SO, the British pub is under threat, right?
A dozen shut weekly in 2012.
The exact figures change each year but the pattern has been consistent for a decade, maybe more.
Pubs are closing, and it’s pretty widely agreed – from my Gran who didn’t drink but liked my Granddad to leave her in peace, to Prince Charles who’s a CAMRA supporter – that’s not a positive thing.
Yet, still not enough of us go to enough of them.
They continue to close...
I’ve been thinking about that this week after I interviewed two blokes who have been in every pub in Sheffield.
When we first got talking, I wasn’t convinced their adventure in beer was worth a story. I was impressed all right but would two chaps drinking pints in different places really make for a good a read?
Apparently, it did.
Readers emailed their own stories, phoned through their experiences, retweeted the weblink. One asked for a comprehensive top 10 from our heroes.
Which proves, I guess, people like pubs.
And yet... there were more than 600 in Sheffield when those two lads started out in 2004. They got to 523 in the end. The rest had closed
But, here’s something I never thought I’d find myself say, I’m no longer convinced this decline is the national tragedy people say.
Don’t get me wrong. Any business shutting down is an awful thing – for the bosses, the staff and the customers. In the case of pubs, such a closure can also often mean a disappearing history. When the more, um, lively bar in my home village shut, it didn’t just mean an end to occasional Friday night bother, it meant an end to an institution which had actively supported every progressive movement from the Chartists to the young Labour party.
But a British crisis? I’m not convinced.
Times have changed over the last 20 years and, in a more sober age, it’s probably natural that more pubs will continue to close.
The vast companies, like Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns, which own the majority of our British boozers, have blamed taxation, supermarket competition and the smoking ban for falling customers.
But those very pub companies have not only refused to improve their venues, they have made it virtually financially impossible for their landlords to make significant changes.
Their boozers have remained formulaic places serving formulaic drinks in formulaic surroundings. They have not altered or adapted. They are uninviting at best, unsettling at worst.
But, for me, a layman, for now, it doesn’t matter too much anyway.
We live in a world where there are innumerable forms of social interaction besides a pint, and some pubs will go the way of the dodo. That’s natural selection. You can’t fight evolution.
And those two lads nailed it, see?
Like all trainspotters, the pair ranked and rated their findings, and what they found was that pubs which were genuinely nice places had rarely shut.
They tended to be independently-owned, offer a variety of drinks in pleasant rooms, and be home to friendly staff and customers. People wanted to go there, and did. They generally enjoyed a roaring little trade.
The conclusion: if it’s a survival of the fittest, the fittest are indeed surviving, and you can’t ask for more than that.
Worth going and having a drink too, I reckon.