Doomed to failure? The Langwith Bar Saga

Cynicism or realism? The sad truth is that the amount of money YUSU will be able to pump into Langwith will not guarantee a good turnover

The ongoing saga over campus bars trundles inexorably onwards. The latest ‘revelation’ comes in the form of a possible reprieve for the previously doomed Langwith bar. YUSU, clearly thinking of itself as the saviour of students, the beacon of hope, have swooped in to offer to save the bar. The catch? It will be completely renovated and turned into a student-run central venue for all sorts of exciting events.

Somehow, I’m not particularly excited. It’s not just that I don’t trust YUSU to do what it promises, or that Langwith is ridiculously small to be a central venue. It is because, at the end of the day, the scheme will fail. This isn’t cynicism, it is realism. It will cost a lot of money to change Langwith from a fairly shoddy bar, frequented only by hardcore Langwithians and gathering dust between bar quizzes, into an all-singing, all-dancing venue that will actually make a profit. Even if it does makes a profit, Heslington East will be completed before they break even from the construction costs, so it will lie abandoned in favour of our promised shiny new venue.

It is also completely impractical. If you have ever been to Langwith bar, which I concede is fairly unlikely, you will know that structurally it is a mess. A lot of walls will need to be knocked down before any of this planned ‘refurbishment’ can take place, and L/028 as a main dance hall? No thanks.

Because of all this, and more, it is hard to read the proposal put forward by Matt Burton without laughing. Does anyone seriously think that a YUSU-run venue would be something that students would feel ‘a sense of belonging to’? And how exactly does YUSU have ‘a proven track record of operating commercial businesses with low overheads and with excellent service to students here at York’? Have we already forgotten YOUR:Books? What a spectacular commercial success! I can just see the Langwith Bar Clearance Sale looming on the horizon – ‘Fancy a bottle of Bell’s for £2.99? Then come on down to Langwith Bar – Everything must go!’

The proposal may have been met with overwhelming support from current Langwith students, which isn’t surprising given that the alternative is the complete closure of the bar, but apart from the bar quiz, very few of them even go to the bar. They are trying to hold on to something they have very little use for in the first place. Why waste money on a space that is small, unviable for a large event and wholly unpopular? The area is spectacularly more successful during the day as a coffee bar, so why not just expand on that idea?

There isn’t really the need for so many bars on campus. Derwent, Vanbrugh and Goodricke bars are within walking distance for even the laziest of people, so I reckon Langwith should do something different. Here’s my suggestion – turn the entire area into a giant bouncy castle. Yes, there would be Health and Safety issues, but I can guarantee that it will make more of a profit than if YUSU get their claws into it.

12 comments

  1. Hi,

    We’re not proposing a Central Venue for Langwith, nor are we proposing a renovation consisting of knocking down walls.

    What we’re asking for is a chance to run the bar for students, by students. There are lots of cosmetic things we can do and listen to students to what they want (complimenting food, other non-alcoholic offerings). We’re asking for support to try and help save the campus night scene and try and reverse this dangerous trend that is hurting the campus bar scene in a devastating way.

    Give the Students’ Union a chance to try and turn Langwith around, before the bar provision is lost. What’s the worst that can happen? What we’re looking for is support to then have expert consultants assist with a business plan – something we wouldn’t go ahead without being very confident about the success of it.

    Matt Burton

    P.S. Your:Books has never ever been a money maker, nor was it meant to be. So, it was a success in that it broke-even, as intended to do so. We pulled the plug before that situation changed (as the trend would show locally and nationally) and reacted to changes in the market – opting for buying online (as University departments also push for during the summer to incoming students).

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  2. P.S.

    A bar consists of many elements – and Coffee (and other non-alcoholic beverages) are very key! They will be big parts of the offering.

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  3. Langwith would be entirely impractical as a venue due to it’s size.

    What WOULD be practical though would be JJs in Halifax, which is also due to close, which, as the Halifax Parties have proved, is a good small to medium sized venue for parties and a decent bar aswell. The SU would have far more of a success with JJ’s than Langwith.

