As those following my Twitterpub wall will know, I did a non-GBBF pub crawl around Borough, London, last night. All in all, it was a splendid affair, made all the better by being chaperoned by an old friend.
There is, of course, nothing wrong at all with this - call a mate, arrange a rendezvous, and get some beers in. But I think there is a question raised by such a plan. After all, when many of us bemoan the dearth of 'real' pubs, I suspect we mean 'pubs where, if we went often enough on our own, spoke to regulars and didn't make a tit of ourselves, we'd become regulars, too'.
This kind of pub is becoming rarer and rarer.
The reason, simply, is that folk (especially young folk) these days don't have to rely on the pub for social interaction. School creates friendship networks, university or work enhances those. Facebook, Twitter and even the positively jurassic mobile telephone by itself facilitate easy communication - and pint-ahol sorties follow. The idea of nipping into a nearby pub with the paper and a pencil looking for a quiet pint and, perhaps, a chat with Bert on the off-chance, is not anathema to a young person - indeed, when I introduce friends to my local and exchange greetings with men and women of all types and ages, they often bemoan the lack of such an institution in their own lives. But the following is certainly true: while not anathema, it is totally alien.
There are, of course, exceptions. Without wishing to seem like a brown-nosing fanboy, Jeff Bell at the Gunmakers, Clerkenwell, heads up a pub facing forwards, with a genuinely mixed clientele that aims to foster a sense of identity for the pub and its drinkers. Similarly, my local, the St Radegund, Cambridge, while steadfast in its traditions, is the most welcoming place I've ever stepped foot into and many fast friendships have been made there and good times had. Students and old-time residents alike feel most at home.
But other great pubs such as the Pickerel, Cambridge, or the Market Porter, Borough, while superb and serving a wide-ranging crowd, never feel like places you could enter alone and finish the evening sharing laughs with strangers in.
Some will see this as not necessarily bad in itself. I disagree. The Rake, Borough, has a beer list worthy of the gods, but the hip young trendies working there, who can't even price a beer at the same level twice and look through you if you're not Bat for Lashes-cool, don't figure warm service among their job requirements. They don't care for convivial bar-stewarding when they're out and about; they don't want a chat with the barkeep, they want a round and back off to their chums. As long as they're with friends, all is well.
Maybe I'm a sad old fart long before my time. But I think the magic of the pub, for a punter, is its ability to surprise and create social bonds. Yes take your friends down the boozer - it's brilliant. Perhaps, though, a pint and the paper and a few words with Sally about her son's ballet class wouldn't go a miss, too, from time to time.
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