Archive for the ‘smoking’ Category

Byens Kro. The Inn of the Town. Copenhagen.

I have known about this pub for some time, as the Svaneke brewery used to brew a special beer for them. As I had business in the neighbourhood, I decided to visit, but it is not far from the main tourist drag anyway.

It is like entering a time warp. Not back to the Middle Ages or anything, but at least two or three decades. Worn wooden floors, walls, tables  and benches. Probably as authentic as it gets if you still want a decent beer selection.

10 beers on tap. Some Germans and Belgians, Mikkeller and Hancock being the Danish stars.

Students sovving philosophical problems over Chimays and German wheat beers. Regulars propping up the bar. The staff seems slightly bewildered about what beers they actually have on.

But the authenticity is has a dimension beyond the drinkers and the dark walls. It’s the smoke. Even in the early afternoon the room is filled with tobacco fumes, I can only imagine how it is when you approach midnight. It is one of the last sanctuaries for smokers, even in liberal Denmark.

I found my eyes reacting after half an hour. Some years ago, I would not have given it a thought.

Cheery atmosphere, I am sure this is a place for long evenings and swapping tall tales among the half liter glasses.  And for those of you who are nostalgic about the good old days when you could smoke in pubs, you should visit while you can!


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The former secret police  – Stasi – headquarters in East Berlin covers a sizeable area. Some of it seems to be used for health services, some buildings are covered in scaffolding, but if you look closely, you find that one of the houses contains the temporary exhibition of the Stasi museum. This grim part of fairly recent German and European history certainly deserves a museum, but the displays fit well with the furniture from the Stasi offices – there is a strong feeling of 1970 about it. By that I mean the way museums were set up in 1970 – documents, photos and physical objects in  glass display cases. The Checkpoint Charlie museum we visited the day before was similar – stuck in a time warp. I was there in 1987, and it was just the same. Time for the German authorities to consider how they present their recent history, particularly as there are some important messages to be taught to new generations of Germans.

Enough about the DDR, we found ourselves on the main boulevard of East Berlin. What next? A brewpub within walking distance, of course. Tucked away in a residential area, the Schalander Wirtshausbrauerei is a rather modest place. Three regular house beers plus the occasional seasonal beer, a short menu plus the dish of the day on a blackboard. The place looks rather small, but there is a smoking area at the back we did not investigate further. A new place, this, established 2009, according to the sign by the door, but the interior is rather timeless, down to the cuckoo clock on the wall.

We had started the day with a substantial breakfast, but the menu offered Alsatian Flammekuche pies, so we ordered two to share. One was the classic with bacon and onions, the other with blue cheese, spinach and walnuts. Both were very nice.

The beer list was very similar to our other stops – a Weizen, a Helles and a Dunkel.

The Weizen had the soft mouth feel of wheat malt, a hint of apricots and some lemon in the aftertaste.  The pils was a good version of the style, crisp, light and with a generous dose of dry hops. The Dunkel, however, was the highlight of the weekend, at least so far. A glowing amber beer. Carmale, prunes. Pleasant sourness and a dry finish. Well hopped, well-balanced, reminded me of an Altbier.

The pretty waitress spoke excellent English, so we did not get to practice our German at this stop. She recommended another brewpub in the same area and pointed it out for us on the map. We really didn’t have any choice.

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The final party

I never even considered drinking alcohol on the London Tube – if asked I would probably have thought it was illegal, I still remember being told that smoking was banned throughout the system when lighting a cigarette in the open air at Turnham Green about 25 years ago. 

And, even if I knew it was allowed, the Tube functions as a convenient rest between pints – when in London I focus on cask ale.

Well, even if I have behaved decently, others have been more naughty. and one of the campaign promises made by Boris Johnson in the recent election campaign was to ban drinking on public transport.

Well, he won, and the ban will be effective from 1 June.

A group called Last orders on the Underground (you have to be British to think up concepts like this) will be organizing a final session on the Circle Line on Saturday.

After that it’s brown paper bags, I assume.

Thanks to the Going Underground’s blog for the info.

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Northern Ireland’s pubs and bars are facing a “bleak outlook” a year on from the smoking ban, according to the Publican.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade Northern Ireland, said he expects the country to lose seven per cent of its pubs over the next two years.

Figures released earlier this year revealed that like-for-like sales in the on-trade have dropped seven per cent since the ban a year ago today. Ninety-three pubs and bars closed between 2005 and last December, the Mintel figures also showed.

Kelly said: “As a piece of health public policy the ban has been a success. But the much promised march of non-smokers has not materialised.”

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Some of the beer places I write about involve complicated treks by bus, train or taxi or long walks in strange neighbourhood. I am happy to tell you that this won’t be necessary in Bologna, as the beer shop La Tane del Luppolo is located just ten minute’s walk away from the main sights of the city, on the inside of the ring road that marks the old city walls. Bologna is an nice city to walk around in. Stylish without being too flashy, more opticians and hairdressers than other cities of its size, perhaps. People are still smoking, it even looks like cigarettes are seen as fashionabel accessories by some. It was 15 degrees, so I had a light jacket, while the locals were dressing up like Eskimo’s, as the song says.

