Thursday, 17 February 2011

Decline and fall

As usual, Pete Robinson, writing in The Publican, pulls no punches in a trenchant and sadly all too realistic analysis of the parlous state of the British pub trade.

There never was any demand for non-smoking pubs so the industry will never find it possible to replace it's dwindling customer base. Nor is there sufficient demand to support 40-odd thousand food-led pubs. It's market forces, plain as.

So with the trade not even campaigning for any amendment to the law we'll see our once-great pub culture wither and die over the next 10 years. At best we'll be left with a few chains of managed, town-centre food pubs-come-coffee-houses, basically Wetherspoon-clones, totaling around 12,000 in all.

Sure we'll attempt to rebuild and one day in the distant future new pubs will again be built and old one's converted back from flats, shops and Indian restaurants. But they'll just be bars and food halls, a mere parody of what once was, like those 'English Pubs' that litter the streets of Benedorm.

We'll never recapture that quintessential time-honoured character that made British pubs unique - the envy of the world. Much of that's already gone, ever since we threw open our doors to the forces of political correctness. We lost something very special the day when we allowed the State behind the bar. It's one reason why the customers have been drifting away.

Countless previous generations have cherished this trade before handing it safely down to the next. To our shame we may be the last generation to remember what a real pub was like. In years to come your own son may be writing a dissertation on how the Great British pub disappeared into the pages of history.


  1. Hi Curmudgeon, I travelled up to London last week to find pubs for my website (see below). I walked miles and saw many closed pubs. Really sad. Many on their last feet seem to be putting their last shot into "Thai Food".

    What will we tell the children? We forgot how to communicate with fellow human beings because beer was cheaper in supermarkets?

    I'm hoping my site can help. It advertises pubs selling Meal Deals:


  2. Sorry to be a pain Curmugeon, I'd like that to be a link if I can do it...

    All the best, keep Curmudgeoning!


  3. Very accurate assessment of the state of British pubs.
    Smoking ban, poxy meals and kids would be my added effort.
    The pub trade has committed suicide and still blames the supermarkets.

  4. Why would a kid need to write a dissertation? If I had a kid and they were asked to write about the death of UK pubs I'd just point him to your blog and suggest plagiarism.

  5. There are a few still standing- The Nelson Tavern , Mudeford is one near me. Though they do have a restaurant with Thai food, there is definiteley a traditional pub atmosphere.So it aint all bad.

  6. So where are all those that were screaming and shouting "We can not go to the pub because of fag smoke, if they were non smoking we would all go!"?

    Obviously a shower of liars.

  7. "Obviously a shower of liars."

    Or perhaps simply hit by the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, with wage freezes, wage cuts, job insecurity, job losses, savings losing value, businesses going bankrupt, etc.

    Anyone who dismisses these factors out of hand is ignoring the elephant in the room.

  8. Well, the biggest year-on-year fall in on-trade beer sales was 9.3% between 2007 and 2008, well before the recession kicked in, but the first full year after the ban. And the pub trade has always been pretty resilient in previous recessions because going to the pub was seen as an "affordable indulgence" and also something of a refuge from a harsh world.

    As you have recorded on your own blog, pubs are now closing that would once have been regarded as rock-solid fixtures. It's clear there's much more to it than just the economic cycle.

  9. Pub did okay for hundreds of years through plenty of economic bad times. If the economy is bad, where better to go spend a few quid than the pub, the way it used to be. But ignoring the smoking ban, that ignoring the elephant in the room. Amazing how the anti-smoking hate-mongerering and mainly leftists still try shifting the all too obvious.

  10. I have a book about old Liverpool pubs and in the 19th century there were over 50-60 pubs and beer houses within a few hundred yards of the town hall. Now there's about a dozen; we haven't lost 40+ drinking establishments since 2007 when the credit crisis (and smoking ban) began. I can remember in the 1960s that Liverpool's Scotland Road had a pub on evey corner ~ there are now two, and that number has been declining over the last 40 years, not the last three.

    Why have all these pubs gone? Multiple reasons, of course, but you can't say recurring depressions had no effect at all, and in the examples I've cited, the ban definitely had no part.

    Perhaps we should stop using that simplistic phrase "elephant in the room". It's inaccurate because there's clearly a herd of elephants in the room.

    You refer to my blog, Curmudgeon; I said there that the ban is one factor among many. I don't think your statement that pubs have been resilient in previous depressions, so the smoking ban must be to blame, stands up to serious examination. Not seeing that I have seen a lot of pubs disappearing on Merseyside throughout my entire life, and I'm not three and half years old.

    "It's clear there's much more to it [pub closures] than just the economic cycle." True. It's also clear there's much more to it than just the smoking ban.

  11. Anon: your comment that I am an anti-smoking hate mongerer shows that you know nothing about my views on smoking. Am I not allowed to have a different view from you without being subject to such gratuitous insults? It is your language, not mine, that betrays intolerance.

    For the record, I'm not anti-smoking, and I know plenty of lefties who smoke. I also know some smokers who are not bothered about the ban.

  12. Some pubs have shut because of the smoking ban - true. Others couldn't compete with the unfaltering advance of Wetherspoon's. Pubcos bled the profit out of thousands of pubs by lack of investment and enticing suckers into the business. Road houses have lost custom as drink driving became socially unacceptable. Endless price increases, not just on beer as the charges on soft drinks are extortionate, the recession, cheap supermarket booze, sky football. To use a current buzz phrase a Perfect Storm has arisen which is decimating our pub stock. And now there's the desertion of our traditional pubs for trendy new bars selling keg. None of us would do that though, would we?

  13. XX RedNev said...

    "Obviously a shower of liars."

    Or perhaps simply hit by the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, with wage freezes, wage cuts, job insecurity, job losses, savings losing value, businesses going bankrupt, etc. XX

    We have, believe it or not, also had "cash problems" here.

    But you go around Berlin. It is NOT the pubs that allow smoking that are dying like flies.

    In fact within 200 meters of my house we have had two newly OPENed smoking pubs, and they are packed to the Gunwhales most evenings. The non smoking pub around the corner could not pay its electric bill last month.


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