Death & Rebirth For The British Boozer

London, Observatory, Reading & Writing

Two pubs are closing in Britain every day, reflecting a “perfect storm” of tax increases, cheap supermarket promotions and lack of support for licensees, according to a new CAMRA report. It’s an old story and has been happening at varying paces for years, but this time there’s a new twist.

The dying pubs are those ones tied to a company, where the beer has to be purchased at a high cost to the publican. When they become unprofitable, they’re sold off. But the pubs in private hands are actually increasing in number. I’ve always hated chain pubs, which have passing managers and a general lack of individuality. It doesn’t take a genius to see that small and quirky is the way forward.

The other night a group of us (writers, all – yes, we hang around together like street gangs) including Mike Jay, the author of ‘The Atmosphere Of Heaven’, science sceptic Ben Goldacre and Tom Bolton, whose ‘London’s Lost Rivers’ we were celebrating, could be found outside the Coach & Horses Clerkenwell, shining our mobile phones down a drain. We were checking Tom’s story that you could see and hear the River Fleet rushing beneath the road – and you could indeed. The pub itself was a model of restrained restyling, with a welcoming landlord and friendly staff.

So yes – get rid of the chains and let’s have more independent pubs!

9 comments on “Death & Rebirth For The British Boozer”

  1. Martha says:

    Before the owner overreached himself and got in too deep with the big brewers, The Malt and Hops on Caledonian Road was an amazing (almost) free house with such a good selection of hand pulled beers that it was mentioned in CAMRA. The conversation level – except for Friday afternoon’s – was outstanding and I learned how to pull a proper pint – a skill I have little use for in Estonia – alas.

  2. Anne Fernie says:

    I can think of 6 local pubs that have shut in my neighbourhood in Manchester in the past couple of years – we are down to one. Instead there are drinking ghettos with barn like bars all clustered in certain areas – madness. The situation is really dire in the ‘regions’ when you get out of city centres. Regardless of how / why this is happening it IS a tragedy in its own way…..

  3. Andy says:

    My Discworld group, the Broken Drummers, tried numerous pubs for our monthly meetups, trying to balance location, noise, price, food and smoking. Once the latter went we had a lot more choice but we still we through half a dozen. For a while we took over the basement bar in the Essex Serpent in King St., Covent Garden, which looked like it was done with a retro 70’s theme until you realised that it just hadn’t been decorated for 40 years. Eventually the scent of cigarette smoke faded to the point where you could smell the toilets, and the staff were all short-term foreign workers who didn’t give a damn, so we left for the original pub, the Monkey Puzzle in Sussex Gardens near Paddington. Despite being built into the corner of an 80’s apartment block the interior is done up like a traditional pub. Gary, the Irish landlord, is delighted to have 12-20 of us descend there on a quiet monday evening (every 1st monday in the month and the occasional impromptu gathering) and take over the back room to eat, drink and have our quiz. He even puts up with the singing. The point is he tries very hard to make us feel valued and welcome, even gives us a discount for the Xmas meal. All the staff (some of whom have been there for years) know us and say hello when we come in. So we keep going, the beer is good, the menu small but tasty and the landlord makes the place work. Fortunately this one will survive, frankly I couldn’t care if the Essex Serpent, or the Bunch of Grapes in Aldgate for that matter, vanished into their own beer cellars.

  4. Andy says:

    Also, in Croydon, the former Grouse and Claret in Cherry Orchard Rd. (which my Brother had his 30th birthday party in 17 years ago) did close, but reopened as a gatropub, the Glamorgan. Expensive, but the food is fabulous (had the ostrich last week) so we keep going. The local Sci-Fi group gather in the Dog and Bull in Surrey St. as do the Magic the Gathering group and apparently the Goth crowd use it a lot as well. Huzzah for special interest groups I say, at least we keep our adopted pubs afloat.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    We have never had pubs and their recent appearance has been slowed by the lowering of the permissible blood alcohol level. North America and its cars, you see. Our Bookcrossing group meets at the Rhizome restaurant – old and quirky, well, the building is, the ladies have only had it for a little over five years. A board games group met there for a while and a garden allocation group has been there. The window area is regularly booked. While there isn’t a wide selection of beer, what they do have is good and local. The ginger beer is really good, too. Some of these neighbourhood restaurants serve a similar purpose to pubs. One night there was a young couple planning a kayaking trip up the B.C. coast with maps all spread out and all.