But I digress, back to the beer shop. They have a good web site, which includes excel sheets of which beers are available at a given time. They also announce beer tastings and other events, though in Italian only.

I arrived just after the lunch break, and was warmly welcomed when I told them I was looking for Italian craft beers. They did not have any of the Panil or Baladin beers, but there are lots of other interesting brewers that deserve exposure.  The owner opened a few cartons of beers just in from the White Dog brewery, a micro to the south of Bologna run by an English expat that brews beers in British and US styles. There were also  interesting beers from Birra Del Borgo, including beers brewed with unusual ingredients like tea and tobacco (!)

There is a good range of Belgian, German and English beers – even some bottles from BrewDog in Scotland, including their excellent Paradox. Good to see that these beers are having such a a wide distribution, just a year after they started their company.

The customers tend to buy both domestic and imported beers. The shop has been running for about seven years, having moved to the present premises a few years ago. The room is dominated by a huge table, convenient when they have tastings, probably, but it leaves little room for shelves.

I bought a few more bottles than I had intended, but I managed to drag them all back to my hotel. After stocking up on Parmesan cheese, ham, olive oil and other delights of the area, my suitcase was way too heavy when I checked in the next morning. Luckily the staff at Bologna airport are more laid back than they are in Milan or Brussels!

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From the Evening Standard about the changing face of London pubs, which is not as bleak as some portray it:

Bewilderingly, food is now considered as important as drink – pork scratchings do not count. The market is now increasingly about “food, family and females”.

A wail of lamentation can be heard from those diehards who are opposed to this formula. The best boozers will tolerate families up to a point, will serve food as long as it comes in packets, and have a strict policy on females which is that they must not interfere in any way with the business in hand.

Of course, these old fools should learn to live with the times. Pubs must reflect the communities they serve. No one these days wants to sit nursing a milk stout and scowling at the world as it passes by.

There have been persistent whispers that the London pub is dying, but that is far from the truth. At the beginning of 2007, there were around 5,700 pubs in the city and, since then, only 54 have closed, with half that number converted into restaurants.

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We have discussed this before:

Euro MPs will debate whether or not to phase out the use of patio heaters today.

A ban on patio heaters would upset thousands of pubs which have invested heavily in heaters for outdoor smoking areas since the ban.

Lib Dem MEP Fiona Hall has compiled a report on energy efficiency which “urges the Commission to establish timetables for the withdrawal from the market of all the least energy-efficient items of equipment, appliances and other energy-using products, such as patio heaters”.

More in the Morning Advertiser.

For some reason I had no photos of patio heaters. But the beer is called Old Smokey.

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I would say it is not my fault, but if we should, for once, believe what we read in the Sunday Mirror, there are 67 pubs in Britain closing every month.

Bars are selling 50 million fewer pints of beer a month than they were a year ago.

Beer sales dropped by almost 10 per cent during December – normally the busiest time of the year.

The dramatic decline leaves many of the nation’s 58,000 locals in trouble.

Last month’s nine per cent decline in sales follows a 9.7 per cent drop in November the worst on record while October fell by 7.7 and September by 8.2 per cent. Between June and December, 470 pubs disappeared 2,000 have closed in the last two years.

The industry blames two factors: The smoking ban and cheap supermarket alcohol.

There are still 58.000 British pubs left, so I should be able to find a pint for a few years yet.

As for the smoking ban, I think it is being used as a scapegoat. I have written about the success of similar legislation across Europe, and, apart from some grumbling from Ireland, the pubs and bars seem to be doing quite all right.

When it comes to the British Isles, I think the gap between supermarket prices and pub prices has made a heavy impact. There are now predictions about the £4 pint arriving in 2008, and you don’t have to have a maths degree to see that this will hit the marginal pubs. 

And, realistically, there are limits to what you can do with legislation. If the market will not sustain the present number of pubs, there is not a lot you can do to preserve them all. The most English way of facing the problem was a letter to the press by Stanley Johnson, father of London candidate for mayor Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson (Senior) is of the opinion that a reduction in the drink-drive limit would kill off many pubs in remote rural areas.

The British pubs, like other businesses, have to adjust and change to appeal to new generations. Or course there is a unique heritage that appeals to locals and visitors, and let us hope that most of the best ones survive. At the same time, there are new, good pubs opening and there are old ones adapting, offering a better range of beers, better food etc. Some of the splendid bank buildings that have been converted into pubs, like the Old Bank of England in Fleet Street, show that it’s not all decline.

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I am not going to bore you with lots of posts about the smoking ban, but I’d like to mention that the Economist Certain ideas of Europe blog covers the issue. Their focus is on all the outdoor heating systems being installed to accommodate the smokers (which I have blogged about before).

What none of these pieces mentioned is that these outdoor terrace heaters (which have also sprung up like topsy all over Brussels in the last couple of years) are not exactly a brilliant idea, environmentally. The gas ones may be prettily designed with little silver hats to reflect the heat downwards, but they still amount to sticking a bunch of large propane cylinders on the pavement, lighting them, and letting them heat the sky. The electric ones are surely equally wasteful, aren’t they?

So, smokers, enjoy the heaters while you can, I smell further bans here! This is not from a newspaper that is usually calling for government intervention…

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