We're not only here for the beer

Now punters can talk to people all over the world or play computer games while quaffing pints down the local. Paul Gosling meets some Internet barflies

When one of the nine computer terminals in the Cyperpub is unused, it springs to life with a Carlsberg advertisement. That is just one of the surprises in one of the first Net surfers pub in the world: a windowless but smart cellar bar in Nottingham's Victoria Centre, with bleeping terminals blending with the gentle, ignorable background noise of ambient music.

Brewers will try anything to bring today's all-too-sober punters into their pubs. Greene King's Six Bells in Cambridge has terminals drinkers can use free of charge. Ansell's Cyberpub has been set up on a bigger and more commercial scale. The brewery intends to open a further 10 if trade is as good as expected - and the signs from the first few weeks are good. Digital, which supplies the equipment, expects many pub landlords to copy it, others to set up children's computer rooms, and for the Internet to take over the pleasure arcades of the future.

Nottingham was chosen because it is a university city, with a large population of young adults. But on the evidence so far the customers are almost as likely to be middle-aged, drawn not only by the technology, but by the waiters, who provide computing expertise.

Customers are mostly there to surf the Internet, assisted by uncomplicated software, but can also use the computers as games machines. Charges are reasonable, unless, like some of the pub regulars, you become addicted. The cost is pounds 5 per hour, or pounds 3 per hour for students. This allows you to download information on to disks, or to print it out.

Caroline Hurt, a 21-year-old-typist and receptionist, was one of the pub's two customers at 6pm on a Wednesday. "I come here every day, bar Sundays," she says. "I have made some good friends." Her friends are the other users, the staff - many of whom are technology students and graduates - and her worldwide correspondents on the computer chatlines.

"I can find out anything in the world that is going on, talk to people all over the world, and find out what is happening where they are. It costs quite a bit, but it is cheaper, a lot cheaper, than having one at home. If I come here, I don't really need a computer. If I had one, my electrical and phone bills would be sky high."

Ms Hurt likes to use the Internet for rock and film gossip, and for the chat lines - she has so far logged on to 43 of them, and one day was in the pub for 11 hours, eating there and drinking lots of coffee. Although the staff say that the majority of users are men, women say they find the atmosphere relaxed.

The other user on my visit was Christine Vincent, a 44-year-old mobile housing warden for Nottingham council, who convenes the local Women's Environmental Network group. "I want to know what I can do to cut down emissions from cars. I had a go on the Internet last week at a green festival, and want to go back to the council to ask for some money for an electric car. There is some very helpful stuff on the Internet. It is easier than I thought it would be. You have got to know specifically what you are looking for, as it is also easy to get lost."

Ms Vincent says that although this is her first visit she will come again to bring her 16-year-old son. The pub allows 14-year-olds to visit with their parents, or 16-year-olds with any adult. Ms Vincent's one criticism is that customers are not yet able to open e-mail accounts, preventing customers from asking for information to be sent to them. Ansell has been advised that unless it has a secure system of identifying users, the landlord could be legally liable for any defamation. A membership club is likely to open in the near future.

Ansell says it is more than happy with the response so far - at peak times there is a queue to get on the machines. And the wine is pretty good as well.

CAFeS:

Cyberia, 39 Whitfield Street, London W1

Cyberia, 48 Hight Street, Kingston-upon-Thames

CB1, 32 Mill Road, Cambridge

Zap Cybercafe, on the seafront opposite the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton

The Hub Intercafe, The Bell, Walcot Street, Bath

Custard Factory, Gibb Street, Birmingham

Sputnik, Temple Street, BirminghamWest; 11-13 Whitworth Street West, Manchester

Cafe Internet, 28 North John Street, Liverpool

Peak Art Cybercafe, 30 Market Street, New Mills, near Stockport

Cyberia, 88 Hanover Street, Edinburgh

Web13, 13 Bread Street, Edinburgh

Bytes, Falls Road, Belfast

PUBS:

Cyberpub, near Victoria Shopping Centre, Nottingham

The Six Bells, Covent Garden, Cambridge

An up-to-date list is available at: http://www.easynet.co.uk/pages/cafe/ccafe.htm

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