Saturday, 12 July 2014

Nicht mehr haltbar?

Another sad chapter in the history of Woodlands pub the Halt Bar came to a close a couple of weeks ago, when the pub was found padlocked at unexpected times. However, the pub’s Facebook page was still being updated and various comedy nights were still taking place. In the latest issue of the Glasgow Guzzler we said that it was still open, because we weren’t sure and didn’t want to report it closed if it really wasn’t. Just a few days after the magazine went to print, though, it was impossible to be unsure any longer.

I wrote about the struggle to save the Halt from redevelopment when it was under threat from the pub company in 2012. Then the owner Punch wanted to gut the place and turn it into an anodyne food-led bar of the kind that litter nearby Bath Street. But a loud campaign (as well as the fact that Punch apparently couldn’t find anyone willing to put in the six-figure investment they had in mind) prevented that happening. Instead, Punch appeared to have realised what a gem they had on their hands and leased it to new operators, who gave it a lick of paint, put some candles in wine bottles on the tables and tried to make a go of it. A year ago, it seemed to have been saved.

Unfortunately, even this very mild gentrification drove away the previous clientele of hipsters who had appreciated the cheap White Russians, and while I quite liked both the old and new guises, the beer was painfully expensive for what it was. Occasionally I’d go in and have a pint of mild – I discovered the splendid Cotswold Spring OSM here – but I wouldn’t have two or three as I might otherwise have done. More importantly, I couldn’t get friends to go there with me when they could get much more interesting beer 25% cheaper  at the State Bar round the corner.

As time went on, the tenants played it safer and safer, trying to sell Black Sheep Bitter and even Tetleys. At £4 a pint. The inevitable closure followed.

It wasn’t the tenants’ fault. The beer couldn’t be any cheaper, because they were having to pay through the nose for it to the pubco. I have no doubt the reason for the pub’s failure is down to Punch’s greed in trying to squeeze more profit out of the pub than it was actually able to generate. CAMRA in Scotland is therefore rightly demanding that the pubco adjudicator legislation the Westminister Government has at last introduced should be followed by the Scottish Government too, and preferably strengthened.

On the positive side, the Halt will not be closed for long. A couple of days ago the painters were in giving the interior a coat of light grey. The rumours are true: the local West brewery is taking over the bar, supposedly as a pop-up. It might seem an odd time to take on a new bar. Demand for West beers is now high enough that on sunny days the brewery has difficulty keeping its own beer hall fully stocked.

Weirdly, the bar is going under the name “WEST on the corner”, missing the opportunity for some sort of linguistic pun – “haltbar” in German means something along the lines of “tenable”, “hard-wearing” or “durable”. Perhaps not the most appropriate name for a pop-up, but it will be sad to see the historic name disappear. I hope it doesn’t.

The sign was ugly but it’s still a bit sad seeing the pub denuded

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