Monday 19 August 2013

Can you handle the truth?

This month marks the third anniversary of my Closed Pubs blog, during which time I have recorded nearly 450 closed pubs.

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.


  1. Well yeh,the only thing that will keep pubs going is if they are commercially viable. Planning controls can only delay the inevitable.

    You should start a campaign encouraging the kids to love grotty pubs, pongy beer and cheese salad without pork pie. Something like "Grotty Boozers : Better than playstation or fingering your bird in your mums borrowed ford fiesta"

  2. When smoking is banned in beer gardens and within so-many metres of pub doorways, we shall probably wave goodbye to another 20,000.

    As for young people eschewing the pub habit, they seem to be doing a decent job of keeping the city-centre bars in business.


  3. You may want to consider Mudgie, whether the twin objectives of maintaining the survival of the pub in general, and maintaining the traditional nature of pubs in particularly are not actually in direct competition with each other.

    I am concerned about the long term future of the traditional pub, simply because young people have a far more negative opinion of them than was true just 10 years ago.

  4. The bottom line is, beer is too expensive in pubs. 20 years ago, I used to be out Fri-Sat-Sun night, and every teatime through the week.

    Drinking a minimum of 8 pints, more on a night time, then if the wife comes, she might do about 5 pints on a night, it works out a dear do at roughly £3 a pint.

    I don't think it's solely the increase in beer prices that's to blame, but the cost of everything else that's risen too, and there just isn't enough money to go around from a pay packet any more.

  5. @py0 - I am well aware that there is a potential conflict between the two. However, only a relatively small proportion of pubs can now really be said to be "traditional", and so that's largely irrelevant to the overall success of pubs.

    Also, in my experience it has often been the pubs that have gone for a more self-consciously modern and trendy image that have gone to the wall first.

  6. Another thing with the young uns and pubs, a fiver wont buy 2 pints of JS Smooth, but for a fiver the young uns can buy enough gange to get nicely mellowed out for 2 of them.

    There's also the crackdown on underage drinking. There was a time when lads who were working at 16 (Ah, those were the days eh?) with disposable income. The Landlord knew you were under age, but would still serve you, with the understanding that you sat in the corner quiet and any bother and you were out.
    This had the effect of weaning them into the social norms of pub life and them getting the taste for beer, but as you were there on sufferance, you kept your head down and behaved.

    Now they having to be of legal age, many (though not all) are obnoxious little shits who have a right to be there and think they're allowed to do and say what the hell they like. Once upon a time this would result in you getting a slap, now it results in the slapped ringing the law on you and the pub is turned into a crime scene.

    Having worked on a few doors in my time, I noticed this started back in the mid 90s, at the start of the surviellance state, and the introduction of camra phones hasn't helped much either.

  7. @Budvar - looking at the results of the poll on the left, which has "High prices" as the #2 factor after the obvious one, that's a point I may well return to later in the week.

  8. I think most pubs that go for a "modern and trendy" look unfortunately get it completely and hopelessly wrong.

    I don't go out and drink 8 pints a night for three straight nights anymore either, but it ain't because of the cost, its because I don't want to turn yellow by the time I'm 40.

  9. No worries.

    Smoky-Drinkies are moving to homebrew and are fast becoming the ale houses of the old days.

    Pubs will come back from the underground when the current Righteous 'I am more important than everything' idiots are again told to shut the fuck up.

    It'll take a long time but I don't mind. I'm in the freezone already, I don't care about the drones.


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