Sunday, 9 July 2017

The old man and the pub

A phrase you often hear bandied about nowadays in a rather disparaging sense is “old man pub”. It refers not just to the clientele, but to a particular style of pub – broadly traditional, mainly wet-led, with dark wood in the décor, abundant, often fixed, seating and a compartmentalised layout.

However, it’s important to remember that there has always been an age divide in the customer base of particular pubs. The idea that there was a golden age when all ages mingled happily in the same pub is something of a myth. For long, there has been a general pattern that people use pubs frequently when they are young adults, but then start doing so a lot less once they settle down, start a family and try to climb the career ladder. However, once the children are off their hands, they have more time and fewer financial commitments, and the greasy pole no longer holds such attraction, they get back into the habit once more.

So, at any time over the past century, you would have found a divide between pubs with a predominantly young clientele, and those whose customers were more middle-aged and elderly. In Portrait of Elmbury, published in 1945, John Moore describes a classic “old man pub” in the Coventry Arms in his lightly fictionalised version of Tewkesbury, “which has a little back parlour where grave old citizens like to sit in semi-darkness and sip their beer and talk of old times while the shadows close in upon them.” And, while such pubs may not be to the taste of boisterous youngsters, is it such a bad thing that they exist?

Thirty years ago, the fun pub, primarily targeted at younger customers, was an established feature in most towns of any size, but as young people have tended to drink less, and in a different pattern, these establishments have largely bitten the dust. And what, nowadays, is the alternative to the “old man pub”? The gastro dining pub, which is mainly used by well-heeled older customers anyway? Or the family dining venue, which will certainly have some younger customers, but which footloose young single adults will do their best to avoid? Or the sports bar, where the lads might come in to watch the footy, but at other times be conspicuous by their absence?

While we’re seeing trendy “craft” bars springing up in many towns, their customer base is only a small subset of the whole age group, and only materialises at very limited times. Try going to Stockport Market Place on a weekday lunchtime and comparing the number of customers in the “old man” Boar’s Head with those in the Baker’s Vaults and Remedy Bar. Plus, it could be said that the micropub, given its typical clientele, is a modern recreation of the “old man pub.”

Surely all that an “old man pub” is, is a pub that has survived through the generations without bowing to every fickle wind of fashion. Obviously not every pub will appeal to everyone, but if you have a problem with them as a species, then it’s probably fair to say you don’t really care much for pubs at all.

The photo shows codgers chewing the fat in the Olde Blue Bell in Hull in May this year. “If it weren’t all for these medical treatments they have today, most of us’d be dead”, one said.

24 comments:

  1. Following on from that rather morbid quote from the pub-goer, folk of retirement age and up represent an increasing demographic. I hope that the more older people there are, the more they frequent the pub to keep them going. We might see the trend reversing or maybe that's wishful thinking. Have "Old men pubs" have closed more rapidly than others over the past couple of decades? I think so as there are fewer pubs I'd call "old men pubs" about. Maybe a solution would be to get our ageing sisters into pubs more. They'd double the customer population.

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    1. Unfortunately, 'old men' who enjoy going to the pub and also enjoy smoking are less inclined than the youngsters to feel that it's acceptable to be forced to stand outside in the pissing rain to have a ciggy. So they just don't bother going anymore.

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  2. Where do old women who like a drink go considering, on average, they live longer?

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    1. For various social cultural reasons, historically women have not tended to go to pubs on their own - but in fact, they tend to have alternative and more supportive social networks than men, hence men falling back on the pub.

      I'd say there's a reasonable smattering of female customers in the Boar's Head, either alone or in pairs.

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  3. "Is it such a bad thing that they exist?" No, it is good they exist. I wish there were more places where people over 50 can hear one another speak. Most newer places are so loud it is difficult for people with even decent hearing to talk without shouting. There is a lot of value in this aspect of these pubs.

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  4. Spoons are the Old Men's Pubs of the future.

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    1. Spoons are the most cross-generational beer shops you can get. And quite possibly the most mixed-sex as well.

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  5. "Where do old women who like a drink go …?" They certainly used to go to the pub, as episodes of Coronation Street in the 1960s showed. When the programme began, Violet Carson, playing Ena Sharples, regular milk stout drinker in the Rovers Return, was 62, and the actresses who played her friends and pub companions Minnie and Martha were 63 and 46 respectively.

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  6. The only people that use pubs are old men. When your generation croak it, old bean, that's the end of pubs.

    We'll still have informal pub styled restaurants, though.

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    1. You're probably all too right there, Cookie :-(

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    2. You all seem so negative about pubs on this blog,
      There are still loads of proper pubs but the Camra types will never visit them so they think that there are none left.
      If you did a pub crawl with me you would soon find out that there are lots of proper pubs out there.
      Please brighten up a bit as reading all the negative thoughts on the future of pubs must make people who do not live in this country or believe what is said on this blog will think that all proper pubs have closed down,they have not.