  6. Steve Beat says:

    The return of the ‘British Boozer’. Hmmmm… I not sure that ever really existed. Depending on what class you are (yes, I still believe in ‘class’) your experience of the British Boozer might not be so great. I think the notion of the ‘friendly tavern full of jovial customers and welcoming host is a middle class invention.

    My experience of growing up in Scotland in the 60s was small, crowded and dingy saloons where there was a constant blue fog of cigarette smoke down to the 4 foot mark. The carcophany of hacking and wheezy phlem choking fair drowned out the strains of Patsy Cline – which was probably just as well as most of the customers were teatering on the verge of morbid depression anyway and if they could hear the lirics they might easily have been pushed over the edge. Were there a fight – as there frequently was – no one could actually tell who was fighting unless one of the antagonist was felled with a blow and appeared under the concelling cloud. On the floor the stricken victim recieved a generous coating of sawdust and was ejected from the bar into the street looking like some skinny breaded chicken drumstick.

    The proprieter was not friendly. And his wife – if he had one – less so. Bar snacks, there were none.

    In the 70s when I left school my very first job was that of a door man at one of Dundee’s ‘exotic’ taverns down by the docks. Here I had to keep the peace between the druggies, whores and thier pimps while they all tried to fleece the alchohol addled customers. They had a dart board but no one dared put out any darts, and I am told there was bar food but I think that was just a myth, like Big Foot and the Lock Ness Monster – spread around to attract the witless. The bar keep kept a hammer underneath the bar and I ended my career there when a prostitute hit me over the head with a glass ashtray.

    …I could go on, but I think you get the gist.

    The friendly boozer you alude to – I believe – was the Prancing Pony from the movie ‘Lord of thye Rings’. It’s not real and any physical manifestation of it in this world is probably some kind of themed ‘traditional British Boozer’, especially designed to comfort the middle classes with it’s cheery atomos…

  7. Steve Beat says:

    ps – sorry about the spelling – I was ‘in the moment’! 😉

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Somehow I think you had an unfortunate upbringing, Steve. There is a pub between St Paul’s and the Millenium bridge which, while not having a jolly bar keep was mildly welcoming, not fancy at all, obviously aiming at locals, not tourists (it’s on the corner of a lanelike st on or near Carter St I think)and we enjoyed our Guinness and Eng. vs Aust on the tv. I’m trying to think of another not counting on tourist customers that we experienced but we didn’t go down onto the docks anywhere or into the more obviously rough areas. Oh, the pub in Randalstown N. Ireland would fit – “lunch is it – you want upstairs” and the White Horse on the edge of Bristol, which was definitely *not* aimed at tourists, but the food was not bad at all and the staff while not effusive were helpful when asked. As long as you’re not expecting quaint and a song and dance of welcome even battered old pubs can be quite satisfactory. If anyone would like to take over one there is a brick built one called The Waterman in Coalbridge next to what used to be a canal. The building is for sale, or was, and I made up a whole scenario to resuscitate it and the hotel facilities of the second floor. You’re not far south of Glasgow. How does that suit you, Steve?

  9. jan says:

    You used to be able to hear an underground river running along under one of the subasements to a club in Soho (Give me a bit and i ‘ll get my flu ridden old brain to remember where) and if u go beneath the TA centre round the back of Oxford street on the way up to Grosvenor square u can definately hear water running its the same river that Ackroyd shows running through the antiques market a bit further along the road. When u walk along the cobbles there its like following the course of a small river – could be the fleet but not sure jan x

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