9 December 2011


I could weep when I think about what is happening to pubs in England. So many great pubs have closed forever whilst others morph into samey chainpubs under banners like "Wetherspoons", "Ember Inns" etcetera. My own local, which once buzzed with customers every night of the week is becoming like a morgue some nights. Time was that I would avoid it on a Friday night because it felt like entering a rugby scrum but nowadays there are seats aplenty and last Saturday night there was just me and Bert in the taproom for the last half hour.

Last night I was with Big Dave in Dronfield which is a dormitory town on the southern edge of Sheffield. We had a delicious curry at "The Mint Leaf" before driving to a lovely little back street pub in Coal Aston called "The Cross Daggers". How delightful it was! Warm, clean and cosy with a welcoming landlord and well-kept beer. There was a framed "roll of honour" on the wall to those villagers who gave their lives in "The European War" which we of course now know as The First World War.

There was no jukebox music in "The Cross Daggers" - just the hum of conversation and occasional laughter. At ten o'clock the landlord - Anthony - brought round a big tray of fresh bread rolls lathered with dripping. They were free and, in spite of the earlier curry, I just had to do a taste test. When Big Dave and I got up to leave, Anthony and his wife wished us a safe journey - "Thanks for coming lads!" This was just how a good local pub should be. The pub of one's dreams.

Meantime, as the traditional English pub declines, out on the high streets and in the suburbs the coffee shop keeps marching on - "Starbucks", "Costa", "Caffe Nero" etc.. Though I never venture into these places, they seem to be becoming an important feature of the British social scene. Only the other day, Starbucks announced that they were planning to open another three hundred outlets in Britain over the next five years.

I wonder - is there a direct link between the death of the pub and the blossoming of coffee shops? What is it telling us about the way we live? The coffee shop is of the daytime but historically the pub was primarily of the nighttime. The coffee shop is unisex and welcomes children but the pub was/is primarily a masculine environment. Though one might get a caffeine buzz in a coffee shop, you won't wander out in a drunken haze with liver damage and an urge to fight. Coffee shops are mainly corporate and predictable in character but the traditional pub was/is more idiosyncratic - more quirky. I wonder what the connection is between this decline and this growth - I can't quite put my finger on it.


  1. "fresh bread rolls lathered with dripping. They were free and, in spite of the earlier curry, I just had to do a taste test."
    Doesn't Shirley ever talk to you about cholesterol levels, YP? ;)

  2. The thing is...."before driving to a lovely little back street pub" isn't an option for me. I need my driving licence. And the choice and price of non-alcoholic drinks puts me off going.

    I think it's sad - but pubs haven't catered for a change in demand. Or not for the RIGHT change anyway.

  3. As you know I think quaint cosy pubs are one of the best aspects of life in England. I guess I mean in country England. I'm not keen on city pubs ( or cities for that matter !). The country pubs seem to continue doing OK and I think one aspect - the fact that many people call in for a coffee or hot chocolate - keeps them going. They are ( or can be ) a great social hub where conversations can include the whole room and I love that. A coffee shop will never be like that.

  4. JENNY I find that I have to top up my cholesterol levels from time to time in case they drop dangerously low.
    MORNING AJ I think you're right in one sense. Nobody should expect pubs to remain frozen in time. There should be more effort to provide good quality teas and coffees and to be more welcoming to women. Some pubs have done that and others haven't. Good value food and snacks should also be on the agenda.... I'll pick you up at eight.
    HELEN You're right. The "buzz" of a good pub - that sense of sharing and bonhomie - I can't see that ever truly happening in a corporate coffee shop.

  5. I have been to Starbucks only a couple of times. The prices are exorbitant and the products nauseating.

  6. It all started going wrong when women were allowed in the tap room and not confined to the best one.

    Mind you, I don't think the pubs help themselves. I met a friend on Wednesday lunchtime at what used to be a very cosy hostelry.

    They couldn't light the fire because the chimney was blocked and they couldn't be bothered getting a sweep in. The latch on the door was also broken and it blew open with every gust of artic wind until we shored it shut with a folded beermat.

    On top of that, they had cola on tap, just the diet stuff so I had to make do with it flat from a 2L plastic bottle at £1.90 a glass.

    Not so much a lingering death for the traditional pub, more an assisted suicide.

  7. "big dave" eh?
    why "big"?

  8. RHYMES WITH... Well at last we are in agreement on something!
    SHOOTING PARROTS Yes. Sink or swim. I am afraid that the pair who run my local are of the sinking variety - putting far too much emphasis on live TV football matches to bring the punters in.
    JOHN GRAY Please don't call me a "titter"! It's not very nice. And he's called Big Dave because he resembles Marshmallow Man in "Ghostbusters". What were you thinking?

  9. Is there going to be a pub on the island?

    One of the reasons you can't visit at a Starbucks is because most of them have wifi and the patrons are busy communicating afar. If pubs had wifi there might be more people drop in. Does anyone over the age of 30 still drink beer?

    I don't drink alcohol, but I think it would be fun to have a local pub to cause some trouble in once in a while.

  10. JAN Of course there'll be a pub in Blogland. It's already half-built, adjacent to the new swimming pool. There residents will be able to drink themselves silly before the landlady - a dictatorial Californian lady with attitude and a love of horses and mixed crafts - throws them out.

  11. I don't like corporate coffee shops much - they lack atmosphere. The best pubs have atmosphere but I didn't used to like them because of the smoke. Now they are smoke-free and I love that but I'm not really a "pub person" as I hardly ever drink alcohol. I think the pubs that do best in future will retain their atmosphere whilst selling reasonably priced non-alcoholic drinks too. And I like pubs that do proper pub food, not too fancy! Final point: there also used to be lots of children waiting outside pubs and I'm glad that - mostly at least! - has gone!


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