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  4. 25 Feb ’08 at 11:21 am

    James MacDougald

    Matt,

    If by ‘dangerous trend’ you mean that students are neglecting campus bars in favour of what the town centre can offer, perhaps Langwith’s closure is for the best. Do campus bars exist for any other purpose than to gratify students’ drinking requirements? Why cling desperately to something nobody wants?

    Given that the students have voted with their feet on this one (in spite of the considerable difference in journey time: 25 mins minimum on foot into town or an extortionate bus fare compared with 5 minutes from anywhere on campus to Langwith bar), perhaps YUSU should react the THESE changes in the market and throw in the towel.

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  5. The question is *why* students are leaving campus for town, and if YUSU can work to fix those problems and make campus bars attractive again, then it’s a very viable position to be. Whether or not YUSU will succeed remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not a hopeless situation – look at how the fate of B Henry’s has turned in the past year, it fixed the problems and is now a viable bar once more.

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  6. 25 Feb ’08 at 7:51 pm

    Matthew Jeynes

    Chris,

    You cannot really compare the situation of Alcuin with Langwith. Alcuin is a larger college and seperated from the rest of campus (i know its not far away at all, but it seems it to some people), whereas Langwith is relatively small with three superior bars within anyone’s walking distance.

    As for why students are leaving campus for town. Firstly – it is because no-one wants to get drunk in campus bars then head into town, because you sober up on the bus. Secondly – if you just want to go for a quiet drink, none of the campus bars feels like a nice, cosy pub where you can go for a drink, and some superficial cosmetic changes in Langwith won’t change that.

    Matt,

    Apologies for claiming Langwith will be turned into a central venue. Not quite sure now why I assumed that, I must have taken re-furbishment from your original proposal in the wrong context. The knocking down walls was just my extrapolating from that premise.

    Unfortunatly, a few cosmetic changes, maybe lower drinks prices and hanging a YUSU sign on the bar will not make people visit Langwith bar. The worst that can happen is that YUSU takes over a bar that is failing, the bar keeps failing, YUSU hires expert consultants (at a cost i presume), and the bar continues to fail, costing a fair amount of money.

    Maybe YUSU does need practice before Hes East, its just that Langwith bar, and the students, will bear the brunt of the failures before you get it right. You may as well just say, “look guys, Langwith bar is gonna shut, so we are gonna experiment with it so we can get it right on Hes East”.

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  7. Hi,

    I should probably begin by saying that I’m in California right now, so I haven’t been in York for the last 6 months, nor have I discussed this with Matt, so its possible that what I’m saying is a bit out of date. I have however, got a fair amount of experience of running, and attending campus events, and there are a few points which I think this article fails to address properly.

    The first one is the fact that a YUSU run bar, will be run for students, and for the customers. A fairly obvious thing to say perhaps, but it is not the case with the other campus bars. There is a shocking level of poor management with the campus bars, both at a local and senior level, and anyone who has worked as an ents rep will tell you, that the level of bureaucracy, and frustration you have to go through is incredible. To give you an example, Derwent offered to pay the bar to give out vouchers to anyone coming to club D before 10pm, for a free bottle of VK. We’d reimburse the bar the price, so they’d still be making a profit, at no cost to them. Clearly this costs Derwent money, the only benefit would have been to get people in, and drinking earlier, a great deal for the bar with no risk whatsoever. They weren’t interested. There a whole load of stories just like this, the University managers are interested only in making as much profit as possible, and the Bar managers are often interested in doing as little work as possible. (there are exceptions, but In my experience, this is often the case). The reason the Charles is packed on a monday night, isn’t because of the wonderful decor, its because someone realized that students want cheap drinks, and they know that if I come in every monday, I’m more likely to come in the other days of the week. The fact that no-one at the university has ever thought of employing a similar strategy tells you something. A student run bar will be better for students, purely by virtue of the fact it will be run by people who understand student events and needs, and who have an interest in being a good bar, not just a profitable one.

    The second point I want to make is that one of the major problems that YUSU has is that it spends money on getting people into bars, whether small amounts for bar quizzes, or larger ones like Club D, or G-Shack. This costs YUSU money, for smaller ones, with no return at all, and for larger ones having to make a return purely on the ticket price. Student volunteer time, and student money goes into into lining the university’s pockets. This is important, because if there was a link between entry costs, and bar sales, then both could probably go down. A clear advantage for students.

