Tandleman recently wrote a post about the future of the pub entitled I’ll Still Have a Pub to Go To. This included the following comments about the current situation that could almost have been written by myself:
So why go to the pub? Remaining bottom end pubs are no go areas, road house pubs have either gone or become family oriented eateries, estate pubs have closed, slowly, one after the other as drinkers can drink and smoke cheaply at home, town centre pubs can be hell holes at weekends (or magnets for a certain kind of young drinker) and deserted during the week. Good honest locals are struggling too. My observation too is that many young drinkers that do find their way to the boozer, aren't drinking that much by way of beer, but ready mixes, exotic ciders and gaudily coloured spirits with Red Bull.His conclusion is that, while the pub trade has declined, there will always be pubs of some kind for those that want them. Despite all the doom and gloom, it is important to remember that we still have two-thirds of the pubs that were trading thirty years ago, and some of them at least continue to do very healthy business.
However, as I posted here, both the geographical and social range served by pubs have become narrower over the years. The famous quote from the classic film This is Spinal Tap that the band’s appeal was “becoming more selective” is very much true of pubs as well. Whole swathes of inner cities are now pretty much devoid of pubs – see this post on Pubs of Manchester about how a recent closure has left Collyhurst in Manchester “an almost pub-free district” – while the comfortable middle classes, although they may eat in gastropubs, don’t do much actual drinking in pubs any more.
It’s also the case that closing one pub doesn’t necessarily mean that all its customers will go to another. Making a visit to a pub depends on a particular combination of opportunity and geography, and for every pub that closes, there will be a proportion of its customers who simply stop going to pubs rather than moving to one down the road, and a segment of society for whom pubgoing ceases to be something that is an option in their normal routine.
Rather than having a universal appeal, pubs in future will need to specialise in those aspects of their offer that they can do well enough to tempt people out of their living rooms. This is why, in the right location, specialist beer pubs are doing much better than bog-standard pubs, but it doesn’t mean your average estate local will prosper by putting on a range of craft kegs. Pubgoing will increasingly become a niche market, not something most people do.
In a sense it is now Wetherspoon’s who are flying the flag for pubs used by a variety of age groups and for a range of different purposes, and which anyone can walk into without looking or feeling out of place.
Another factor is that, perhaps counter-intuitively, pubs seem to thrive in areas where there is already a lot of activity, rather than locations convenient to people’s homes. We can see clusters of pubs and bars, and new openings, in places like Chorlton and Didsbury, and to some extent in areas of Stockport like Heaton Moor and Cheadle Hulme, while many pubs set amidst housing estates have closed despite the number of potential customers living nearby. That is certainly what drives Wetherspoon’s location policy.
Yes, there will still be pubs and bars in twenty years’ time, but I expect there to be a lot fewer than there are today and, outside of major city centres and prosperous inner suburbs, just going to a pub to have a drink will be something that most people rarely contemplate doing and indeed perceive as a trifle eccentric.