Net gain for punters at hi-tech hostelry

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The Independent Online
NIGEL COPE

and JOJO MOYES

For people who like to sup a nice quiet pint down their local, it will be a nightmare. But for the Internet generation it is the watering hole of the future. Welcome to the Cyberpub, opening shortly in a town near you.

After a successful trial in Nottingham, one of Britain's biggest brewers is planning a national network of Cyberpubs - complete with access to the Internet. Punters pay a fee for a surf session, along with their lager and lime

Allied Domecq Leisure opened its first Cyberpub last May. It now plans a network of 35 in university towns and cities with a high student population. Four or five should open this year with locations such as Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester high on the list.

Allied Domecq said: "The internet has worked well in a pub environment. It has appealed mostly to students but also to a broad range of people keen to find out about the Internet."

The bars will all be branded as Cyberpubs but will not be themed with a futuristic design. They are essentially standard boozers with a bank of up to eight computer terminals blinking away in a separate area. Customers pay pounds 5 for an hour long session or pounds 2.50 for 30 minutes. Students receive a discount.

Perhaps contrary to expectations, Allied Domecq says it has not found the Nottingham pub besieged by anorak- wearing computer buffs who spend all evening sipping a half of lager and monopolising the machines. It has also established a set of house rules designed to prevent attemptsto download pornography.

According to assistant manager Sally Thorpe, customers, who range from students to pensioners, use the facility to access research information, to escape from their rooms or to have a drink in a "safer" atmosphere than many of the city pubs," she said. "You'll often get three or four people round the screen. Some come in before going clubbing."

Multiplay games are especially popular, with customers getting increasingly competitive when they've had a drink.

Robert Barber, an 18-year-old student, sat glued to his screen as "Beth" and "Bunny" flirted with him in short, pixillated bursts. "I talk to people all over the world," he said "and people in here too. It's good because you know everyone's into the same thing."

At the other end of the spectrum, according to Simon Provert, a barman, are older people who find a pub a less alienating way of tapping in to new technology. "I had one guy in his seventies. I had to sit with him because he had never used a mouse before."

"But I showed him a site with pictures taken by the space probe that went to Jupiter and he loved it."

But can it offer a place to meet the opposite sex?

Vicky Parkin, a 20-year-old student, and a regular since January, met Ken over the e-mail system and visited him in Canada soon after. They are now engaged. "He's really successful, good-looking, earns pounds 40,000 a year and is a black belt in karate, " she said, brandishing a photograph. "And he cooks."

Wise to the potential, the company is not the only one to be eyeing up multimedia possibilities. Cybercafes have been operating in London since last year. Greene King opened a cyberpub in Cambridge last spring,and Morland is looking at a quiz system to enable pubs to compete with each other.

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