The past decade or so surely represents an absolute disaster for British pubs, with so many once thriving establishments closing their doors for the last time. Over the past 15 years, according to the BBPA Beer Barometer, pub beer sales have fallen by 46.3%, or almost half, and it is reckoned that around 20,000 pubs have closed. And many of those still trading are worryingly quiet for most of the week.
It’s all kinds of pubs – estate pubs, suburban roadhouses, country pubs, village pubs, urban locals, edge-of-town pubs, market town pubs. Only the centres of large cities seem to be immune. I’ve recently been sent a couple of examples in busy London suburbs where a lack of nearby people, or passers-by not in cars, cannot be an issue.
However, many people who claim to be pub and beer enthusiasts still fail to acknowledge the sheer scale of this trend. While they may see a few pubs closing, they will put it down to poor management or the rapacity of supermarkets and pub companies. Within CAMRA, there remains a widespread delusion that reforming the PubCo tie, tighter planning controls and designating pubs as “community assets” will somehow save them from the incoming tide.
And, realistically, it’s not going to change. We just have to accept the reality, however sad it may be. Enjoy what you have, as long as it lasts. Pubs – as places to drink and socialise, not just pub-themed restaurants – are more and more becoming a small, irrelevant rump confined to city centres and middle-class urban enclaves.
In a generation, the idea of just “going to the pub” will meet with total bafflement amongst most of the population. For many people, it does even now. Pretty much every decent, proper pub I go in, even if seemingly busy, I can’t help thinking “so how long is this going to last then?” Boak & Bailey were cautiously optimistic about the future of pubs here. Apart from very limited areas, I’m not so sure.