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The state of pubs in King's Lynn and why they can learn a thing or two from the 'café culture'

The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, November 15, 2019

I was asked recently by a journalist about the number of pubs in Lynn that have closed in the last 25 years.

This set me thinking, and resulted in an article that may appear in the next edition of the Pub History Society newsletter or perhaps Norfolk Nips.

However, it seemed only right to mention the ones that have opened during that period, and this suggests that the whole idea of what a pub is and its purpose is changing.

The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday November 15, 2019
The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday November 15, 2019

Many of the pubs that closed were the traditional neighbourhood pubs, often with a public bar and a lounge.

When I first visited the Seven Sisters on Exton’s Road, left from the lobby led to the bar, with its dart board and pool table, while right took you through to the rather more comfortable lounge.

The few pubs that remain have mostly been opened out into one large room, which makes it easier to supervise and serve, but alters the dynamics and atmosphere of the pub.

New builds in the area such as the Freebridge Farm and the Gatehouse in Lynn alongside the Honeystone in Hunstanton have a different model, offering good value food and are family friendly, while the small one-roomed micropub has gained a foothold on our High Street thanks to the Nip and Growler.

Around 30 years ago restrictions on pub opening hours were relaxed, and we were promised a ‘café culture’.

Although we are not all sitting out on terraces sipping our glasses of wine, I would suggest that this has been a great success.

When compiling my list of changes, it struck me how many café/bar type places there are in town, where you can drop in for a beer or a coffee and lunch.

Some, such as Archers and Liquor and Loaded might be seen as cocktail bars at certain times of the day, even though they both serve super breakfasts. There is also the Soul Café on Tower Street and the Poco Lounge on the High Street offering a similar vibe,

For me though, the biggest innovation is the authentic continental café, often Portuguese. From the Friends Tavern in Gaywood, to the café on Norfolk Street, Camillo’s and the Three Sisters near the bus station and Christina’s on Tower Street there is a network of fine bars.

Each of them offers beer and other alcoholic drinks, but I go for the excellent coffee and very reasonable prices.

The food is not bad either, with Christina’s fried pork bifana a fine alternative to another soggy sandwich for lunch. Portuguese patisserie must also be amongst the best in the world, and if you have not tried the custard tarts, known as pastel de nata, give them a go.

I am undecided which of the above mentioned produce the best example, but it might not be coincidence that the bar wife’s loyalty card for the Portuguese café opposite Santander on the High Street is almost full. There may be no beer there, but sometimes custard tarts take precedence over a pint.

The eastern European community seems to have concentrated on shops, rather than bars, though there is one on London Road where I have tried the speciality dumplings.

While I mourn the loss of so many pubs, it is great to see a new culture taking root.

Preserve the best of the past, and celebrate the new. With pastel de nata.

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