Friday, 29 January 2016


Once Cathy Price had visited, there was no reason to stay open

A common complaint of the, shall we say, more senior of the pub commerariat is that "Pub Culture" is dying. Hundreds of them close every year, and the amount of drinks sold in the on-trade has been decreasing for over two decades. Some will blame the smoking ban, some high prices and others an aging demographic.

But most likely the reason is this : Most people don't want pubs anymore.

The reasons for the current density of pubs in towns and cities areas are many, and lie mainly in the 19th Century. Then, Britain had an increasingly large urban population, brewers that could turn out large amounts of palatable beer, and a much more relaxed attitude to alcohol consumption than we see today. Then as now, running a pub wasn't exactly the path to riches, but it did provide a reasonable living.

Over the last 50 years, many things have changed. Some for the better and some for the worse. But the main thing is the growth in media and communications technology. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, most people had to rely on other people for entertainment. The pub was where you found people, and many pints were sunk every night in between tellings of tales of decreasing veracity.  And that was good, everyone got well socialised and they were used to the alcohol consumption.   But then people bought their first TV, and the pub had competition.

Of course, now we have a media world people in the 1960s would barely comprehend. Facebook, YouTube, Skype, thousands of TV channels, all the music ever recorded just a click away. Not to mention the streaming internet porn. These provide most of the stimulation most humans will ever want, and they don't even need to leave the house. Who needs the pub, or even other people?

Ever since the 1980s, society has become ever more atomised, solipsistic and even misanthropic. A partner and a couple of friends are typically what most people use for face-to-face socialisation. And what partner would put up with their other half spending most of their evenings in the pub? (Ironically this is probably behind the ever increasing divorce rate - couples spending too much time together). People now live vicariously, through a phone screen and apps.

Something has been lost somewhere, undoubtedly. But people don't mind because they cannot miss what they've never had.  It's now entirely normal to spend evenings with Netflix and a bottle of wine, and not even to know your neighbours names.  I'm fairly sure that the increasingly poor behaviour and sense of entitlement amongst the human race today is a consequence of this. If you don't deal with people in real life on a regular basis, how would you ever learn what is and isn't acceptable?

The pub as a mass institution is probably dead now. Many of the ones that remain are mainly populated by oddballs (CAMRA types and Crafty hipsters both), misfits with no significant relationships, and bored alcoholics. Regular society has turned its back on the pub, as it's needs are being met elsewhere. There are probably too many pubs for it's current level of patronage to support, and plenty more will close before equilibrium is reached.

I will be sad when that day happens. As one of the aforementioned misfits, I'll probably still be drinking in them if I have the money and my internal organs hold up. But happen it will.

Sadly, it's what most people, through their behaviour, have indicated they want.


  1. I said something similar back in 2012. Regular society has indeed to a large extent turned its back on the pub, except as somewhere to eat meals.

  2. Society may well now have turned it's back on the pub, however I think the original decision to stay away was a forced one that soon became the norm.
    I've worked in the licensed trade since I was eighteen and left just as the smoking ban came in. At that time I was a relief manager for Thwaites brewery in Blackburn, running various pubs up an down the country when they were in want of a manager.

    All through my career I remember fighting for what what we called the 'entertainment budget'. The idea is that people have a certain amount of disposable cash for entertainment and we had to persuade them to spend it in our pubs.
    You're quite correct about the advent of modern technology. Supermarket booze has always been a lot cheaper than pub booze, so if people can make their own entertainment at home, a lot of the time they will. Both myself and my sister have gone as far as buying pool tables and sticking them in the spare room, although that is the exception rather than the rule.
    Humans are generally a social animal though and in my experience, will prefer a night out in the pub rather than one at home if they can justify it.
    Big tellys and games consoles can get boring after a while whereas pubs offer all kinds of audio and visual entertainment including sports and live music and games.
    They also offer a social activity you can't get at home; the opportunity to meet new people. Anyone wanting to make new friends or hook up will think of the pub as the first port of call.
    Technology was always a risk factor in securing the entertainment budget, but was never serious enough to threaten the trade.
    When you see a young couple sat opposite each other, not talking but both on Facebook, you know Facebook isn't going to harm the pub trade (although to do that is baffling to me).

