The Rumors of the Death of British Pubs…

…has been greatly exaggerated.

Before leaving California, I noticed a few newspaper articles announcing that 1 in 4 pubs had closed last year. I also read a couple articles that inferred it was the death of the pub. And just before I left Michaeleen said I should do an article about pubs before they die out completely. (ie spend my time wandering from pub to pub, trying to remember what I’d done the night before).
Is it true? Is this famous institution, -the backbone of English Society- about to disappear.
We all know that if the British pub was to disappear, the world would tilt on its axis and the whole of civilization would come to an end.
(Hey, who can argue with a culture that brought you the gin and tonic.)
But I am here to tell you, civilization is not coming to an end, the pubs are just doing a little morphing.

Twenty years ago, when I lived in Canterbury, pubs were meant for drinking. The most food available was a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. And if you were really unlucky, a pickled egg. Yes, there were a few pubs that served an afternoon meal. But that consisted of flat sandwiches, ploughmans, or some soggy fish and chips.
I guess I must admit that there were a few pubs that did serve good food, but they were very few and far between, and were horribly uptight and stuffy.
Over the last 20 years it seems to have become economically unfeasible to run a pubs on the proceeds of a bunch of drunks.
So they are morphing into pub/restaurants.
This piece of insight popped into my brain a few days ago while in a pub in Calstock.
The pub is called the Tamar Inn (pronounced tay-mar), and is set by the Tamar river, in a tiny village in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere.

It is a typical British Pub, classic, solid and timeless. It looks to have been there for a thousand years, but it’s probably only 300 years old.
I know what it will look like before stepping inside; wooden bar, beer taps for modern beer, and pumps for the classic bitter. Bottles of gin and other hard liquor hanging upside down against the back bar. A pool table in the corner, lumpy wooden tables and hard wooden chairs that would normally be found in a breakfast nook.

But before entering, there is a clue on the outside of the pub as to the changes that are happening.
On the black chalkboard sign, it says Cream Teas.
Now a Cream Tea is an afternoon snack for ladies and those living in houses with more than 20 rooms.
It is not part of the pub scene, or at least it wasn’t.
Stepping in the pub, there is the wooden bar, the beer taps and pumps, the pool table, the stout wooden furniture, and a little personal touch, a shelf of used books for sale.
Everything a pub should be, it has the dark warm homely feel that makes a pub wonderful.
But beyond the scuffed wooden floor and the thick stone walls is a modern room grafted on the side.
It is sleek with smooth walls, a cappuccino machine in the corner, perfectly square tables with table cloths, and soft upholstered chairs.
There is a full menu on the wall, including salads, sandwiches, beefburgers, and even a t-bone steak.
Two steps back, and now in the 18th century pub, two steps forward and into the 21st century restaurant.

There are four pubs in the village (Lympstone) where I am living. Three of them have extensive menus while the fourth is undergoing an expensive restoration, including opening the upstairs as a restaurant.
Now, while I am here, the stories of pub closings seem like most of the other things that happen in the news. War, Death, Famine, Disease.. and when you look out your window, it is all peaceful and calm.
There are four pubs in Lympstone, and there have always been four pubs in Lympstone.
I don’t doubt that there are pubs closing, and closing fast at that, but the ones that are staying open have morphed into something that England wants and needs.
Twenty years ago there were two options when eating out. The greasy fish and chip take away down the street, or the expensive restaurant.
While fish and chips are wonderful, sometimes more is needed than a plastic bench seat.
And while it is a good thing to go out to an expensive meal, sometimes somewhere more relaxed is wanted.
The pub has filled in this niche.
The dining is casual, as is the atmosphere.
Find a table, read the menu on the table, note the number on the table, and walk up to the counter to order the food, to be brought by the server after a short time.

So as society changes, the pubs change, but don’t worry too much, when arriving at the pub for an evening meal, there is still a collection of old men huddled at one corner of the bar, with one dog quietly, expectantly waiting for a spare crisp.

And oh yes, it’s still a great place to get pissed with your friends.

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1 Response to The Rumors of the Death of British Pubs…

  1. primo says:

    Cool. This has reminded me of my last trip across “the pond” back in the summer of […ok now, I know I can do it…] ’92. (?!) And the pubs I visited then. Dark, woody, yes all that. Food middling fair. The hunger from a morn and afternoon wandering streets in London giving a certain relish to the Ploughman’s lunch. OH! And the Shakespeares’ Head just above Carnaby Street. A large painting(?) or bust of the Bard on the outside wall just below the eaves to greet one and all. And the night of Newcastles there. Oh my!

    Thanks for the memories. And the current lowdown.

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