April 2, 2015 | Posted in AUTHOR BLOGS | By

Issues With Real Ale Society Branch Pub Crawls

A pub writings blog – I have taken part in quite a few bar crawls lately, ranging from meeting informally with friends and drifting with them from one bar to another, to more organized, well publicized crawls that promise a more controlled time-tabled itinerary.

Oddly, the more organized ones have to some extent, not gone according to plan and covered less ground than the more spontaneous and informal ones. How can that be happening?


An informal crawl needs no itinerary or time-table. The only fixed time and meeting place is the first bar. The rest of the event is made up on an ad hoc basis – they might go to the left and hit The Partridge (I’m using generic pub names here), or to the right and go to The Dog & Duck. They might, as happened with a crawl I took part in at weekend, decide the pub they are in is lovely enough to stay in all night and not even bother with the others.


People arriving late get to communicate with those already at the event by mobile phone – this is vital if pub crawl plans are changed or bars are skipped over, etc.


On to more organized events now.  These are not just a group of friends gathering, but often a public and widely publicized event. The one I took part in last night was originally set to cover four bars, with a fifth bar being suggested (initially by me). The original four bars were included on the organizing group’s online diary of events, in newsletter releases and on notes on various pub bulletin boards. The additional bar being added should have been included too but the publicity literature was not amended to include the change.


Though the opening pub meet up point was the most important, approximate times about three quarter of an hour apart, were given to mark or arrival at each of the other bars, (not including the extra one which was left out of the publicized schedule). The time-table allows for people to catch us up mid route if they are unable to get to the starting point. It can therefore be problematic if the timetable is not followed tightly or pubs are simply added or dropped arbitrarily from a visit on route, as happened last night. No one’s phone number is given out to enable stragglers or late-comers to get updates once the crawl is in transit – giving numbers to friends is one thing – few people want personal numbers issuing in circulated magazines, flyers and websites.


Attendance on the crawl was low, possibly due to terrible weather, but with three of the five bars being visited for the first time by most of us, the crawl deserved better support than we gave it.


At the meeting bar, we made good time, but the itinerary ran into obstacles from our second destination. This proved to be a small very crowded small upstairs bar area, where even the five of us struggled to fit in, and it seemed initially as if there were no real ales on sale. A few of us were already exiting when word came up the line that there was a real ale on offer to us after all, as well as downstairs seating.


We eagerly went back in, and downstairs to find ourselves in the restaurant and having to await waiter service for our drinks. The waiters seemed rather confused that we only wanted the ale and not food, and we had to wait our turn among the many diners. This inevitably threw the later time-tabled activity into chaos. We should really have aborted this bar in order to get back on schedule.


The third bar, that which was added at my request, was not added to the written itinerary, so just by going there now we were further abandoning the time-tabled programme. This proved to be a lovely bar with two real ales and a barman who was clearly delighted to find real ale enthusiasts had discovered him.


One of our members had left his coat on a seat by one vacant table, so two of us, once served, naturally assumed this was where to sit, but the others, including the coat owner then went to another table entirely, instantly creating a sense of division in the crawl group, and treating another seat / table like a personal cloak-room. We had a choice of relocating to join the splitters or staying where we were, and we chose to stay put. To me if a group of members of a society are on a ‘social’ crawl together they really ought to stay together as much as possible – this may not always be possible in more crowded bars, if we arrive in large numbers, but at this bar there was really no excuse.


One of our group’s attending committee members engaged in a lengthy chat with the publican that chewed further into our time-table. This really ought to have been curtailed with an invitation to set an appointment to discuss things further later. Others present now saw that we had time left to visit only one of the other two bars on the crawl – not both. One attendee just drank up and head off to the one of his choice anyway. I can’t blame him. Others were left in Limbo wondering whether to get more beer at the pub we were in, or move on too. This is always a quandary on pub crawls – as you need to know when the group will move on before buying more beer – if the time to move is imminent you may not get to finish a freshly bought beer – following a schedule more strictly helps stop this to some extent. Here, however, everyone was left guessing when a rolling conversation between one member and a publican might finish, or having to choose whether to move on independently, again fragmenting any sense of a group ‘social’ event in progress.


We hit the last new pub on the itinerary, over an hour behind schedule, and again it was a great bar. Here we met briefly with two other members of the group who had gone to the later bars at times promised by the schedule, and seemed non-plussed at not finding the rest of us there.  They had a point – not only did we miss them (they were just leaving as we arrived) we potentially missed any members of the public who might have been along to those bars not attended in the expectation of meeting us. Even had we gone along anyone not knowing us would not have easily identified us apart from other drinkers as we had no real ale society tee-shirts, stickers or indicators to identify us as anything but a general bunch of blokes in the pub. There were no ladies present on this crawl.


My unhappiness at the crawl not being completed was met with the assertion that as some members had been to the pubs I personally (and the others with me) had not been to, we had covered all five bars. NO! We did not go as a social group; splitting into separate groups and even to separate tables within one bar factionalizes us, and even becomes to a degree anti-social.  The cohesion and solidarity of the group should be paramount in consideration, and a promoted publicized social time-table should be kept up as far as possible – clearly last night that was far from the case.  I hope the situation improves in future.  The pubs and beers sampled were all excellent, but our own approach to this crawl left something to be desired.


Arthur Chappell.


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