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“I wanted my customers to talk to people they didn’t know,” says Martyn Hillier, owner of The Butcher’s Arms and unwitting spark of the micro pub movement. “I wanted to create an atmosphere that fostered conversation.”
And foster conversation he did, although, not quite in the way he had imagined.
The Butcher’s Arms is an unlikely catalyst for a revolution and Hillier is an unlikely revolutionary. In 2003, the amended UK licensing act allowed former shops and other buildings to be transformed into pubs. Taking the opportunity, Hillier turned a disused off licence into a basic one-room public house, and found himself at the forefront of a—literally—quiet transformation in British beer drinking.
Unlike its predecessor, the micro pub has no TVs, gaming machines, piped music, or other mainstays of traditional British pubs. The success of the micro pub perhaps says something about the need for human interaction in a technologically-dominated society. At present, an average of four British pubs close every day—the highest rate since World War One—yet this back-to-basics 21st-century phenomenon is bucking the trend.
Micro pubs aim to take the British boozer back to its roots, without the chauvinism of yesteryear. They’re female friendly, for instance, and although Hillier may describe his hostelry in Herne as “a village pub for village people,” newcomers are unlikely to find the regulars falling silent when they walk through the door.
Hillier didn’t know what he had stumbled upon in 2003. In fact, Hillier’s experiment went unnoticed for over half a decade. “It took a while for people to notice,” says Alastair Gilmour, an expert on the licence trade. “But when Hillier gave a talk about his pub at the 2009 Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) AGM, things really took off. Now you’ve got great little pubs popping up in former post offices, station waiting rooms, old dress shops, bakers, and video stores. It’s fantastic for beer drinkers and it’s good for high streets too—there are far too many empty shops across Britain.”
“Now you’ve got great little micro pubs popping up in former post offices, station waiting rooms, old dress shops, bakers, and video stores.”
The emergence of micro pubs is good news for breweries as well. While brewing traditional beer and distilling small-batch spirits has never been more popular, breweries in Great Britain still struggle to find outlets for all of their goods—the total estimate nears 1,400 nationwide.
The current boom won’t last forever, but Gilmour believes the future of micro pubs is assured. ‘They are definitely here to stay. People like them and have bought into the concept.”
The micro pub has successfully brought age-old British traditions into the 21st century, and saved some industries in the process. Go see for yourself, and step in for a pint of craft ale and culture. There are over 170 micro pubs in the UK, with one new micro pub opening roughly each month, which means there’s an easily accessible location whether you’re staying in Hotel Indigo Liverpool or Hotel Indigo Newcastle.