The Disappearing British Pub

Britain’s traditional public houses are, like their former empire, stoically passing into history.  Once the centerpiece of commerce and information in both town and country, pubs now sit quiet and empty, relics of an era predating wireless internet connections and the 24 hour news cycle.

Pubs are disappearing at an alarming rate – over 6,000 have closed in the last five years alone and “more than half the villages in Britain now have no pub at all.”  The Economist, my favorite source on European drinking habits, considered these facts so saddening as to employ their resident obituaries editor to deliver the news.  The British take their pubs seriously because they represent much more than simple houses of drink: “their loss is also the disappearance of a kitchen, or a sitting room, or some comfortable dim place where there is warmth and a welcome, and no questions asked, all over Britain.”

For centuries, pubs were central fixtures in British neighborhoods, towns, and communities, integral to the national drinking identity.  Citizens conducted business, traded opinions, and shared news.  “Pubs made a setting ideal for secrecy, murky as a pint of mild, but also open to the unexpected; the bang of the door, the stranger entering, the sudden galvanizing piece of news.”  Just as importantly, locals socialized with friends and neighbors; “in the pub he met his fellow man and, with them, formed a society of musers and drinkers.”

Unfortunately the pub’s decline is not unique to Britain; beer drinking is declining all across Europe, helping close doors once leading to friendly faces and strong drink.  Many drinkers are also trading a visit to their local pub for the comfort of their home, preferring a retreat into “solitary, online worlds.”  On this fact I am as guilty as the rest, even promoting this retreat with this blog’s mere existence.  Yet while I enjoy writing these words and engaging in spirited discussion, it is no substitute for an evening with friends at a pub or tavern.

I sincerely wish America bucks the European trend of drinking less beer.  Next time you’re at a neighborhood pub, drink your pints in pairs – one for you and one for our European friends.  Although a cold brew from your fridge is enjoyable, a night out in a pub is indeed special: “time slows; company gathers; speech is freed; beer flows…”

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 10:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Yo THF!

    I couldn’t agree more. Though I enjoy a drink at home, nothing beats the atmosphere of a really good bar. It saddens me to hear that the English Pub may one day be a thing of the past. Though I have only been to London once, I did get to spend some time in the pubs, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Thankfully, Philadelphia and South Jersey have embraced the gastro-pub movement, and we now have numerous bars in our area that serve great food and beer. Good Dog, Monk’s, Standard Tap, South Philadelphia Tap Room, The Grey Lodge Pub, PJs Pourhouse, Cork, and The Devil’s Den are just a few of the great bars that have popped up in the past ten years. Hears hoping that this trend continues!


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