Last week there was an article in The Guardian titled '10 things that bad boozers get wrong'. I'm not going to discuss this article particularly but it did put into motion a chain of events that saw me going in to my nearest pub today. Following on from this article fellow blogger Nate Southwood published a 'Pub Experiment' post. The whole idea of this article was to ask fellow bloggers to find a really awful pub to visit and then write about it. There is certainly no shortage of awful pubs around Bognor Regis but I thought I would at least choose a pub that a) was very local to me and b) I knew very little about due to nobody ever suggesting it as a decent pub to visit.
The Ship Inn at Aldwick looks pleasant enough. However, in the past two years it has changed hands so many times that it has probably been closed more often than it has been open. This begs the question as to why nobody can make a living from it? The simple answer is probably because of the fact that it is owned by Enterprise Inns. So who are the new people trying to make a go of this delightful pub and what changes are they making? Read on.
The sign they have plastered on the wall of the pub in such a professional manner suggests Andy, Mel and Alfie are the new licensees. The paw print by the name of Alfie may also suggest that the latter is actually a cute little dog. The previous incumbents decided to take the place upmarket and they were responsible for the 'Pub & Dining' sign but I am yet to find anyone who ventured in there to eat. I also never saw one iota of local advertising and they lasted only a few months before the pub was closed for a further few months. It has now been open for over a month and once again, apart from this sign, there has been no local advertising and no change in the outer appearance of the pub to suggest what sort of clientele they are aiming for. Enterprise Inns were asking £35,000 pa rent for this establishment. Read the advertisement here. I cannot imagine how anyone is expected to make enough money to pay this amount from a pub that has no recent history of any regular custom. A pub that has failed under several different identities. A pub that is taken on by people with no marketing or advertising budget. Surely Enterprise Inns should be helping couples launch themselves. Surely they should be offering them help in trying to revive a 'dead pub'. If only they cared. Anyway, let's see what you get for paying £35,000 pa to this caring helpful company.
The pub has two bars. Entering from the car park you enter into a public bar with pool table and dartboard. The pool table looks fairly new and the dartboard is well used. Probably from a former publican throwing darts at a picture of Ted Tuppen. The decor is similar in the 'dining room' shown below. As you can see it is a very lively pub on a Friday lunchtime. The guy who served me (Andy?) did inform me that the Brains Reverend James was a darker beer than the Morlands Golden Hen whilst I struggled to decide which of these two available beers to try. I chose the latter and I must say it was a very pleasant pint, very well kept and it had a nice crisp bitterness to it. I retired to a window seat and took in the surroundings and an elderly couple soon entered for a drink so I was no longer alone. It was at this point that I met Alfie. This cute little dog was actually a massive boxer type dog and Bruiser would have been a better name. Why they think it is a good idea to let this huge dog stroll around the bar whilst customers are drinking and eating I will never know. He would certainly be useful at closing time if they ever have the problem of clearing out drinkers who are taking their time drinking up.
So what else does this pub have to warrant this ridiculous rent? Well, there is a family garden at the back which is cordoned off and has a lovely stretch of stagnant water that is fenced off too. There is also a function room at the back of the pub which could bring in extra revenue. Peering round I could not see any actual grass in the garden but it is a decent sized area that could be used in the Summer months and I'm sure that is the plan if they are still here by then.
I really wish Andy and Mel luck in turning around the fortunes of the Ship Inn at Aldwick but I fear they will go the same way as the previous tenants. I see no evidence as to the direction they are going to take with the pub. The 'Pub & Dining' sign has been retained but there is a total lack of diners. The selection of beers is uninspiring so it will not attract the real ale drinkers and being Enterprise-owned their hands are probably tied anyway. The outward appearance has not changed at all and there is nothing at all to draw in the locals or those driving past.
I am not sure I have answered the call of Nate Southwood with this visit. If this constant stream of failures at the Ship Inn continues then Enterprise Inns will probably end up closing it down and selling it on to developers. Does that make it a crap pub and should efforts be made to save it? It is in a residential area distinctly lacking in pubs and it should be a thriving local serving the community. In years past it was a very popular pub but it is a prime example of what pubcos are doing all over the country. The more popular the pub, the higher the rent goes and eventually it reaches an unsustainable level. The 'crap pubs' article highlights things that pubs do that they should not be doing and Nate wonders whether these pubs are worth saving. If a pub is crap it is invariably down to the people who own the bricks and mortar. In the case of the Ship Inn it is all down to Enterprise Inns. If someone cannot run their pub properly they should sell it to someone who can and every effort should be made to save these pubs. We certainly do not need another Tesco Express in Aldwick.