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There’s no need for nostalgia over closing pubs | Christine Bohan

Britain’s pubs may be closing at the rate of two a day, but with good examples rare, is this especially bad news?

Two pubs are closing in Britain every day, according to new research released this week. News stories portray it as a devastating blow to communities – another victim of the recession, a tragic coda for that mainstay of British life. But while any business closure is a terrible thing for workers, owners and customers, let’s not pretend that it’s some kind of special tragedy when a pub has to close its doors.

There are 52,000 pubs in the UK, but good ones are becoming increasingly rare. Part of the reason for this is that pubs have changed. No longer are they the beating heart of many communities, filled with sharp conversation, cheap pints and good atmosphere, steeped in our collective nostalgia. Instead, too often they’ve been usurped by formulaic and money-grabbing temples of blandness. Extortionate prices, crap music and early closing times, all provided in dull Ikea interiors with no atmosphere, are now the mainstays of the average pub experience. The arrival of the chain pub was the death knell for the good pub. They’ve become the Goldman Sachs of the going-out world – willing to do anything as long as it results in extracting cash from the customer’s pockets. It’s hard to feel more sympathy for them when there are so many other businesses, large and small, being crushed by the recession.

Hyperbolic complaints about the death of the pub are nothing new. Most revolve around the idea that losing a pub is more important to a small community than losing a church or a community centre or any other business. Publican groups have been lamenting the decline of the industry for most of the last decade. The Economist’s obituary writer penned a eulogy to the British pub last December, urging them to “change or die”. George Orwell even once wrote at length about his idea of the perfect pub, his main suggestion being that parents should be able to bring their children, to help create “the family-gathering places that they ought to be”.

Pub groups throw around blame for the decreasing sales and pub closures – first it was the smoking ban, now it’s rising alcohol prices and increased competition from shops and supermarkets. It’s hard to compete when people’s idea of a good Saturday night has now shifted to involve a couple of friends, a bottle of wine and The X Factor. It also removes most of the negative side-effects associated with pubs – drink-driving, antisocial behaviour and aggression are far less likely to manifest themselves when you’ve spent the evening in your own front room.

Good pubs still exist, but they’re becoming harder to find. The best are ones where you can feel equally at home whether you want to go there to read a newspaper in silence over your drink or have a how-to-solve-the-world’s-problems conversation with a group of friends over a favourite table. A veteran of many pubs, my favourite one in the world is a place called Doyles in my hometown of Dublin. Like almost everywhere there, it’s quieter now than it was a few years ago but still attracts a good crowd. Irish law prohibits happy hours, but it runs occasional drinks promotions. There’s free Wi-Fi, a sports league for the regulars, good indie music upstairs at the weekends and a lively, old-school pub downstairs. It’s a good pub, it attracts a diverse crowd of regulars, and it works.

The real tragedy of pub closures is the number of people losing their jobs. Fourteen pubs closing each week equals devastating effects for families around the country, already hit hard by the recession. But let’s not pretend that this says something more about British society when it is purely about business. Pubs will survive. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds