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Time, ladies and gents, please

Our pubs are housed in some of the city's finest buildings, but they, along with the art of drinking, are becoming crumbling institutions. Phil Griffin is worried

Published on January 4th 2008.

Time, ladies and gents, please

Pubs. What would you do with them? They come in all shapes and sizes.

Genre and sub-genre: country pub, open fire and cask ale; country pub, beer garden and brown plastic climbing tree; city pub, plasma screen and video box; city pub.

When you lose the
art of drinking, you quickly degenerate into a nation of drunks. Wine from boxes, mixers from hosepipes. When
did you last see a water jug in a pub?

Far from being an immutable part of the British landscape, inns, pubs, bars, lounges and all things licensed are about as fixed as sandcastles. Snug, vault, public, stout, mild, all-in, Cinzano and lemonade, rum and black, vodka and lime, Magners. Gin palace to shag palace in four generations. And yet I worry about them.

Six months to the day (almost), the British pub was dealt a death blow. At mid-night, July 1, 2007, new legislation banned smoking in public places. A good thing too. Unless in some weird alternative universe, buildings really do have personalities.

In which case the poor old pub has been lobotomised, left lolling on our high streets, skulking in our precincts, twitching on our village greens.

Large numbers of them have all the outward signs of a full recovery. But they are not the places they used to be. Not the robust incubators of hedonists, heretics and bar room bores. Not the smoke-filled social safety-valve for ranters and political fantasists.

Pubs are becoming fast drink outlets. Their smoke-free walls stare at each other across ash-free tables, blankly. More and more of them go under. “Lease this pub” read the signs, as punters trickle away, flock fades and stuffing flops out of the banquettes. Fat chance. Board them up.

The Dock Road is an extraordinary place. In among the warehouses and silos are the abandoned hulks of grand drinking establishments, cob-webbed to the pavement like Miss Haversham's wedding cake. Elaborate, boastful architecture reduced to a beggarly existence like the city's once-vast stevedore industry which gave them life. But there are many similar structures around the city. Take Park Road and Boundary Street for example.

We’re just not social drinking enough. We don't drink on the way into work, at lunch time, on our way home for tea: or, very often, in the gap between tea time and bed. Consequently, all sorts of dire problems break surface, not least, what to do with unwanted geriatric pubs.

When you lose the art of drinking you quickly degenerate into a nation of drunks. Wine from boxes, mixers from hosepipes. When did you last see a water jug in a pub? Opulent Victorian and Edwardian public houses and commercial hotels were places of refinement. Now they struggle to survive, relieved of their dignity, their customers and their roof tiles.

The streets that suffer most when we abandon centuries-old habits are the ones that fed them most.

Not every Victorian pub is an architectural gem, but they did tend to have some value-added, such as elaborate clock towers, copper detailing, colourful ceramics, stained glass and well turned mahogany around the bar. Liverpool, in particular has temples to drink, the best of which, The Philharmonic, The Crown and The Vines, aka The Big House, remain largely intact. Even tiny pubs like Ye Cracke often bring distinction and identity to the streetscape.

And if, like churches and banks, they lose their customers, the buildings themselves often retain character.

Pubs are not about to make a spectacular comeback as the beating heart of local communities, Rovers and Queen Vic notwithstanding. What we do with the dead and dying is a matter of some concern.

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Mandy BumchopsJanuary 2nd 2008.

Someone mentioned as a smoker they felt like a second-class citizen. Well, it amazes me it takes a ban on tabs to help him see the light. I think it's a proper shame pubs suffer now the cancerous chuffers have been given the auld heave-ho. Thankfully I've been in a few lately that have been - *gasp* - innovative to win round a new breed of punters. Having a wash after hundreds of years of filthy fumes does not a new-age pub make. It takes a modicum of understanding of what your new punter needs, to get you to the stage where you can react successfully to any form of commercial hurdle. BO aside, some have shown marvellous resilience. Admittedly some have reacted by selling crap food, which is never good in my book since you just replace the stench of smoke with rancid juices. Nearly a year on from the launch of the ban, I still smile to myself when I come out of a pub without an unwanted coating of nicotine. Lovely new world!

Graham BandageJanuary 2nd 2008.

It's the pubs which change their names which irritate me. Pubs are landmarks in their communities. How many times have you been given directions in a strange area and been told to "turn left after the Red Lion" only to get lost because some fupwit in marketing changed the name of the pub to the "Ugg Boot and Tosser" 18 months before and still nobody calls it that.I'll tell you how many times it's happened to me. Once, but it was really annoying. Anyway, breweries should have to get planning permission, or a note off their mums, or something, before they are allowed to mess about with pub names.**Unless they're changing it to "The New ..." plus the name of the old pub. That's okay. Similarly, pubs which are already called "The New Something" should be allowed to remove "The New", rather than change their names to "The New The New Something". I think that should cover everything.

The Terror of Highway 101January 2nd 2008.

Crikey! What would Scritti Politti have made of the Swan before its refurbishment a few years ago? When the 'gents' had a hole in the wall where the urinal used to be! I think he should stick to going to American coffee bars with his sixth-form prig society rather than going near adults in pubs with opinions like his. He might get hurt.

R. A. MateJanuary 2nd 2008.

Scritti Politti said "All this nostalgia for grubby, smoke-filled, rooms of drunken middle-aged wife-beating Sun readers. " ______ Are you dissin' ah CULCHER, softlad?

scrittipolittiJanuary 2nd 2008.

Such a bunch of contradictions. All this nostalgia for grubby, smoke-filled, rooms of drunken middle-aged wife-beating Sun readers. They're closing because no-one wants them -- they're a legacy of a boorish provincialism and I'm glad. Went into the famed Swan the other night. Apart from stinking of the B.O. of wannabe bikers, it is a medieval watering hole with no charm, no comfort, and the authenti sound of ac/dc blaring out. As for the Korova replacements -- they are similarly limited for all the reasons the Toxteth Terror (hilariously) mentioned. The smoking ban remains the main positive legacy of Blair and has nothing to do with fascism -- hundreds of years of smoking totalitarianism has been overturned. Finally it's safe to go out.

shirleyJanuary 2nd 2008.

can anyone help me with some info on an old pub on the dock road called the old curiosity vaults ran by the bray and vasper families please.

AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2008.

Wot. The Cali is shut down?! How did that happen???

Toxteth TerrorJanuary 2nd 2008.

And then of course there's the Korova Corporation buying up boozers and making them Circus themed, or Geisha themed or Traffic Warden themed or something. Putting poncey bar staff in and a pound on the prices. Yeah just what you need down the pub..someone in a clown suit juggling in the corner. I reckon their next genius idea will be a 'pub themed' pub. They'll have their trendy bar staff dressed as 'ordinary people', quaint gimmicks like dart boards and pool tables and the menu will be 'retro' snacks like pies and pork scratchings. It'll be called Alma De Albert or Alma De Red Lion. ...then they'll sell the place 6 months later.

London RoadJanuary 2nd 2008.

I remember the St James pub well (well, as well as you can under the circumstances). We used to go there on Saturday nights after the Casa (another sad loss to city drinkers) chucked you out at 2.30am, and you still needed to carry on. They would have a pissed bloke with a mobile disco deck in the middle of the floor playing old Earth Wind and Fire and Bruce Springsteen tracks, and the pints were kept coming for a packed, and very multicultural bar until everyone just fell over and staggered off at dawn. Happy days!

Phil Belvedere-CrackeJanuary 2nd 2008.

Wouldn't it be good if someone opened establishments with an atmosphere conducive to adults drinking, smoking and having mature conversation with proper-height tables and chairs, no interference from telly or juke box, no smelly food, no children, and no bouncers on the door?Yeah, we could call 'em 'pubs'. Would they catch on?

HelpfulJanuary 2nd 2008.

For Confidential's take on the milk bars story from last month, paste the following into the search box at the very top of the page: Not Strictly Confidential (15/5/08)

Angry of AigburthJanuary 2nd 2008.

Pubs have been overpriced and deteriorating environments for years. The smoking ban tipped the balance and made people realise what ****e places pubs were becoming with their stupid themes, soggy leather sofas, big-screen footie, stink of chip fat and noisy kids running about.I used to spend a fortune in pubs, but as a smoker I am now a second-class citizen. I therefore leave pubs to the spiteful and vitriolic anti-smoking brigade who always promised that if smoking was banned they would immediately patronise pubs and make them more successful than ever. Were they lying?

Lord StreetJanuary 2nd 2008.

scrittipolitti said 'Went into the famed Swan the other night. Apart from stinking of the B.O. of wannabe bikers' ----- Well what do you expect? The offensive bodily stink of the non-smoker has always been hidden by the fumigant tobacco being puffed by the bons vivants taking refreshment. In the days before the iniquitous smoking ban the whingeing anti-smokers always complained about the smell on their clothes and hair THE FOLLOWING DAY! Obviously they are frightened of soap and water and neglect to wash much of the time! If cleanliness really is next to godliness, the anti-smokers are going to Hell.

TV KellyJanuary 2nd 2008.

Angry of Aigburth makes a valuable point. Although I don't recall anybody dying from B.O. Unless you count my old mate Manx Bob, who was killed crossing the road while on his way to buy some Right Guard roll-on. But he had to buy some milk as well. It's not like you can ban cows, though, is it? Don't know why we called him Manx Bob. Where I come from everyone's Manx.

Angry of AigburthJanuary 2nd 2008.

Ah, yes! The spiteful and vitriolic anti-smoking brigade!The tobacco smoke masked far more unpleasant smells from numerous human sources and deterred the flying insects that now infest our pubs. Things weren't done this way for 600 years without good reason! Scrittipolitti, you'd be better off in Starbucks I think. There is no place for you in a friendly pub.

HerbertJanuary 2nd 2008.

What, like The New Queens? Or the New Newington?

Expresso BongoJanuary 2nd 2008.

I hear that razor-witted Warren Bradley wants to reopen all the closed-down pubs as "milk bars". And who would be paying for this hare-brained scheme? The tax-payer (as per usual with his gang)? Doesn't he know that dairy products are responsible for a sizeable (ho ho) portion of the obesity in today's generation of fat and stupid children?

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