Thursday, January 28, 2010
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.