Monday 31 March 2008

Empty tables

So the much-vaunted advance of pub food has ground to a shuddering halt.

This is hardly surprising, really, considering the overall recession in the pub trade, but it does give the lie to the claims of the antismokers that food would take up the slack from the smoking ban. They forgot that smokers need to eat too!

It's really a subject for another post, but the dismal quality of most pub food must play a part too - although as I see my fellow citizens scoffing the most appalling muck and declaring it "lovely" you do have to wonder whether they would appreciate better quality even if put on a plate in front on them.

Saturday 29 March 2008

The death of the pub draws nigh

According to today's Daily Mail, the government are set on reducing the drink-drive limit. This will mean the end of the country pub and effectively cut pubs back to a small rump in urban centres.

After dealing grievous blows to the pub trade through the smoking ban, the hysterical campaign against "binge-drinking", and the savage increase in beer duty, New Labour are obviously intent on finishing the job.

No fun any more

I was thinking the other day how I drink markedly more at home and less in pubs than I did ten or twenty years ago, something that must be reflected in many other people’s drinking patterns. It struck me how going to be pub was, overall, much less enjoyable and interesting than it used to be. There are exceptions, of course, but they are becoming ever rarer.

I came up with the following list of reasons as to why this should be:

  • Reduction of the territoriality of beer distribution, so that there is much less sense of discovery in visiting different areas
  • The growing compartmentalisation of the pub market - there are far fewer “all-purpose” pubs
  • Domination of food in more and more pubs
  • The general admission of children to bar areas
  • Reduced opening hours - so many pubs now close at lunchtime
  • A large number of pubs have shut down, and a lot more have stopped selling cask beer
  • Pubs in general are less welcoming to casual callers - see my earlier piece on the demise of the casual drinker
  • Loss of pub character through refurbishments - there may be fewer grotty pubs, but so many are bland and formulaic, and are laid out more as cafés than as pubs
  • The mass closure of public toilets, so the inevitable consequences of a visit to the pub need much more careful consideration

Taking its toll

The licensed trade were widely criticised for making overly pessimistic forecasts about the effect of the smoking ban. However, new figures from Scotland show that pub closures have been running at twice the predicted level.

I wonder where all the non-smokers have gone who were supposed to be flocking to pubs post-ban!

Monday 24 March 2008

Confusion to our enemies

I don't always see eye-to-eye with Simon Heffer, as he is basically a conservative while I would regard myself as more of a libertarian, however he often talks a lot of sense, as in this piece about the effects of the rise in beer duty (you'll need to scroll down the page a bit).

But the real killer of the boozer is going to be the Government's rapacious accelerator on alcohol taxes, which, as with petrol, means they will rise faster than the rate of inflation for years ahead. It is rubbish to say this is about targeting binge-drinking louts and loutettes: it is about milking respectable people who indulge in one of life's few pleasures. Not enough has been made of this outrage in last week's Budget. The easiest response for brewers is to close pubs and concentrate their activities on supplying the anti-social supermarket trade: I, and many others who like to go to a pub, would rather they organised themselves to wage war on the Government instead. The cynicism and dishonesty of the assault on middle-class drinking habits is disgusting even by Labour's standards: toast its failure today.

Sunday 16 March 2008

The Binge Budget

What a disgusting decision by Alastair Darling, to raise beer duty by a punitive 4p a pint. This will do nothing to reduce problem drinking, and indeed will serve to shift drinking away from the controlled environment of the pub. It will also further encourage both legal cross-border shopping and smuggling. It will simply make Britain’s perceived “alcohol problem” worse.

It was good to see CAMRA making a quick and strong response, though. Maybe at last the gloves have come off. CAMRA has a strong message to put across, that the traditional community pub with a mixed clientele is the best defence against problem drinking, and it needs to push this for all it is worth, and to vigorously oppose all policy initiatives that will further undermine pubs.

Seen but not heard

Yesterday I had a trip out to Chester, and was most encouraged to come across three pubs with unequivocal "no children" signs on their doors. All three, needless to say, were buzzing, with a good, lively, adult atmosphere. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés in a city like Chester, so why parents feel the need to take children into a pub is beyond me.

Sadly today it was back to normal in the local, with a four-year-old boy shouting at the top of his voice for an hour. Even if children are admitted, in cases like this we really miss the old-style landlord who would have a quiet word in the ear to say "I'm sorry, but if your lad won't pipe down I really will have to ask you to leave."

Saturday 1 March 2008


Went in what I've always considered to be a fairly decent traditional pub today, albeit one that because of its remote rural location has always been quite food-heavy.

Sign as you go in "Please wait at the bar to be seated". Sadly, not much welcome for the casual drinker there. I had my swift half and left.

In praise of proper pubs

Excellent article here from Chris Maclean.

I have a real affection for traditional pubs. Pubs that understand their origins. Pubs that understand their role within their communities. Pubs that preserve and maintain the tradition while others seek short term gains.

Give me a proper pub where I can have a conversation with people without the blare of music in my ear or the smell of fancy food.

It is these pubs that need defending. These pubs that cannot be treated as one amorphous lump with the others.

These pubs are special and deserve not only our support but, perhaps as importantly, our respect.

Well said that man!