As part of ELL Pub Week, we interviewed Robin Butler, the manager at the Spread Eagle in Croydon.
The Spread Eagle in Croydon looks like a traditional pub, with taps full of real ales and shelves of Irish whiskey, but according to pub manager Robin Butler, the pub it is “not just about serving drinks.”
“It’s about personalities, it’s about being more than your average pub.”
In Britain four pubs close a week, and across London 166 pubs have closed this year alone. To make sure the Spread Eagle doesn’t fall victim to this trend, Butler and his staff staff have made efforts to go above and beyond the calling of a typical pub.
“Pubs have to be very adaptable,” Butler said, “You have to move with the times, its about doing different things. You always have to try and do better.”
The Spread Eagle has tapped into the artistic side of Croydon, now playing host to live theatre productions in their upstairs function room.
Last month, the pub played host to several performances of ‘Tea at Five’, a play based on the final days of Katharine Hepburn’s life, the comedy horror ‘Dr. Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow’, and the one-woman show, ‘The Twelve Dates of Christmas’
Georgina Harris, a director at Tin Shed Theatre Co, the group that put on ‘Dr. Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow’, said that the turnout at Spread Eagle was “amazing” and the atmosphere of the pub provided a unique experience for both the audience and the performers.
“Its definitely more intimate, it doesn’t feel like there’s a barrier between you and the audience. You’re all in it for this experience you’re about to have, you share that experience with your audience,” she said.
“It does feel like a pub upstairs, because you can hear all the noise downstairs, and even though sound leaks I don’t think it causes too much of a problem. It has such an amazing feeling.”
Gordon McKenzie who works in Croydon and is a regular of the Spread Eagle said: “The fact that the pub puts on things like the theatre and cinema nights is a good thing for the area”
He added: “Many of the small scale amenities an area should have been lost since the demolition of the Warehouse Theatre round the corner and cinema was shut.”
In cooperation with the David Lean cinema campaign, a group that hoped to save the cinema located next door, the Spread Eagle runs regular film screenings.
“When the cinema closed next door we thought, well, we can step in and do something here. We’ve only done three shows but they’ve been really well received,” said Butler.
The screenings and theatre is all a part of the pub’s goal to provide a unique and particularly memorable experience for everyone coming into the pub. Something that Butler thinks has brought the Spread Eagle success.
“We’re doing okay, it’s making sure that every customer that comes in here has a good experience and remembers us and wants to come back again.”
It’s also about bringing in a wide mix of customers.
“We don’t say we’re going to attract only men in sports, we don’t exclude anyone and I think that’s important. Some of the other pubs are very young people centred so we don’t want to be see as that.”
Retired friends Sheila Desmond and Ann Landeryou meet at the pub once a month and feel it is a good alternative to the other pubs in the area.
Desmond said: “It’s a bit quieter than most places round here and the staff don’t pester you.”
Landeryou said: “I even attend a wine club here that takes place upstairs.”
Despite their current success, Butler and the Spread Eagle are still aware of the problems pubs are facing. Fourteen pubs around Croydon have closed in the last 10 years, a fact that Butler attributes to a lot of different issues, including the increase in VAT over the past few years.
“I think the VAT is very unfair at the moment, I know people are looking into cutting the VAT level so we’re on a fair level with supermarkets. I think that would be very, very helpful.”
The Spread Eagle has found a formula that works, and, hopefully, for Butler and the staff, will continue to work in the future.
“What pubs give back to communities and areas is massive, I think pubs should be really supported and I don’t think they are.”
Additional reporting by Jack Simpson