Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The triumph of hope over experience in the competitive world of the gastropub

There used to be a pub at the end of Chapel Market called The Salmon and Compasses. Few ever ventured there.

About five years ago it was taken over by a guy who owned a successful gastropub in Clerkenwell. He got the builders and decorators in, gave it a facelift and re-opened it as The Compass. We did our True Stories Told Live evenings in the room upstairs, which worked very well.

The owner told me the problem with Chapel Market is you couldn't get people to pay much for lunch there. You could fill it in the evening but unless you were doing a certain amount of covers at lunch you couldn't afford the kind of chef you needed. That's why he sold it to somebody else.

After about a year the new owner sold it again, this time to a firm who run a very successful place about a quarter of a mile away. (In Islington that quarter of a mile may as well take you to the dark side of the moon.) Anyway, the new owners got the decorators in, changed the name of the place again and ran it under the new name for about a year.

Now it's closed again, it's changed hands again and the decorators are in again. That's three times in five years.

I've noticed the same pattern all over London. Pubs, clubs and restaurants change hands all the time. Whenever they do they close, call in the interior decorators, change the name and then re-open, by which time it seems to me that only the decorators have profited.

I'm sure decor and name do make some difference. I don't think they make all that much difference. Surely what determines the success of any catering business has to be location, location, location. If I can see that, why can't the people who run them?


  1. Hi David,

    Although the previous owner is right to a point.The main issue with that particular pub is that it is at the wrong end of Chapel Market. It is likely that they would have been more successful if they had the site of Round Midnight.
    ANother decent local pub, THe Barnsbury suffers the same issues by being too far up Liverpool Road.
    The newest owners of the Compass site are a group who own 'Craft beer' joints in other parts of London and they are opening a similar establishment there.
    The Fallen Angel round the corner has also been taken over by another 'Craft beer' establishment.
    So another form of saturation is about to appear in my part of N1
    Keep up the good work.
    All the best A D bryan

  2. Bang on.

    We had a pub in Highgate that I think (it gets hard to keep track) started out as the Rose and Crown.

    After about 4 gastro-incarnations, each with a new paint job, it has ended up as another Le Pain Quotidien.

    Sadly it will probably stay that way.

  3. Ah but, Brendan, that pub faced a different "location" problem. The Rose & Crown in Highgate was bang opposite the Prince of Wales, a lovely pub which has never needed a new paint job, and within pint-pulling distance of the Angel, the Gatehouse and the tourist-trap Flask. It never stood a chance as a pub, gastro or otherwise.

    Wouldn't be at all surprising if it stayed a restaurant - or, indeed, very sad.

  4. Pubs, schmubs. The best place for a decent lunch in precisely that area
    is Alpino. Cheap and Italian in all the best ways, and brought to my attention by my girlfriend who used to read a music magazine with extremely funny captions whose staff
    used to frequent it...

  5. For all its faults, I used to like The Nightingale in Crouch End. But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground.