It has been over a week since Fire Island closed with no further news on the situation. The Beatbox Group went into administration and it was the beancounters who decided to close Fire Island, stating it wasn’t viable. Rumours of gross financial irregularities have naturally begun to circulate, clouding whether Fire Island would stand up on its own as a profitable bar if potentially poor management was removed from the picture. There’s certainly been debate on both sides of the argument from the consumer base, with various commentators on Twitter citing bad pints, expensive food and quiet periods contributing to the bar’s downfall.
Contrariwise, I’ve never had a bad pint, nor have my friends, and have usually* received good food, the beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches being par excellence (*the exception here being when they sold out of everything during a match day, and another time when a chef left all the meat out and so it had to be thrown away).
Anecdotal claims of ‘it was quiet when I went in’ are to be taken with caution: all pubs have quiet periods, particularly if you go in on a Wednesday afternoon. It enjoyed enough custom when it counted, though admittedly, and ironically, the recently hot summer was the enemy of Fire Island. Few people were keen to sit inside a large industrial-warehouse themed bar when they could be sat at an outdoor table in the sun.
I think it’s important to support the craft beer/real ale scene in Cardiff, to help it to grow rather than shrink, which is why I’m keen to look at the viability of Fire Island (and other potential new craft beer bars) rather than kick it while it’s down (negative reviews posted on Trip Advisor after the closure being somewhat redundant now).
So, while the beancounters look at raw tax figures and make a snap decision to close it down, leaving regulars, staff and the local economy reeling at their cold calculations, I reckon with a few tweaks Fire Island, or any new venture along similar lines in the same premises, could rise up again.
- More Knowledgeable Staff – the Fire Island staff were good, but they could have known more about craft beer. A bit more passion and geekery would have worked wonders,
- Beer Tasting/Food Pairing events – They had the capability to dedicate a room to food and beer matching evenings and it would go well with the ethos,
- Less focus on cocktails – the other bars in the chain specialised in cocktails, so why compete against yourself,
- A spirit speciality – that said, even craft beer geeks want a good spirit to take the edge off now and then. Places like the Hanging Bat in Edinburgh do well from having over 30 gins, so too could Fire Island (or 30 rums, or whiskies, or whatever),
- “Pop-up” food – if the kitchen was running at a loss, strip it down to the bones while making it interesting. Sell daily or weekly specials, for example, high quality burgers one week, hotdogs the next, pizzas after that; the Camden Brewery and other Camden pubs do something similar, so it isn’t untested. If you can’t beat Wetherspoons on standard, cheap fayre, beat them on taste and innovation,
- Social events – This is as broad as it is long, but one suggestion is a board game night. Rules of Play, the board game store around the corner, already do monthly events at two pubs in Cardiff, but neither are in the city centre,
- Tap Takeovers – Bring in the brewers to take over the taps, rile up some excitement. When they can steal the whole pub, brewers who who might not otherwise consider it feasible to send a single barrel of beer will be encouraged to turn up,
- Growler fills – Finally, at the end of a good day’s drinking, let people take beer home in growlers.
These are just a few ideas I jotted down on scrap paper in the office. There are probably more to be considered. What do you think?