Over the last few days people have been taking to social media to tell the world why #PubsMatter to them. The industry continues to suffer and die under the impossible and unclear requirements of Tier 2 restrictions or face complete closure under Tier 3. Part of me notes with interest that this has become particularly newsworthy now that London looks set to join parts of the Midlands and North in Tier 3 this Wednesday, but this is a time for us to be campaigning together and not focusing on what divides us.
Thinking about why pubs matter to me leads to a potentially long and complicated blog post. I have lots of interests to declare here. I am a pub goer of over 20 years standing. My company, Thirst Media, does PR, design and marketing for a variety of small food & drink businesses, including pubs, bars and breweries. I have run a free networking group for food and drink professionals over the last 3 or so years which includes many pub licensees and has also been hosted in a range of pubs and bars. I am a freelance food and drink writer, so I often write about pubs and, back in the day, I would do it while I was in pubs.
Pubs = People
That means that while I have a lot of skin in the game, I don’t have nearly as much as the people who run pubs and the people who work in pubs. Those people are clients, colleagues and friends who I care deeply about. Whether freehold or part of a giant tied estate (and I know plenty of both) these are so-called ‘real people’ – families who need to make a living to keep the roof over their heads, to clothe and feed their kids. Pubs matter because these people work incredibly hard. Long hours. Heavy lifting. Specialist work to keep cask ale well. Specialist work to keep a well stocked, lively pub. Specialist work to run events, to keep a kitchen going.
Pubs matter to me because people matter to me. Obviously living in Leicester, Covid scourge of the country, opportunities to actually go to the pub have been relatively limited, but I have managed it on a reasonable number of occasions. Each time I felt safe and well looked after – much safer than I do when I visit Tesco or The Works, where there are no restrictions in place and there is no policing.
My first post-lockdown trip to the pub was at the beginning of August. Bam Bam had just turned 3 months old and we walked to our local, a mile up the road on a sunny afternoon. It was the baby’s first trip to the pub and the first time she had met the two publicans – both friends of ours. We sat outside on a table well distanced from the handful of other guests present. The masked publican took the temperature of anyone entering the pub to order drinks at the bar (this was before they had to institute table service). I noticed the inside of the pub had been totally refurbished to allow for good social distancing and to install sturdy transparent screens between each table as further protection.
We gave our names and number for track and trace, even though they both have my number on their phones already. My favourite pub dog was the most at liberty to roam that day, and his gentle attentions delighted the baby. It was a pleasure and a relief to see friends after more than five months. They snatched a quick conversation when delivering our drinks, staying at a good distance, finding out how we were and how we were finding parenthood. Other punters around the beer garden shouted over compliments about the baby. We giggled, we smiled, we enjoyed a couple of pints in the fresh air and then we went home.
Another pub I visited for work, photographing their comedy club. The event was held entirely outside – they had become one of the biggest employers of comedians in the country by adapting to outdoor gigs. They closed the pub during gigs so that they could concentrate on keeping everyone outside safe. A number of enclosed tables had been bought and beautifully dolled up to make the little outdoor chambers feel exclusive and welcoming, not like a Covid measure at all. Little bunting and dried flowers on the wall, the liberal use of fairy lights, gave a festival feel to the arrangement. Well spaced picnic tables seated the rest of the guests, keeping us all at a safe enough distance to be able to laugh in public without fear. I went to the bathroom and following the allocated one way system through the empty pub meant that I could have a chat with the jovial landlord, who stood in the centre bar as I circled the rooms that fed off it to get back to the garden. It was a lovely, shouted conversation in a really traditional feeling multi-room pub. It was weird, but it was great to see him and to converse. It was good to laugh in public.
Takeaway in the Tiers
Now we’re in Tier 3, I don’t see any of these friends any more. However, I can collect takeaway, so I dutifully knocked on the door of another friend’s establishment last week to collect my takeaway. She stood on the doorstep, still masked up, while I stood a couple of metres away while Bam Bam snoozed in the pram. We shot the breeze and caught up, having not seen each other in the flesh for almost a year. How I have missed these friends behind the bar.
Lifeline in the Community
I am not the only one who has friends in pubs. They are a lifeline to some, wonderful, animated regulars whose daily routine rotated around their visits to the pub for a long-nursed pint and a bit of conversation. I don’t know how they are now, often older men, otherwise alone. I can’t imagine how it has turned their experience upside down to lose their daily social interaction. I have heard tell of the sad loss of some regulars up and down the country, to various causes. I don’t know the names of a lot of these people, but I recognize them and they recognize me. We would greet each other. We shoot the breeze at the bar. We argue about beer, about politics, about religion. In fact, you know all that stuff you’re not supposed to talk about in polite conversation? That’s what I get in the pub – conversations that challenge and stretch me. Chat with people who have a different perspective to me, a different lifestyle.
I can pop into these places whenever I like. I can find someone to talk to, or I can be left alone. I can find a place to work quietly for a few hours. I can have a cheeky half, or a cheeky half a gallon. I can take my baby, my mother in law, my mates.
I know that if you don’t regularly use the pub, a lot of this is probably very alien. Perhaps you just pop in once a year on the last Friday before Christmas with your colleagues? Maybe you only visit when a family member holds a party in one? Hopefully this shows you that those spaces are living, breathing communities. They are not just venues and rooms. They are certainly not dens of inequity or the haunt of people of questionable moral fibre (although there are certainly a few of us) – they are homes away from home and our lives would be poorer without them.