Friday, 18 September 2015

Keeping it regular

For many years, I’ve regularly distributed the local CAMRA magazine to a varying selection of pubs. One thing that always struck me was that, in some pubs, whatever the time or day I called in, there were always a few customers who could be relied on to be there.

The “pub regular” is often lionised as the backbone of the trade, but is he really the ideal customer? I recently wrote about the book A Year in the Drink by Martin Green. In this, he describes pub life in a small Welsh market town where, frankly, there was little else to do but go to the pub. And he makes the point that many of his regular customers were rather sad individuals who had no other social life, not cheery stalwarts.

We all want pubs to succeed, and most of us will have been regulars in some pub or other over the years, whether it is meeting up with mates on a Friday night, reading the paper on Sunday lunchtime or calling in for a couple a few nights a week on the way home from work. When I was at university, a mate and I in the same house would go down to the local (rather crappy) pub two or three nights a week.

But it has to be admitted – and most licensees will know this – that, for some people, being in the pub every night is a symptom of a sad and broken life, and there’s simply nothing else for them to do. Stonch nails it in this blogpost, where a commenter says that “the thought of listening to the bollocks that tsunamis over the bar on an average night for the rest of his life was too much for any half-intelligent person to put up with.” If you think you’re going into the pub trade to be the centre of cheery bonhomie and witty banter, you’re sadly mistaken.

This is, of course, not to say that pub companionship and conviviality isn’t generally a very good thing but, as with many other things, once it becomes your sole focus in life, it has its dark side. You do see this rather less now – the foodification of many pubs, the smoking ban, and the ever-rising price of on-trade beer must be factors. But you wonder how many of the former barstool raconteurs are now sitting at home with a packet of Bensons and a four-pack of Special Brew swearing at the telly.

I once remember overhearing a conversation in a remote pub in the Yorkshire Dales about a character called Rodney who ran a chip van on Blubberhouses Moor. When not doing this, he spent every night in the pub. Whether or not he was married I do not know. Someone once asked him “Rodney, have you ever tried staying in just for one night?” “Aye,” he replied. “It were ten year ago. Didn’t like it.” Funny, yes, but at the same time rather sad.


  1. Made me think of the chat about Bob Dylan's so called Never Ending Tour; he stays on the road because he has no happy home to return to.

    Poor old Bob.

  2. I remember when I started to have mixed feelings about the regulars of what was then my local. Not only would I see the same faces in there every Saturday, but they'd always be there when I arrived and still be there when I left. Not only that, but I'd see at least one familiar face if I went there on a Friday night, if I dropped in after work, if I had a day off and went in mid-afternoon... I got a bit less keen to get to know them at that point; it didn't seem like a scene I wanted to be part of.

  3. Whenever I used to ask Landlords in quiet rural pubs about trade, I was always told about the old boys who'd pop in every day for a couple of pints at 10 after tea and telly. This is probably a dying feature.

  4. This post came to mind when I read this rather sad tale from the New York Times about the lonely death of a compulsive hoarder:

    "He had been a fixture at a neighborhood pub called Budds Bar. He showed up in his cutoff blue sweatshirt so often that some regulars called him Sweatshirt Bell. At one point, he eased up on his drinking, then, worried about his health, quit. But he still went to Budds, ordering club soda... In April 2005, Budds closed. Many regulars gravitated to another bar, Legends. George Bell went a few times, then transferred his allegiance to Bantry Bay Publick House in Long Island City. He would meet his friend there."


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