Sadly, half empty pubs, particularly out in the sticks are a feature of Tuesday night in modern Britain...It does seem to be a depressingly common phenomenon that people sing the praises of the Great British Pub but expect others to do the heavy lifting of actually keeping them in business, something eloquently expressed by Rowan Pelling in an article from a couple of years ago entitled We love pubs and churches, but don’t want to use them.
...Please don’t let the Great British Pub end up like Rugby Union – it’s there all around us, the chattering classes never stop talking and reading about it, but only the true supporters regularly go to watch it, unless it’s a test match!
I blogged about this at the time, and made the comment that it was all very well to say “use them or lose them”, but what we do as individuals is unlikely to make much difference to the fate of any particular pub. However...
Collectively, it has to be acknowledged that the sum total of our decisions as a society is what has driven so many cherished institutions to the wall. As far as businesses go, people vote with their feet, and they have increasingly voted against pubs.And people who say, entirely sincerely, that they are pub lovers are not immune from the pressures and trends of modern society that curtail the opportunities they have to actually visit them. Forty years ago, many pubs were sustained by people on drinking occasions that their present-day counterparts wouldn’t contemplate.
Nobody can accuse Richard, Martin, Paul or me of not doing our bit to keep pubs alive, but on that occasion, and many others throughout the year, we were essentially pub tourists, just having a pint or half in each. and observing whether or not they had the baseload trade to keep them ticking over. Pubs, apart from a handful in city centres or near main-line stations, are not going to make a living just from pub tourists. They need regulars, not casuals.
I would list “visiting pubs” (and specifically that, not drinking beer) as one of my main leisure interests. So far this year, I’ve been in 158 different pubs, and further planned trips are likely to take the total above 170. But, across that total, I’m unlikely to drink more than about 600 pints, or just 11½ a week. Even assuming I only drank in one pub, that would need fifty of me to give the pub a viable turnover of two barrels a week.
And, of those 600, I probably won’t have drunk more than forty in any single pub. I used to have a local which I would visit most weeks to the extent that I could be called a regular, but unfortunately various changes, mainly revolving around TV football and reserved dining tables, have made it much less congenial from my point of view, and I hardly go in there any more except to deliver the local CAMRA magazine.
Talking of which, on my distribution rounds I used to visit some pubs, such as the now-demolished Moss Rose/Four Heatons where, whatever day of the week or time of day I went in, some of the same people always seemed to be there. They gave the impression of being not only regulars, but of virtually living in the pub. This was summed up brilliantly by the article by Rob Warm from a few years back on the Pubs of Manchester blog entitled The Pub Shaman of Prestwich. If you’ve never read this, it’s absolutely essential.
The author talks of the “red-faced, slightly dishevelled men who not only drank in pubs, but lived in them”, and says of his father “the solitary pint in a smoke-filled vault poring over a fixed odds coupon and going through a packed of Bensons. That’s what he preferred.”
Drinking isn't like that any more. Drinking is now leisure, not work. The shamen are all dead or dying. Replaced by aggressive kids or bored couples. The rest of us just pour a glass of wine at home. And pubs get boarded up or sold or burnt out or demolished. They change interiors each year to try and remain interesting – but that has the exact opposite effect. Besides, the people who made them interesting are gone. And most of the stories have gone with them.There used to be a regular cast of characters who were seen in the various pubs around the centre of Stockport. They knew all the news and gossip on the pub scene. But many of those pubs, like the Spread Eagle and the Tiviot, are now gone, and so are most of the characters who once defined their atmosphere.
The old-fashioned, wet-led boozer is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and with it has gone the six nights a week, six pints a night men who used to keep them going. That is why so many pubs, even if they’re still in business, are so quiet for much of the week. Depending on casual trade may work for food-led pubs, but if your main business is selling drink, you will struggle without a strong core of regular customers, unless you’re in a city-centre location with a lot of footfall past the door.