The average London pint is about to hit £4. What the hell happened?
The growing cost of pouring it up
The cheapest pints in Britain can be found in places where you wouldn’t want to have one: Worcestershire, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Wales.
Away from the hard stares and incest-ridden families you’ll find in shire pubs, the only place you want to have a drink – London – is facing a cultural watershed.
This week a Citybase infographic revealed the average cost of a pint in the capital is £3.92 – the most expensive in the country. It’s not a particularly shocking figure when presented like that.
But when the average hits £4.00 – likely in the near future -people will notice, they will talk and there will be a Littlejohn column in the Mail pointing out that lager was 14p a pop back in 1973.
The Singer Tavern on City Road sits on the border between Hackney and Islington. It’s surrounded by banks, start-ups and big insurance companies.
On the menu are the beers and ales driving up the average cost of a pint across the city: a £10 Buxton Two Ton DIPA and a £7 Pt Bonita Rustic Lager. Suddenly £4 doesn’t seem too bad.
Inside there’s understated neon, tasteful speciality whiskeys, brass fixtures and columns covered in cream and green tiling. The soundtrack is cool 90’s Dad (Blur and New Order) and none of the clientele are younger than 30. The men drink the expensive lager and the women drink the expensive red wine.
I order the priciest ale they have on the night – Gotlands Mors Lilla Bulldog Blåbärs IPA- it’s bitter and perfumey, with a blueberry aftertaste. It’s not spectacular but I don’t feel soiled paying £7 for it either.
Nobody in the Singer is put off by the prices: not Anton, a Ukrainian financial analyst who hasn’t paid less than a fiver for a beer since moving here from Kiev two months ago, not the three Scottish guys who work “where insurance and IT intersect” – they point out I could be paying a similar price for a Peroni down the road at All Bar One.
Why shouldn’t we pay extra, especially if what we’re getting tastes better?
It’s not an argument Eddie Gershon, PR man for Spoons since they were a chain of five pubs in the 1980’s accepts. He told me: “You’d have to be stupid to buy a £10 pint, even in London.
“Pricing here does bring unique pressures. There’s a difference between running a pub in Llandudno and running a pub in King’s Cross. Even in the heart of London you’ll find our pubs – like the one in Soho – selling Punk IPA at £2.90 a bottle.”
Hamilton Hall is one of Eddie’s typical inner city Spoons, a ten minute walk away from the Singer Tavern. A former ballroom, the grandeur of the space can’t hide the fact that a Spoons is still a Spoons and all Spoons, wherever they are found, retain the same basic characteristics.
More conversations about football (“Demba Ba was underrated for me”), more people taking selfies, more high vis jackets at the bar, more graffiti on toilet walls, more piss on toilet floors, more old people. Carlsberg costs £3.40 but unfortunately it tastes like Carlsberg.
The two old men I talk to about beer shake their heads sadly when I put it to them the average pint will soon cost £4.00.
Eddie’s vision, which also happens to be a common myth many of us maintain about London drinking, is that the further away you get from the inner citadels of wealth and power, the cheaper it is to get pissed.
It’s simply not the case. Underneath the towers of infinite money in Canary Wharf, a bustling trad-pub like The Henry Addington serves cheaper lager than The Grange, a suburban gastro joint in zone three Ealing where Camden Hells is £5.75.
The £4 pint remains on the horizon, but even when it does exist it’s hard to argue it’ll represent a tipping point. Instead it will occupy the phantom middle-ground between a place like the Singer Tavern where the drinks are too expensive and a place like Hamilton Hall where you can smell the toilet from the bar.
While it will be a landmark, observing the old geezers in Spoons convinced me that rising costs won’t change beer or the activities associated with beer – watching sports on television, chatting shite, assigning strangers a number based on how good looking they are – these can survive anything.
For people who don’t drink in shitholes, the £4 pint has been a reality for a very long time. Graduates in London are accustomed to being ripped off, even for off the peg crap like Foster’s – but it doesn’t mean they aren’t annoyed.