Yesterday I wrote about how there was a fundamental limitation to the extent to which pubs could diversify their offer to attract non-drinkers. Whatever else happens in a pub, drinking alcohol always remains their core purpose, and if it isn’t, they’re no longer pubs.
Although I wasn’t aware of it when I wrote my post, Manchester journalist Tony Naylor has written an article in the Guardian along much the same theme. He was prompted by the opening in Dublin of a “pub” that only serves non-alcoholic drinks. One or two have described the tone of his piece as a touch panicky and defensive, but I would say it rings very true, and those who champion pubs need to be less apologetic about what they’re actually there for.
Of the Irish pub, he wrote:
“Can you lose the booze and keep the craic?” asked the Irish Times rhetorically, to which the only conceivable answer is: no. A fact that, despite reports of the Virgin Mary aiming for a “pub vibe”, Yates implicitly conceded when he told the Guardian: “By 10 o’clock in a [traditional] bar it’s very loud; there can be noise and chaos. Here you can still be having a conversation and still be making sense.”He also describes how the pub trade has, in reality, taken numerous steps to broaden its offer:
At the same time, the pub trade has proved itself nimble in embracing a world beyond pints. Food has become central to the survival of many pubs, while others host endless activities – comedy and film clubs, mums’n’toddlers’ coffee mornings, psychic nights, karaoke – where alcohol is incidental to your visit, rather than the main draw. Landlords are acutely aware that they cannot survive by serving dwindling numbers of hard-drinking regulars.However, all these activities only take place on the coat-tails of drinking. Take that away, and the pub becomes a restaurant, a community centre, a coffee shop or a music club. And he sums up very well the essence of what makes pubs special:
Beyond loving the taste of beer, I also love the effects of alcohol, and for what it can do to a pub. I cherish that three-pint window where real life melts away. I love the warmth, the laughter, the life, the random, nonsensical conversations and soft-edged, jovial chaos of full pubs at peak hours. I like the din. I like the revelry. I like a bit of noise and chaos, frankly. And I like the sense of drinkers of often very different backgrounds rubbing along in mutual intoxicated tolerance. In an increasingly atomised society, there is value in that.Non-drinkers may get a taste of that experience vicariously, but they will never truly live it. However, he concludes:
Could people who aren’t drinking (much) even enjoy that atmosphere, too? Interestingly, according to Nescafé, 77% of supposedly abstemious Generation Z-ers still visit their favourite pub more than once a month. Pubs remain hugely attractive spaces and, undeniably, booze is crucial to their appeal. Cheers to that.