If you live in the UK right now, it’s pretty hard to think about anything else except how expensive it is to have even a subpar standard of living: being able to eat three meals, for example, or warm yourself up during winter, or use electricity to see things when it gets dark. The soon to be insurmountable price of simply existing within the shit-slurried waters of the UK has helpfully been dubbed “the cost of living crisis” by journalists and politicians, which luckily gives it a vague, natural disaster-y type vibe, with no one in particular to blame. It’s just one of those things that happens, and will of course keep happening, because to exist in the UK is to struggle, and yet be grateful for struggling, because when you struggle it means some group of less fortunate people you hate even more than yourself will also be struggling, but far more than you could ever be.
Interested in despatches from the wild side of life? Trip Report has you covered.
But anyway… to the new BrewDog in Waterloo! Which opened its doors last month! It's a 27,500 sq ft., two-floor “craft beer paradise” that claims to not only be the largest BrewDog ever created, but also the largest bar in London. It has 60 taps of draft beer, an onsite brewery and loads of fantastic remote working options for anyone who doesn't want to miss out on working even while they drink – like Zoom call pods in case anyone wants to “hop on a call quickly”, meeting rooms and even a podcast studio for any wacky last minute ideas. Plus, for those who want to let their inner child run loose, in between meetings and work drinks, there's a mini bowling alley, an ice cream van and a slide. Now back to the cost of living crisis. According to trade publication the Morning Advertiser, more than 70 percent of pubs up and down the country will be forced to close because their energy bills have not just doubled, but in a lot of cases, actually tripled. This, combined with large percentages of the population not being able to afford anything except the absolute bare essentials and coming just off the back of a pandemic, has left most pubs facing what has been called a “doomsday scenario”. With that in mind, the future of pubs will likely look a lot different to what it does now. The pubs of the future will, I imagine, look like some form of chain, with a homogeneous menu, drinks selection, decor, atmosphere and patrons. It’ll more than likely be one of the bigger ones – you know, like Wetherspoons, Youngs or indeed BrewDog, because even though the Etonian hara-kiri will still damage big businesses, it won’t be enough to tank their entire operations like it will to your local down the road.
So, to see what all of our pub-going futures might look like after this entirely avoidable crisis has swallowed the entire country whole, I went down to the UK’s largest BrewDog – in Waterloo, central London – for an entire day and evening.
The first thing you’ll immediately notice about the general “vibe” is that it’s basically a cross between a WeWork, an airport bar and a 24/7 supermarket. It’s kind of like if someone rebuilt the Tottenham IKEA but the theme was “Shoreditch 2010 to present day”. Or if you typed in “East London hipster tech startup, but a pub” into Dall-E Mini. An immersive Led By Donkeys live experience, with an original score by Mumford & Sons. Throughout the building are graffiti-inspired art framed on the walls, one of those photo booths that take black and white pictures like the ones that let everyone know you’ve been to Soho House and the gentle, churning buzz of dad rock. The whole thing is underpinned by slogans littered around the place, for example “Growing up is optional”. Basically, imagine Friday evening office drinks, but forever, and inside your mind.
Where to begin? After saddling over to the semi-ominous BREWDOG sign swinging above the bar, I started with a beer called “Lost In Blood Orange” because blood orange is my favourite fruit, although it basically tasted like you were drinking the piss of someone who had drunk two cartons of blood orange juice. I then went for the Punk IPA to balance it out, which was nice but also gave me “Facebook photo album of a night out”-type flashbacks from when everyone got really into drinking IPA for some reason.
After alternating between those a few times and feeling kind of sick and pissed and also somehow anxious at the same time, it was time to try the food, which, like most places in Shoreditch 2010 to present, was a vague amalgamation of OTT American diner cuisine: all dripping cheeses, the word “slaw” and an insistence that everything must be “stacked”. I ended up going for some hot wings and chips and actually really enjoyed it. Great hot sauce! Great fries! Nice ceramic pie dish.
What the Waterloo BrewDog has astutely tapped into is the ever-expanding white collar idea that there should be very little difference between your work life, social life and even really your home life, since the pandemic. At the end of the day, you’re going to spend the majority of your life working - or at least pretending to work – so why not just stop pretending that you can ever escape it, and let the pretend work ceaselessly flow throughout all aspects of your life, untrammelled. At the giant BrewDog, you can do just that. Have to hold an important work meeting while pissed on gluten-free Punk IPA? Why not do so in the BrewDog meeting rooms, which all have very fast WiFi. Need to have an impromptu Zoom call while pissed on “Elvis Juice”? Why not lock yourself away in one of their oubliette-esque Zoom call pods, in full view of the ping pong tables. And listen, who doesn’t dream of recording a podcast in the BrewDog podcast studio, while pissed on “Boris Lie-PA”, potentially riffing on a great conversation you and Mark from sales had about the correct colour of toast and tea.
Another great modern quirk the Waterloo BrewDog has managed to tap into is the idea that, deep down, we’re all just children at heart who want nothing more than to forget about how stressful it is that we have loads of emails to respond to and constant bills to pay and simply unwind by being wacky in a ball pit or doing mini bowling. It’s quite funny to grow up in a country where, throughout your adult life, you are simultaneously infantilised at every turn while also called emotionally weak because you can’t handle real life problems like speaking on the phone or the abuse of vulnerable minorities. Thinking about that caused me great consternation as I rode down the giant BrewDog slide, which I quickly assuaged by getting a nice big ice cream from the BrewDog ice cream van.
After sitting in the Uncanny Valley Arms for quite a few hours, everything started to get confusing. I don’t really know what any of this is for, or why we’ve decided this is now going to be the default ideal of socialising in the UK. And yet, to be fair, it was basically rammed from the minute I stepped in sometime in the afternoon to the minute I left, close to dark. So it must be doing something right, for somebody. But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the UK, it’s that “must be doing something right” is a real indicator of pure, mind-numbing bleakness. Please let this not be the future.