Dredgie in his inimitable way has a speculative and thought provoking article here, in which he postulates that the pub is doomed in its present form and that if it survives at all it will be as a specialist outlet for Fancy Dan beers, sold at premium prices to the cognoscenti or curious, who will visit once a week to eat as well as drink. These people according to young Mark - who as far as I can see has little by way of pub going pedigree and I don't mean that as a criticism, but as a point of observation - will be generationally ill disposed to pub drinking and that pub going will die or radically change when all us pub going old fossils have shuffled off our mortal coil. Well maybe, but I reckon not.
Now there is no doubt these days that there is a lot of pressure on people to behave more responsibly, eat healthily, take exercise etc. (we used to be brought up to do most of that by the way) and the rise of alternative entertainment and cheap supermarket beer has had an effect on pub going too, but there are one or two factors that Mark doesn't take into account. His assumption that the current habits of younger people will continue in exactly the same way into later life, is unlikely in the long term to be true. If it was, the older generation would be hobbling around in winkle picker shoes, loon pants, heavy metal T shirts and all the dodgy paraphernalia of their youth. But they don't. They change. As people get older, more comfortably off and want to see the world from a vantage point other than their sofa and see their friends in person, rather than through text and tweet and need a break from family, they will, at least sometimes, seek the pub as a place to meet. Their aim will not always be to eat, but to socialise. It won't be to seek out strange new beers, but to drink something they are comfortable with in the company of people they like. Much as it always has, the pub is constantly changing due to social evolution. It has always survived by adapting to meet new challenges and changing social habits and it always will.
A lot has been said about the smoking ban and pub closures, but one thing is true, like it or not. It is the bottom end of the pub market that has failed, but that was always going to happen sooner or later, in the face of a widening gap between supermarket and pub prices, especially as these pubs had no USP (to use Mark's phrase) and were effectively selling expensively in grotty surroundings, to relatively poor people, the same cheap beer that can be bought from the supermarket and drunk at home for a quarter of the price. Why drink Carling or Fosters in the pub when you can get the same product and drink (and smoke) at home much cheaper? For some, that question is a no brainer. Given the expectation of higher standards on top of this, a weeding out of the weakest was always going to happen. This is an evolutionary change just as much as food led pubs are and should be recognised as such. Shake outs of pubs are nothing new and it is usually the bottom end that is shaken out.
Yes, the pub is changing and yes there will be more specialism and yes it will be the more affluent that will frequent them, but it was always thus to some extent and became more so as the gap between on and off trade prices widened. It is also a bit of a myth that people of my generation spent all our time in pubs as young people. While we may not have had the dubious pleasure of Sky's 500 channels, or Nintendo Wii, we had the same problem that everyone starting out in life has; that is, coppering up to find enough money for the cinema, or a night down the pub (and the bus fare home) and concentrating as much then, as now, on horizontal activities with the opposite gender. (Trust me, the pub always came second to that.) The pressures on modern youth are no more difficult than they were for me and my generation, though they may differ in some aspects of course. Money, jobs, sex and a finding a way to relax with friends will always be a basic human requirement and will, in my forecast, in the UK at least, always include a drink or two at the pub from time to time. (It is also my belief that even though we are bombarded by Nanny State nonsense about health, that there will always be sufficient numbers of sceptics that will take it all with a pinch of (forbidden) salt.)
Maybe if Mark had a local where he met his friends, where he knew everyone and where the pub is the centre of village or neighbourhood life and gossip, he'd see things more optimistically. I'd also speculate that in time he probably will. In many thousands of pubs up and down the country, people still go for that feeling of community, where the bar staff know you and your family, call you by your name and where you know most people and the sense of belonging and being part of things is palpable. It happens everywhere. You just have to visit Stonch's pub, with its loyal set of characterful customers to see that it can be done, even in the heart of a big soulless city. I would guess that the same feelings of belonging are engendered there as in my local. And yes, in most community pubs, in towns, villages and neighbourhoods, young people are there and gaining the same sense of the pub that I have. But here I need to scotch a myth once more. Pubs were always dominated by the older generations. How younger people see pubs today will likely change as they get older and evolve. It was always thus. I think we have to remember that what we do when young and what we do when older, are vastly different things. Life changes us all.
So will the pub change? Yes it will. Will the way we use it change? Yes it will. Will the numbers of pubs continue to diminish? Probably. Will how we perceive pubs change? Yes it will. Will pubs evolve and change to meet the new demands of their customers? Of course they will or they will close.
Above all, will we adapt to the new situation and want to go to the pub however it evolves? Yes we will, as long as we have the need to mix and socialise over a drink and I forecast that won't die out any time soon. Thanks to Mark for a really interesting post. I would have replied there, but hey - I have also have a blog to write. I reckon too that we aren't far from (mostly) agreeing.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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