Sunday 15 June 2014

Your Friendly Local

I can't remember these times, but I'm told there was a time when pretty much everyone of a certain social standing went to the pub. Before satellite TV and internet porn, socialising with people was a major recreational activity.  And for this, you'd go to what was colloquially called "The Local".

The actual beer served didn't really matter.  Thwaites, Greenalls, Tetley, Matthew Brown. It was probably all badly kept filth, anyway. But that didn't matter, as you were swapping gossip and nonsense with your mates, and you were smoking the kind of cigarettes that precluded tasting things anyway. You sat on your ripped leather bench behind a wonky table, placed your feet in the sawdust, sipped your malt vinegar, and talked utter bollocks until closing time.

Sadly, these days people simply expect more.  They want comfort and drinks that taste nice.  All this media stuff and travel have widened people's horizons, and they're simply not satisfied with just lapping up what they're given just because it's closest.  The Mudgie-beloved community local has died a death in recent years because people want better than that.

In many ways, we're softer and more pathetic than our forebears in our unwillingness to put up with discomforts for small pleasures.  But such nostalgia is unlikely to help the pub industry.  So, next time you find yourself sitting in a faux-swank chain pub drinking a pint of decent but nondescript beer, just think of this - This is what the People Actually Want.


  1. Tried the trendy new place in town, after waiting a considerable amount of time for the staff to stop faffing about making overly complex cocktails, and being ignored for people who wanted to peruse the drinks menu (whilst the staff waited for them!) they finally got round to us and couldn't knock up a half decent G&T. Also the beer was bland, not particularly well kept. And it had football on. Blurgh.

    1. Get thee down to the Gillow - drama, excitement, and all the overpriced Hyde's Original you can drink.

  2. I started going into pubs more than 40 years ago, and I don't recognise the strange view you have painted of previous times. If beer was vinegar, I can assure you it would have been taken back then as it would be now, but as a lot of it was keg, it was never going to be vinegar, although, being keg, it was never going to good either. People did know which pubs kept good beer and chose accordingly; many landlords and managers were very proud of their beer-keeping skills. Pubs were not all run-down hell holes, but those that were still often kept a good pint. When I was a student, we went to one of the scruffiest back street pubs in Warrington, not out of inverted snobbery, but because the beer was particularly good; nonetheless, there have always been plenty of tidy, well-maintained pubs.

    People also chose pubs based on the brewery. In Liverpool in the 70s, I'd choose a Higsons real ale house (about half of their estate was keg), Bass or Tetleys, especially if they still sold the old Walkers bitter. Bents had a reputation for not being very good, but it was always cheaper because they used cheaper ingredients; Bents was slightly before my time, but I recall older drinkers who’d never touch the stuff.

    Certainly there wasn't the choice we have today. Most pubs would have the house bitter and mild, plus a lager and Guinness. A few had a big name 'premium' bitter, such as Worthington E or Watneys Red Barrel, which were simply heavily advertised, overpriced keg beers. The big difference between now and then is that people today are used to much more choice, and therefore tend to expect it. This includes quite a few lager drinkers too who want something better than Carlsberg and its ilk.

    As for sawdust - I've never seen it in a pub.

    However, you are correct in your general point - one Curmudgeon has often made too - that going to the pub was not seen as unusual, but has now been (to use his word) denormalised. Despite that, most people who go to pubs nowadays still do so for a convivial evening with friends, so that’s no different.

  3. As RedNev says, it wasn't quite as bad as you make out, and plenty of pubs 30 or 40 years ago were actually quite nice. Back then, there were even upmarket wet-led pubs which you don't see now. Also it wasn't the case that people just went to a default local. Most people would in practice have a choice of several pubs and would choose the one they found most congenial in terms of beer, company and general atmosphere.

  4. I would guess the community local has died not so much because it was crap but because the community changed.

    Lots of community type institutions are dying. Local shops, post offices, churches and pubs. People live in houses where they don't know the name of their neighbours.

    There is wider context to consider. A wet tuesday night down the local in not on anyones radar anymore.