I don’t know where she is now, but Charlie Dimmock had it right. Back in 2008, when BrewDog were making cask beer and Magic Rock were still hording colourful pebbles, Charlie was fronting a campaign to run makeovers on that oft-neglected national treasure –
Alan Titchmarsh Beer Gardens. Sponsored by Ronseal, the idea was the most overgrown, underused outdoor drinking space would win a £10,000 transformation, enabling a lost generation of drinkers to knock back their pints of cider surrounded by urban renewal, rather than urban decay. A quick Google didn’t turn up the winner, but it did reveal one of the shortlisted pubs, the Jubilee in York, with its garden looking like a small corner of an abandoned WWII airfield.
Ronseal PR were quick to avert an altercation – “The campaign is not about pointing the finger at landlords with terrible beer gardens, but rather, is aimed at highlighting how outdoor garden spaces – in a pub or at home – can be transformed with a little care and attention.” In response, the Jubilee landlady seems to have stated, bluntly, that customers preferred to drink out of the front of the pub, rather than the rear. Anyway, moving on from 2008, just this week a similar campaign has been launched, this time sponsored by Cuprinol; I’m guessing each of the victors in these competitions stands an even chance of receiving some form of decking (presumably, manufacturers of other beer garden staples, such as ashtrays, heaters, or in Scotland, midge suckers, run their own competitions).
The first ‘makeover’ in the recent campaign was the Avalon in Clapham, taking four days for a team of twelve to complete. As you can imagine, it features a lot of gaily-painted wood:-
— Jane Oddy (@JaneOddy1) June 4, 2014
Great for Clapham beerhounds, but this all sprang to mind after that rarest of things in Edinburgh last week, a sunny Friday afternoon. In turn, this led to that most commonly-asked question – why aren’t there enough beer gardens in the city?
Last summer highlighted this fact, when it was wall-to-wall sunshine and our Andy did the business and brought tennis home. The Pear Tree on Nicholson Street resembled a human termite nest, being the largest and most famous in that part of Edinburgh. Others, such as the Cumberland in the New Town and Leith’s Teuchtar’s Landing get filled pretty quickly, resulting in many a desolate wander to plan B, or (in Teuchtar’s case, at least), a long, orderly bar queue out of the door. Hidden gems, such as the Star Bar, or the Ettrick Hotel, become closely guarded secrets (that being said, STV compiled a helpful map of where all these beer gardens are, to help al fresco imbibers in the city get to their nearest sun-trap).
One major problem in the lack of beer gardens here could simply be Edinburgh itself – the looming tenement buildings block the sun from city-area gardens (or new buildings appear and shoulder it aside, such as Fountainbridge’s Cargo which now seems to only get the sun in the morning). Developers looking to modernise older pubs have little room with which to work, as they simply lack outdoor space. Does the history of Edinburgh preclude the allocation of good beer gardens? Newer bars such as the Hanging Bat have gamely tried to build their own, which is great to see, yet every time I’m in the other capital and see people spilled out in front of pubs, holding pints of London Pride or whatever, that ‘what if’ feeling starts to niggle away. If only the Council would allow us to congregate outside our favourite Edinburgh boozers at will, eh? How great would that be, eh? #Trams
At least we have the alternative of drinking outside; on the Meadows, Leith Links, Princes Street Gardens, London Road roundabout or wherever. Outwith a licensed outdoor drinking area, you can still have a quiet beer without too much trouble, usually. Glasgow is a different story, outdoor drinking there having been (I believe) banned entirely for a number of years. Taking a few cans to the park, if allowed, can be a great substitute for a beer garden – but that’s all it is, really. It’s just not the same as drinking outside a pub; having that focus right there. Feeling temporarily freed from the welcoming confines of your favourite bar makes great beer taste even better. Sharing a small patch of shade with a dozen wasps just isn’t the same. C’mon Edinburgh.
Are there enough Edinburgh beer gardens? Is the city different to other places in the UK when it comes to al fresco drinking? Or are we just deluding ourselves whenever the weather nudges above 10ºC and the rainclouds part for a brief moment?