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    3. You not got the theme of Mudgies blog yet, Al? Pubs are dying & it's all down to smoking bans.

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    4. Alan, I read your blog so I think I have some understanding of where you crawl. I am curious if these pubs are not visited or they are visited and just don't make it into the GBG?

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    5. Dave,
      The sort of pubs i visit will never make the GBG,and are more than likely never visited by anyone but locals and me.
      If you went to some of the more rough areas of London,you will still find plenty of proper pubs,i went to Liscard in Wallasey and all pubs apart from the Wetherspoons and one micropub were proper pubs no food and all down to earth,most only had John Smiths Smooth or Extra Smooth a few Worthington Cream,the Camra types which includes peter who does this great tho pro smoking blog and Cookie would never go in pubs like that.

      @Cooking Lager

      I always read this blog and got a little fed up about reading that there are very few proper drinkers pubs left in the Country,when there is,but they might not appeal to a lot of readers of this blog.
      I do agree that pubs have closed down due to the smoking ban and i also think a lot have closed down since the Beer Orders were implemented and the poor people running pubs had to put up with the Pub Co's that were fleecing them for every penny they could get.
      Yes Cookie i have got the theme of this blog but i do not agree with all that is posted on it.

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    6. You don't have to be "pro" something to not want to ban it. But, if you do want to ban it, then you are clearly "anti" it. An important distinction.

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  7. The new breed of micropubs would seem to fulfill some of the criteria.

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  8. My local old man pub, the wonderful Holden's Brewery Wheatsheaf in West Bromwich, is halfway through a six week refurbishment to make it 'more family friendly' judging by the pictures on the Twitter feed of the brewery, that will mean central West Bromwich will lose its last genuinely two roomed boozer.

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  9. The trouble with fun pubs, which I disliked even when I was the right age for them, is that the clientele grow up very quickly. 18-years olds soon become 22-years olds, often wanting different things in general, not just from pubs. There's nothing more old-fashioned than last year's trend.

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  10. The craft beer pubs tend to have a younger demographic, with the oldies preferring the bitter they've drunk for years! There's also a massive geographic divide between locals pubs and the like - accidentally walking into a locals pub can definitely be more off-putting than wandering into an old man's pub.

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  11. That quote on fun pubs back in 2013 "An apologetic handpull remained dispensing ill-kept Webster’s Yorkshire Bitter so it could be criticised on CAMRA pub crawls" is a minor classic line.

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  12. As it was me who brought up the term “old man pub", in a comment on your Smoking Ban post Mudge, it’s only right I should write a few words about the use of this rather derogatory term.

    When I first started drinking, my friends and I referred to some of the rather more basic pubs as “muck-pits”, fit only for older drinkers (anyone older than 30?). It was only after I became interested in beer, and traditional cask ale at that, that I realised good beer was much more likely to be found in these down-to-earth, basic boozers, than the trendy, tarted-up, theme-pubs, designed to appeal to the younger generation.

    Somewhat perversely then, I spent much of my student days frequenting some very basic, back- street locals in areas of Salford, such as Higher and Lower Broughton. Excellent beer (mainly Boddingtons back then, but also the odd Robinsons and Hydes).

    I wouldn’t say that today’s “old man” pubs are the equivalent; and despite age creeping up on me, they have nowhere near the same appeal as those old, basic, back-street boozers did.

    Isn’t life strange, as the Moody Blues once sang?



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  13. Bandied about nowadays? It's been bandied about for at least the last thirty years. And just because a pub had a largely older clientele didn't necessarily make it an "old man's pub" either. It was a certain kind of place and whilst often spartan it did not equate to being rough or back-street. And definitely not to having good beer. If they had a defining characteristic, it was inertia.

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  14. If You had not noticed

    Today The Grauniad has published an article decrying the decline of Estate Pubs in Manchester. Correctly they have pointed the decline to demographic changes, social media and supermarket sales: but no mention, AT ALL, of the smoking ban. 20% of people may have smoked in the general population but in those pubs it was probably 40%, maybe much higher.

    What is an Estate Pub anyway? Only a pub built alongside public housing? I can think of a pub built in the 1930s only because of local private semi and detached housing being built.

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    1. Yes, I saw that article and commented on Twitter how the "elephant in the roomn" has, as so often, been completely ignored.

      An estate pub is rather like an elephant in that you know one when you see one. But I'd say it's a purpose-built pub from a period between about 1920 and 1990, designed specifically to serve an estate of new housing, usually, but not always, council housing. It's also generally on a site allocated by planners for a pub.

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