Saturday, July 16, 2016

Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

For many years, I stuck to the desperate notion that the best possible thing I could do in business was promote the notion of a team.

My analogy was a band in the musical sense of the word, and while not discounting potential disagreements and friction, trying to celebrate what can be done in terms of a group, as opposed to an individual.

Often, it really was a team. At other times, it wasn't. At no time did I ever seek to cultivate the idea that there were NOT numerous employees behind the scenes, doing the real work without which no business can survive. I always understood that we couldn't pay them what they're worth, and tried to figure out how to better remunerate them. At one point, it occurred to me that we might be employee-owned.

Give the guys on the shop floor credit -- they were too smart for that.

At some juncture, perhaps the late 1990s or early 2000s, lots of attention became focused on me. It always surprises folks to learn that I was a reluctant front man at the pub. It happened because someone had to do it, and I was the best candidate. There was a time when no one regarded Phil Collins as the replacement for Peter Gabriel in Genesis, and yet he was the ideal choice -- whether or not you like what occurred subsequently (I do).

For various reasons, cults of personality became increasingly jarring to me, even my own. It made running for political office last year extraordinarily difficult, as our system is predicated on the professional wrestling model of self-promotion, and this has come to thoroughly disgust me.

Going back to music as an analogy, one thing musicians can do that bar owners cannot is go back to basics. A singer/songwriter/instrumentalist can occupy a space in the corner and perform, potentially with a minimum of assistance from others. He or she may even be paid, though unfortunately, this seems to be optional nowadays.

But ...

Is there the "good beer bar" equivalent to the solo singer/songwriter/instrumentalist?

After all, in the time I've been patronizing the world classic 't Brugs Beertje in Bruges, I've never seen more than two bartenders at a time, with (perhaps) a kitchen helper. Sergio's in Louisville operates similarly. In 2013, I visited a one-man Real Ale pub in Totnes, Devon UK.

Why couldn't a single person with an occasional helper run such an establishment if the business plan was suitably opportunistic?

The space needs to be relatively small and inexpensive, and weekly hours somewhat limited. The beer selection can be small, and still be good. Why have gadgets like televisions when everyone has a phone? WFPK works fine. Popular wisdom insists that there must be food, but apart from the mandated $10 frozen weenie menu, being located in a dense area with numerous nearby eateries can satisfy state law and the needs of customers.

As for the cult of personality ... yes, the owner/operator of such an establishment would need to be an entertaining sort of curmudgeon. It's all about the personalities, or patron and client alike.

However, there's no need for a cult.

I think it could work. What do you think?

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?



Bob Ostrander said...

A one-person pub can work in a rural area or a small town but the definition of success in a city is size. Meaning traffic. Meaning longer hours which means more staff.

The Norman Knight in Whichford, Warwickshire,was a 1-person pub until proprietor Mike Garner brought in his 18 year old son a dozen years ago to be the barman at which time Mike started brewing in kegs in the garage out back. They're still in business but their website ( boasts a pretty big menu so he must have taken on some staff.

Why do you ask? Have the shakes from being retired?

The New Albanian said...

Maybe I am. But I think the model works in density, too -- IF the cost per square foot is right.