pub-going without the distractions of a busy kitchen or a multitude of televisions. It's proving to be a winning combination for many, though one which is always likely to be 'niche' given the diminutive nature of the premises, and the fact that not everyone seems to like the social side of pubs and drinking! Micropubs are springing up at an ever-increasing rate, and I hope to feature a few of them on here in the near future.
Traditional pub games fit nicely with the micropub concept, though given the space restrictions, some games such as Darts and Skittles are not really appropriate. Dominoes and Cards are of course perfect for such small and intimate spaces, as shown in the image above at the recently opened Abdication micropub at Daybrook in Nottingham.
This Bar Billiards table can be found at the Sandford Park Alehouse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Owner Grant Cook obviously has a keen interest in the game, having previously installed what still remains the only such table in Leicester at the Swan & Rushes. The Sandford Park Alehouse is a bright and modern homage to the brewers arts, but it's nice to see that space for a traditional game has also been found in the bar.
The front bar of the multi-roomed Red Lion in Earl Shilton, Leicestershire. Wear and tear on this table is a clear sign of enthusiastic Domino play at this friendly and still relatively unspoilt boozer. A former Bass Brewery house which has always had a good reputation for its ales, Draught Bass in particular which was in excellent form when I visited. Sadly, current owners Punch Taverns have neglected the pub to the point where it's now desperately in need of refurbishment for the pub to realise its full potential. Unfortunately the chances of this happening seem slim given Punch's massive debts, and their track record of chronic underinvestment in their estate.