    I’m not trying to say that the university’s motives aren’t rational, clearly they want to make as much money as possible, and thats fine. But its not the best deal for the students. When YUSU makes money, it goes back into student pockets, whether directly, through lower prices, or indirectly through service provision. I know where I’d rather my money went.

    The author complains about Langwith bar not being a good venue. I have to disagree. I’ve attended several bar quizzes there, as well as just going for a drink, and it is small enough to have some atmosphere even when its not that busy, unlike some other campus venues. Fair enough, its a bit tatty, but I’d rather be in a tatty, cosy bar, than in a dining hall. I’ve worked at, and attended several events in L/028 and actually with a bit of work, I really like it as venue. Its big enough for smaller live bands, unlike Vanbrugh which always looks empty,and with some dimmed lighting, and a bit of work (something which might be affordable when bar profits are taken into account) it might make a nice comedy/acoustic venue as well.

    I generally like Nouse articles, but I think the author here has decided to take an ‘anti-establishment’ tack simply for the sake of it. With some research and thought into what the problems are with campus events and campus bars at the moment, both from a guest, and event management perspective, the author might have realized that a YUSU run bar might go some way to making campus a better place for socializing.

    Langwith bar won’t be a silver bullet, and it certainly won’t be easy to make it successful, but with the support of students, and some sensible thinking from the campus media it might just make help make York a better place to be.

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  8. Aren’t you a rainbow of optimism Matthew Jeynes?

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  9. 26 Feb ’08 at 3:15 am

    The Campus Pedant

    I think Mr. Burton has come up with a pretty sensible proposal here. A small-scale project would give YUSU the opportunity to operate a bar before jumping straight into the hes-east shaped deep end. If societies were encouraged to use langy and some decent promotions were put on, I can easily see students being tempted away from other bars – which might give comm services the kick up the @rse that they need in terms of providing bars that students actually want to drink in.

    As long as it’s not called Your:Bar i’ll be happy- those colons really are too grammatically incorrect for a top class university.

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  10. 28 Feb ’08 at 3:05 pm

    Danny McSheffrey

    Matthew Jeynes has no basis for concern in this issue due to his affiliation with home made cider at his simple farm in the north west.

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  11. Mr Jeynes,

    Your article stumbles inacurately through a number of points.

    Firstly, Langwith as a late licence venue. Goodricke, an extremely successful campus venue, complains that having to go outside to go to the toilet is detrimental to their event atmosphere.

    During “Dark Chocolate”, Goodricke spent a considerable amount splitting their room into a dancefloor and lounge – something that Langwith already has.

    With a bar area, two serving points, large JCR (lounge area?), plus a dancefloor of the same capacity of Vanbrugh, all inside and connected, Langwith as a venue needs help, not closing.

    I agree that at this time JJs is more attractive, but having had money spent on it, proved not to recover. Posting a loss of £6000 on the same period last year, JJs is circling the drain. Langwith posts a loss of less than £820, and being £8,000 up on the same period last year – Langwith is far from being a dead space on paper and very much fighting the trends, unlike Goodricke (£25,000 down) and Derwent (£12,000 down).

    Langwith owes much of this success to small bar events that are suited to the space; bar quizzes and open mic nights – most of which are blessed by the frequent attendence of one of our most valued patrons, Mr Matt Jeynes.

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  12. It is all well and good for YUSU to want to take over Langwith Bar, however, may I ask who will manage it? more to the point, how much will they get paid?

    Getting a bar manager who is capable of running a bar (ie. ordering, staffing, licencing, and all of the other things that happen behind the scenes) for what I guess YUSU will want to pay them (about the same as the Sabs, which, correct me if I am wrong is around 10k) will be impossible… for a capable bar manager, you will need at least 20k!

    Plus, how will students be attracted to the bar… it certainly wont be because the drinks will be cheaper… I’m sure commercial services have their heads screwed on enough to not sell a venue without a clause that ‘drinks prices shall not be less than what we charge’… to sell a venue between two of their venues that will charge lower prices is just stupid!

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