Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Great British Pub, R.I.P? - England 2010 Part 2

As many of my friends know, one of the things I miss most about living in England is the traditional local pub. One I remember fondly is The Britannia, located just opposite the flat (apartment) I lived in for a while before moving to the US. Just as in any good "local," I knew that whenever I visited I'd find friends, and the bar-staff would be pouring my beer without needing to be asked.

After I moved here, my visits back to England would always include a trip or two to "The Brit," seeing who was still around, and catching up with the local gossip. Sadly, on my last visit, about eighteen months ago, I found none of my friends in residence. It was being run by a West Indian family and had a large West Indian clientele. Even so, they made me feel very welcome, and we spent a lot of time chatting about life in the States.

Some time ago, I started hearing that pubs around the country were closing at an alarming rate. I saw evidence of this for myself, including one pub near my parents' house that was being demolished to make way for flats. Just before my most recent visit, my Father told me that he had heard that The Britannia had closed. Determined to find out for myself, I discovered that it hadn't actually closed, but when I looked in, there was one patron and no sign of the bar-staff. I decided to check another nearby pub, The Biscot Mill, to see if any of my friends had started drinking there. After some good beer and conversation with some regulars, some old friends did walk in, and we spent some time catching up over a few pints. Unfortunately, I found out that The Britannia was indeed about to close, and was going to be turned into flats.

Later during our visit, we took a side-trip to Swansea, in South Wales. On a bitterly cold Sunday morning, we went along the coast a little to a village called Mumbles, a popular tourist attraction. Sheltering from the weather, we went into a pub to get some hot drinks. Looking around the place, which had some antique wood-paneling, stained glass, and some interesting looking beers, something seemed a little "off." The menus on the tables looked very generic. We started to suspect that the place was a cleverly-disguised "chain-pub," and a barman confirmed this.

Why are traditional British Pubs disappearing so rapidly? Many blame the ban on smoking in public places. I've never been a smoker myself, but I still find it strange being in a smoke-free pub. Recently, I've noticed much of the media criticizing the wide availability of cheap alcohol in the supermarkets; some are calling for a law setting a minimum price. Another aspect may be the perceived rise in crime and so-called "antisocial behavior" making people feel less safe outside their homes. Then there's the poor economy. Brits are not going to the pub like they used to; instead, they are sitting in the safety of their homes, in front of their big-screen TVs, where they can smoke while drinking their cheap supermarket booze. Britain is losing both a piece of its cultural history and a valuable avenue for social interaction.

Do you have any thoughts about British pubs or pub culture? How do you feel about these establishments disappearing so rapidly? I'd love to hear your feedback.


Carrie B said...

So what are the 20 & 30 somethings doing in the evenings and on weekends?

RaveOnEverything said...

Why are traditonal pubs disappearing?Why did family run grocers disappear and give way to the supermarkets?People's greed for more variety,convenience at less price.Why are farms disappearing and giving way to Agro-businesses?It all boils down to me and the choices I make.

RaveOnEverything said...

Individual,handmade or grown obviously have better quality than mass produced goods/vegetables.Due to short-sightedness and laziness on my part, when I give preference to quantity(mass-produced) over quality(local,home-grown,hand-made)for the sake of convenience,laziness,ignorance, I drive another nail into the "local" coffin.It starts at home,when we prefer fast food over mom's cooking.Its all in the head.

Anonymous said...

..was sent your way by jongibbs - great to meet you on blogger (smile). I read a mystery series where all the titles are British Pub names... the pub is an integral part of each of the stories. How sad that these are dwindling. I think the British pubs are going the way of the American "soda fountain" which were mini ice cream shops inside downtown Main St. pharmacies - complete with counters, stools, and a "soda jerk" who would create the sundae of your dreams... so sad.

Graham said...

@Carrie B - As I said in my blog piece, I think they're sitting at home smoking and drinking their cheap supermarket booze - either on the computer, or watching their big-screen TVs.

@RaveOnEverything - While I do agree with your take on grocers, farms, etc., and while I think there's an element of truth in what you say in the case of pubs, I think there may be other contributing factors (as I suggested in this piece). But ultimately, people do have to be willing to go out and support their local pubs, if these establishments are to survive.

I've since learned about a British TV show called "Save Our Boozer" where the host goes around the country enlisting the help of a community to save their local pub. Here's an interview with the host:

Save our Boozer – Interview with Jay Smith

Nice to meet you, @BeComingMe - I think you're right about the apparent fate of pubs. So sad, as they are a valuable "third place" in our communities.

Who's the author of your pub mystery series? I'm fond of a good mystery myself!

British Connection said...

Hey Graham,
A few of our friends are Pub owners, and they both say that the smoking ban was the beginning of the end. Dave's brother, a non-smoker, says he can't stand the odor in the pubs now...the smoke had been masking the scent of stale beer etc.
I also feel that being in the EU, the British are losing a lot of their heritage and charm. If they don't appreciate their local pubs now, they may regret that when they lose them.

All the Best,

Graham said...

Hi Barbara! I think Dave's brother may just know a smelly pub! :) Still, even being a nonsmoker, and not enjoying the smell of smoke on my clothes, somehow it just seems wrong when I walk into a smoke-free pub.

I'm not sure the EU has anything to do with the "death" of the local pub, but you may be right about people missing them when they're gone.

Changing the subject, perhaps you and I ought to have a chat some time about your business.