During the lockdown we had the time to be a bit more communicative with you all and had hoped for the whole team to blog regularly about Tupp related topics close to their hearts. As is typical for us, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition; blog writing is something you have to want to do, and if you are not feeling it, it isn’t really going to happen, and it did not for most of us. Which means I get to pick up on a topic that one of the others had initially “baggsied” to write about. They snoozed, they lost…
One of the things that has been commented by us throughout the pandemic and through this painful process of reopening with mitigations, is how much value we place on the atmosphere of The Tuppenny. We know what we mean when we talk about this, the vibe of the place, something that has started to be known as “Tuppennyness” (seriously – other people have started using it too, it’s not just us!) but do you? So, I am going to try and explain it.
This concept of “Tuppennyness” goes back to our ground zero moments, when the idea of the bar was first floated amongst us (I ought to write a post on the genesis of the business at some point, just for posterity). We wanted a place that, as well as focusing on “craft” drinks and classic cocktails, was a reflection of where we all were in life; much more interested in socialising over high quality drinks with friends than raising hell and partying like it was the last night on earth. Somewhere you could have conversations, play games, enjoy the quality end of the drinks market, and meet new people without the simmering threat of a fight for looking wrongly at someone. We wanted to create a space that was welcoming and open to all, whatever your age, race, gender, sexual orientation or political persuasion, where people would not feel threatened or intimidated, where you could be yourself without fear of humiliation or judgement and can relax with friends old and new. When we say relax, we properly mean it. The Tuppenny is designed to be somewhere you can draw breath, exhale all your worries, and unwind.
Achieving much of this is reasonably straightforward, starting with the physical aspects of the bar. Our interior is painted that dark blue and has low lighting to be cosy, the music tends to be background and fairly chilled and we made things as comfortable as possible within our limited means and space (yes, we would love loads more sofas and big comfy chairs; we just can’t fit them in!). There are some quirky little design ideas, a bit of upcycling (for some reason, the gents are the most photographed part of the building) and things have a place. We kind of wanted a home from home vibe, and we try and look after it all as best as possible to encourage our guests to do the same. If we take pride, you take pride (I reckon we touch up the paintwork more often than any other business around – Linda has a real hatred of scuff marks). We ourselves always strive to be as welcoming and friendly as possible, nothing is too much trouble, and encourage our staff to be the same. We have always had a good range of games to keep you entertained, have shelves of booze related books and magazines and are happy for you to linger.
Then of course, perhaps the biggest factor in making us who we are is what is available at the bar. It has always been a very conscious decision to only offer products from independent producers – craft breweries, artisanal small batch distillers and the like. By not offering the usual big brand names we straight away became undesirable to the people who have no interest in what they are drinking; the people whose relationship with alcohol amounts to as long as they are familiar with it, and it gets you drunk, they are happy with it. We wanted to support small producers, people who were pushing the boundaries of their craft and producing the best drinks in the market. Not the big multinational companies whose big brands were everywhere and designed to appeal to the masses. Our drinks selection was always going to be designed for the curious, the quality seeker and the open minded. Those who thrived on change and trying new things, those who wanted the best.
It was also an easy decision for us to keep our “house” products of a high quality, to not mug off customers with cheap booze from the cash and carry. Our house draught pours have always been from a local brewer (West Berkshire Brewery), including the lager. We sourced a nitro-stout product from an independent brewer, Porterhouse, not Guinness (it’s better, and most prefer it). Out house vodka is most bars mid-to premium level product, the same with gin, rum, and whiskies. This even extends to cocktails, forever the misunderstood home of poor-quality spirits hidden by gallons of sugary mixers. Our cocktail menu is compact, limited to the classics and made the traditional way, heavy on the booze. Our drinks are the real deal, and priced accordingly.
Price is one of our main weapons in the battle against basic. It was never in our minds to be perceived as a cheap night out. We always strive to promote responsible drinking and frankly do not want the sort of people who are only hell bent on getting as twisted out of shape on booze as they can. So, there was never going to be a double up for a pound deal on spirits (if you want a double, you pay for 2 measures, as that is what you get). We would not have an all-encompassing happy hour with super-deals designed to shift as much booze as possible. Our only deal is Wine O’clock, for those straight-out-of-the-office get some headspace moments.
Our pricing is fair, and reflective of the quality of products we sell. Yes, you can get a pint in ‘Spoons for less than three quid, and if that is your measure of a good pub, then off you trot. If you are going to come to us for a drink do not be surprised if you find a beer on the bar that would be selling for the equivalent of £12 to £15 a pint. It is not us ripping you off, it is us finding the most exciting products out there. We do not, nor have ever, worked to anything inflated to above an accepted industry standard margin. In fact, we quite often work below this on some of the more expensive products. Besides, one of those beers will only be served in a smaller, one-third measure. They have ABV’s akin to wine and beers like this deserved to be sipped and savoured, appreciated and drunk slowly, not necked because your taxi is on its way. If beer pricing is a topic you are interested in, keep an eye out for my next blog, as writing this one has inspired me to give you all an understanding of the cost anatomy of a pint and to write about why certain chains are destroying the industry.
Finally, in the same vein of “let us not attract the wrong sorts” there is also our well-known lack of “shots” – the sort of drink so eye wateringly crap you can only handle in tiny quantities drunk quickly. This is always the cry at Christmas from the pub amateurs – “what? No shots?”. That is not fun in our eyes. Even our tequila is smooth enough to sip rather than slam.
Ultimately, what we have tried to create is a bar that attracts the sort of customers who appreciate all this and actively puts off the kind of folks who would not and would likely counteract the vibe. We love that buzz of actual conversation, people chatting about poetry and philosphy on one table, celebrity and soaps on another. We love the friendliness of all the people, the lack of fear and sense of togetherness and community that we have. We love the musicians and the game players, the contemplative readers and the gregarious beer bores. Yes, we would make a lot more money if we offered the same generic stuff as most other bars, with deals, shots and no imagination or standards. But we do not ever want to put profit before Tuppennyness!
We think we have achieved what we had hoped to do. Some of our most proud moments are when we hear how people have discovered new favourite drinks and got away from drinking bland generic rubbish, how women have been comfortable coming into our place alone, or how many new friendships have been forged across our bar and how the lost art of conversation has been rediscovered. These are the measures of our success and the mark of true Tuppennyness!