    I left the trade in 2007 because of the coming smoking ban. I could see what it was going to do to the trade and I was right. In under two years Thwaites had sold it's entire managed estate, something that wouldn't have been dreamed of before the smoking ban. If I hadn't left when I did I would have been made redundant.

    Pubs come and go and the trade has been steadily decreasing for decades, but it's never seen anything like the devastation caused by the ban. Smokers and non-smokers alike abandoned the pubs because a night out wasn't the same with half the group outside fagging it in the rain.
    That was the point where home entertainment became a more viable option than the pub. At home you go by your own rules.

    Now it's been almost nine years since the ban and people under the age of twenty six have never been in a pub where people were allowed to smoke. It's become the norm. Those pubs that survived the ban have now become what people expect of pubs, chavvy, food orientated, child friendly.
    Nobody who is used to that will listen to us drone on about smokey boozers and think that must have been a good thing. They'll never understand the atmosphere that we had inside wet led smokey meeting places.

    I can agree with your conclusions that the public are turning their back on the trade, particularly the old style trade, yet I don't believe they would have done so if the smoking ban had never been introduced.

    It's a choice now, nine years later, but nine years ago it was forced on the punters of the time.

    1. Totally agreed. I'm a non-smoker, but I've always been acutely aware of the damage that a blanket smoking ban would do to the pub trade.

      Obviously, as you say, it has been a long-term decline that well predates the smoking ban. But I think the ban did represent a step-change in separating previously unified groups who came in for a drink and a chat.

  3. Hi,
    I agree that pubs are not what they use to be, they were part of a community. I love going to the pub. It was great walking in to our local pub and being greeted by everyone. Any thing you wanted to know about what was going on locally. You could find it out there.
    It's a great social meeting place to get together with friends. It puts me off now because all you can smell is sweat and smelly farts, and over excited little children. I really hate going outside for a smoke. It all worked before. Sometimes change is not for the better. Thanks, Mrs buckothemoose

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks, STONCH. Good to know I can do other things but take the piss

    2. Is there still an MBCF pisstake in the pipeline?

      A pity you weren't in Stockport on the Friday night to see me drink a pint of distinctly murky Cloudwater Bretted Bitter.

    3. And the excellent OBB. In two different lovely SS pubs. (Both of you, Stonch & Matthew.)

    4. And the excellent OBB. In two different lovely SS pubs. (Both of you, Stonch & Matthew.)

  5. I think it's last year that the balance shifted so that more alcohol is drunk at home than in the pub. So a decline in pubs, but there are still a lot of busy pubs out there.

    1. It's last year when the balance shifted for beer. It had done so for wine, spirits and cider a long time ago.

      There are still busy pubs, but if you only visit on Friday or Saturday night you will get a misleading impression. And there are plenty of pubs still trading that never seem remotely busy. Our local CAMRA branch does monthly pub crawls on Friday nights, aiming to visit all real pubs, not just the favourites. In some the only customers are two men and a dog.

  6. We need a more creative definition of a pub. Half the pubs CAMRA claim are pubs are restaurants. Costa Coffee is more a pub than many.

    If we re define pubs to include Costa, Pubs are enjoying a renaissance.

    1. And Costa is owned by Whitbread, of course. They came good in the end and saved the pub.

  7. The photo made me laugh but it's a beautiful piece of writing. I think the only caveat is the one that Mudge alludes to; pubs can seem full of social drinkers of all types at the weekend evenings, but rarely during the week and at lunchtimes. Sunday lunch sessions don't count.

    1. I've actually been in some of the most embarrassingly empty pubs of all on Sunday lunchtimes. Not sure if you've seen this blogpost on Sunday lunchtime through the years. I get the impression that, for many people, Friday night is pub night in a way that no other session is.