Saturday, 30 October 2010

Rose tinted pubs

I see that the government have now appointed Bob Neill as Community Pubs Minister, whatever that may mean. It’s all too common to hear of “community pubs” being held up as an ideal in comparison with irresponsible High Street bottle bars, as, for example, in the comment here by Greg Mulholland MP that “community pubs are a crucial part of the solution to problem drinking.”

The term conjures up visions of cosy little street-corner locals with darts teams, meat raffles and coach trips to the races, the kind of pubs where most of the customers live within walking distance and regulars will greet each other in the bar. In short, the kind of place where you might ask the proverbial “man in the pub” a question and get a meaningful answer.

Yes, there still are pubs of this kind, but they represent a small and dwindling proportion of the country’s pub stock, and it is these “community pubs” that have suffered most over the past three years when legislation has decreed that half the pubgoing community have to be treated as outcasts.

And it is very misleading to imply that “well run pubs” and “community pubs” are one and the same. What about town-centre Wetherspoons? Or destination dining pubs specialising in local food and ales? Or multi-beer freehouses that most of their customers will pass numerous local pubs to visit? All types of pubs promoted by CAMRA, but not really in the accepted sense “community pubs”, unless “community” is defined as a community of interest of their customers.

How often, honestly, do you go in a pub and strike up a conversation with people you already know, but who haven’t either gone there with you or arranged to meet you there?

Perhaps if distinctions are to be drawn in the pub trade, they should be between “responsibly” and “irresponsibly” run venues. “Community pubs” is a sentimental, old-fashioned and increasingly meaningless stereotype which fails to reflect the way most responsible drinkers use pubs today.

8 comments:

  1. The community pubs in our area are all, in my opinion, rubbish. But, they do serve a community. Those that haven't been boarded up already.

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  2. I had exactly this problem when I did my tour of leafy Kennington. Which, if any, of the pubs I visited would be 'community' pubs? There's posh Kennington and Council Estate Kennington, and pubs which serve either but not really both.

    I dunno. Maybe Dave needs to fold this into his 'Big Society'...

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  3. I have two 'local' pubs, and these are one of each.

    The first, the sadly soon-closing Oakdale Arms in Haringey is a place where we all sit around the bar and chat, we all know each other, we help each other out. You can go in any night of the week and guarantee there'll be someone you know there to sit and talk to.

    The second is the Jolly Butchers in Hackney, which really isn't a local pub at all. You can have a conversation with a stranger, but you are unlikely to see them again. Most people there have arrived in a self-contained group who aren't interested in socialising outside that group.

    And irresponsible drinking? The latter is one to enjoy and savour some quality beer. The former is one to neck a few and get good and drunk.

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  5. Good piece, but I think you've over-egged it with

    How often, honestly, do you go in a pub and strike up a conversation with people you already know, but who haven’t either gone there with you or arranged to meet you there?

    Becasue the answer is practically daily. Even in big bad London:)

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  6. Ah, but you're not a typical pubgoer, are you?

    I was in the pub this lunchtime (and it was gratifyingly busy) doing a bit of peoplewatching, and it was very clear that customers stuck together in the groups they had come in, or joined up with people they had arranged to meet there.

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  7. Aww, Mudge, no one spoke to you? Consider it a good thing in Stockpit. It's bandit country, that place.

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  8. I am confident that in dave's big society all pubs will be community pubs

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