The main argument I often see against an introduction of Spoons (the pub chain, not the utensil) is that it would suck the life and custom from other pubs in the town, therefore ruining the presence of top-quality, rustic “locals”, i.e. pubs that are generally independent as well as being run and patronised by the local population.
However, as Archie Batra wrote in Viewpoint in November of last year, there aren’t a great many decent, local pubs left in St Andrews anyway. As a first-year Yorkshireman, I was appalled upon arrival in St Andrews at the shocking level of choice in the town for a decent, affordable, and comfortable place to drink. The fact the threshold (as described in The Saint’s review of Fairmont Hotel’s new vegan pub) for a pint to be considered “good for the budget-conscious student” is £5 almost gave me a heart attack. After forking out nearly a tenner for a two-person round at the Whey Pat back in September, I suddenly realised I really wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
This brings me back to the argument about the local. One of the reasons the Pint Price Index (or PPI, let’s see if RBS can mis-sell this one) for St Andrews has skyrocketed is the relative monopoly over the area’s alcoholic retreats a single chain has. Belhaven pubs, as far as I can tell, enter establishments like the bloody grim reaper enters folk’s homes, sucking the life out of the place and leaving behind a cold, dead corpse. It’s an expensive corpse too, mind you. With barely any competition, Belhaven has enjoyed beefing up the prices of our favourite boozers.
Thankfully I had the pleasure of having my tea in the Blue Stane the weekend before the aforementioned grim reaper came along, and the fact that fish n’ chips and a pint didn’t cost me my right nut was actually quite refreshing. I was certainly looking forward to going again. Sadly, within a fortnight or so, the Blue Stane was no more. The Belhaven reaper had done its deed, and in its wake lies yet another emotionless, bland, expensive victim.
Here also lies the greatest contradiction to the introduction of a Spoons. If the fear of a big pub chain ruining your local is what drives your opposition to a Tim Martin marvel, then the beast that is Belhaven can already count you amongst its hellish, subservient, and indoctrinated ranks. Wake up! The chain is already here, for Christ’s sake! Belhaven pubs are zombies of their former selves, trapped in limbo between being decent, affordable, competitive proper locals and being given the sweet release of death. One pub chain has already knackered the St Andrews local, we might as well have a genuinely affordable one in town as well.
I know there are non-Belhaven pubs to frequent in town – the Rule, Brewco, and Aikman’s being but three prime examples – however, this lot provide nowhere near enough competition against Belhaven’s monopoly. Not only this, but these places struggle to get their PPIs under the £3 mark either (I don’t care what anyone says, a pint has to be under £2.50 to be “affordable”. Fact.) What St Andrews needs is genuine competition to make nights out more enjoyable and less costly. Pubs should be places to casually come to with friends to responsibly (or not) enjoy a pint of something, not a place to fear for your entire life savings. If I wanted to be robbed, I’d go home to Wakefield and wander around dark alleyways at night, at least then I might get some adrenaline; the same can’t be said for drinking in the Central.
Of course, there is the Union. Main Bar’s PPI gets quite close indeed to the affordable mark, but a student union shouldn’t be the only cheap place in town. There needs to be alternatives. After all, it’s a student union, and doesn’t feel like a pub per se, more like a café; it just feels weird to drink in there. And once again, it offers no viable, genuine competition to the behemoth of Belhaven.
To those understandably worried about students piling into one place, getting battered all the time and being rowdy, I’d say, first of all, that it happens anyway and when it does it really isn’t that bad. Compared to places such as Newcastle, Sheffield and so on, St Andrews students are relatively tame. For those who haven’t been on a night out in these places, think Raisin Sunday except precisely 17.65 times bigger, drunker and rowdier. Pubs in St Andrews on busy nights manage their punters quite well, and a Spoons would be no different.
I would argue a chain that has a large amount of business in families and other patrons being welcome, even the roughest of Spoons (trust me, if you’ve ever been to the Six Chimneys in Wakey you’ll know what a rough Spoons looks like) ensure the crazy drunkenness doesn’t get too out of hand. With this being said, I doubt a St Andrews Spoons would be anything like the Six Chimneys. Even if it were, it’d be a cracking place to go.
It makes me wonder then why Tim Martin hasn’t set up shop here. Students have been bellyaching for a Spoons in this town for years and if he did, he’d probably make a small fortune. He’s got one about 20 miles down the way in the little town of Broughty Ferry with very few regulars (I spent a weekend there; it’s dead most of the time) so why not a town where locals, families AND a local army of students would frequent? Perhaps Belhaven has him under some sort of spell as to maintain their reign of terror over the St Andrews local. Much like Sleeping Beauty, perhaps Mr Martin needs a good kiss on the lips to wake him from his slumber.
In any case, though, the argument for a Spoons is clear. There is an obvious market and demand for an affordable pub in town, i.e. a pub that sells you a pint for less than £3.50. The argument against it that it’ll somehow ruin the already ruined character of the St Andrews pub is shaky at best. And, before someone puts on Fessdrews “Campaigning for Spoons isn’t a replacement for a personality”, this is actually surprisingly only a small interest of mine, though it is a much bigger one for some others. Maybe we just want somewhere where going for some scran and a pint won’t cost us our left kidney? Now there’s a thought as to how I might be able to afford my rent next year…