The October half-term holiday, a welcome break for the children after a tiring few weeks back at school. Yesterday, soon after my son woke at 11am, I offered him a few options for how we could spend the afternoon: Kew Gardens maybe, or one of the museums, or how about a trip to Tate Modern to see a bit more of “The Clock”? He replied with a one-word question: “Pub?”
Many pieces on this Blog refer to how much my son (who is still 13) enjoys going to the pub. He’s not interested in beer or any other alcoholic drink, just the soft drinks, as long as they contain sugar. He refuses the Diet or Zero options. In recent months we have made very few visits to local pubs. Having visited every one of them in my postcode in a fairly short space of time, as recorded here in 2017, I don’t feel the need to revisit many of them anytime soon. We went to a few places slightly further afield back in April, on Easter Sunday and the following day. I had mostly given up beer for Lent and took him to a different postcode (Hammersmith, W6) for my first pints of the Easter season. They were his first, and so far only, visits to The Stonemasons Arms, The Salutation and Latymers (which I will always think of as The Red Cow).
Back in August a cousin, who lives near Southampton, was telling me how much he and his wife enjoy going to their local Wetherspoon’s, and what good value the breakfast options are. Wetherspoon’s are known for their cheap food and beer but, as I noted in this piece about getting drunk for 8 shillings, I have not visited one for many years. Or rather I hadn’t, until yesterday. We could have had a stroll through Kew Gardens in the bright afternoon sunshine, or made use of my membership of the V&A or the Tate to catch an exhibition, but instead we took a bus to the nearest Wetherspoon’s for lunch. “The Red Lion” is the most common pub name in the UK, but this place goes by the much less common name of The Red Lion and Pineapple. I had been there once before, during the 10 adult years that I didn’t drink alcohol, but had never had a beer there.
We had two meals and two drinks for under £13: fish, chips, mushy peas and a pint of Guinness for me, gammon steak, two eggs, chips and a large lemonade for him. The last time I had a drink in a Wetherspoon’s pub was around 10 years ago, in Hammersmith, on whatever day of the week it was when Guinness was £2 a pint. Even now it’s only £3.15 a pint. By comparison, the last Guinness I bought, at a not-particularly-fancy place in Hammersmith at the start of October, set me back £5.80. At the Red Lion and Pineapple yesterday many of the lunch-time drinkers were on the John Smiths, at £1.99 a pint.
This huge disparity in the price of a pint got me thinking about prices historically, and wondering which milestones I recall: when did a pint of beer first cost 50p, or £1, or £5? Here’s what came to mind.
25p, 32p, 50p
My brother is three years older than me. When he first started going to pubs, a pint of light and bitter (a very 1970s drink) was 25p. It consisted of half a pint of bitter from the tap (more if the bartender was feeling generous) and a bottle of light ale. Four drinks cost exactly a pound. When I first started drinking (still underage by a few years, just like my brother had been) it was around 32p for the same drink: three pints for just under a quid. Soon enough this went up to 35p. You could no longer get three pints for a pound. The music bars we went to charged more. The Nashville Rooms in West Kensington charged 40p for a light and bitter and 50p for a Guinness. Soon enough, by the spring of 1980, this was the price of beer at non-music venues.
In the early 1980s I went off to university, and enjoyed cheaper beer at college bars. I recall very clearly coming home to London for the Easter holidays in 1983 and seeing, for the first time, someone pay £1 for a pint of Guinness. It was at a local pub, not some fancy nightclub. It was also the first time I had ever seen a £1 coin. They had only just been introduced. Before too long a pint of bitter was the same price.
Did I pay as much as £2 for a pint before I gave up drinking in 1987? I don’t think so.
When I started on the beer again in 1997, pints were a little over £2. That applied for another 10 years or so in many places. I’m sure that as late as 2007 two pints of London Pride would still be less than £5. A Guinness and a London Pride would take you just over £5. One of my drinking buddies from the time would typically be on the Guinness while I was on the Pride and these two drinks would always cost more than £5. When my brother was around, and we were both on the Pride, two drinks would be less than £5.
At some point between 2007 and 2010 the price of beer jumped up by 50p a pint. A Guinness and a Pride would set you back over £6. You might just about get change from a tenner for three pints of Guinness, but that didn’t last for long.
By 2013 I was regularly paying over £4 for a pint of Guinness. The Toucan Bar on Carlisle Street (just off Soho Square) and the much-missed 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street were the first places where I reached this milestone. I didn’t mind paying extra at either place: the Guinness at the Toucan is as good as you can get here in London and I loved the 12 Bar, even if the Guinness wasn’t quite up to Toucan standard. By 2013 it was around £4.50 a pint.
£5, £5.40, £5.80
For me, the £5 barrier was breached in the summer of 2014, for a pint of Punk IPA at a local free house. Most of the ale was under a fiver but this brew was £5.15 a pint.
This summer (2018) the price of a Guinness at the Toucan was £5.40. As mentioned above, earlier this month (October 2018) I paid £5.80 for a pint of Guinness at a pub in Hammersmith.
Clearly, the next barrier to be breached will be the £6 pint. There may already be pubs round here that are charging just that. No wonder the guys at the Red Lion and Pineapple are on the John Smiths at under £2 a pint.