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10-05-2010, 08:23
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Pubs are closing at a supposedly alarming rate, beer is getting more expensive, life is getting more expensive, people socialise differently, community has a new definition and Guinness is no longer good for you; I think the pub just entered the early throes of death.


Something has happened in the last 20-odd years to make a seismic change for the pub; a generational change. For the generation who have just reached the legal drinking age, going to the pub is something to do once or twice a week on a Friday or Saturday, tarted up and looking for action - a weekend fuel stop on a journey to Fuckedupsville (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Fuckedupsville&defid=3101903). Itís not important what the place is like so long as they serve booze and it isnít too expensive - what DJ is playing is more frequently asked than what guest ales do you have. A couple of years on, in the early- to mid-twenties, away from the bingeing, the pub is something different. We leave work (if we have a job) and go to the gym or thereís a long commute or we go home and cook and relax in front of an enormous TV with hundreds of stations zapped straight into our living rooms. Be healthy, weíre always told, eat your five a day, more than one pint or a glass of wine a day and youíre overdoing it, take at least 30 minutes exercise, donít smoke, relax, drink two litres of water, have less salt, avoid caffeine, get eight hours sleep a night. And if you donít do all of these then youíll die from cancer.


Going into a local after work - at least where I am, away from a big city and in a small town - feels more wrong than right, more anti-social than social. The chaps at the bar have been there too long, itís almost empty, itís a realm of misbehaviour - drinking is bad for you, didnít you know? And walk into a local pub and take a look around Ė there wonít be many people in their early 20s just sitting there and enjoying a beer. Call me bigoted, but if there are some then they arenít likely to be the sort of guys who youíd feel comfortable socialising with, are they?


After weíve decide that we donít want to be a binge drinking statistic (http://www.thesite.org/drinkanddrugs/drinking/problems/bingedrinking) and stop doing the pints-and-shots of our late teens, the pub is where we go if we want dinner out, of if we are meeting friends once every few weeks, or thereís a game of football on, but itís not a daily thing. If we want to drink daily then the supermarkets do some great deals on multi-packs, saving lots of money. Have you seen how cheap beer is in the supermarket? Why bother going to the pub? Life is pretty expensive Ė we need to save up for the uncertain future. Restaurants face a similar problem. Itís expensive to eat out and it becomes a luxury. Plus we can buy all the ingredients in the supermarket and cook it ourselves - everyone cooks now, donít you watch Jamie Oliver? And havenít you been warned about the ill-effects of bad diet and heavy drinking on society and the individual? Drinking is bad for you; stay at home with a glass of water.


This is also the generation of social and mobile media. We donít have to go to the pub daily to meet our mates to see how they are doing, we can email them, we can text, we can call them anytime and anywhere, we can see their latest facebook status updates or tweets. We can follow what they do and others can follow us. A lot talk to more people regularly online than in real life Ė and thatís not necessarily a bad thing, itís just different to how things used to be. We canít compare today with 30-years ago. Plus the definition of community is now so much broader than it used to be, in fact, try and define community for me... The generation of social media is changing what it means to be social.


But the pub is important. Itís where we grow up and learn to act like an adult, itís where we become who we are going to be, itís where we socialise and meet people - itís the starting line of our adult life. But thatís a short burst of freedom, breaking the shackles with that legal ID, learning about life before actually living it and ordering a pint because we can. After that it changes. We arenít brought up with the pub as part of a daily routine, instead weíre brought up with the daily routine of being told that itís a bad thing Ė itís unhealthy, you need to save money, donít binge drink - and that is the change which has affected everything.


Soon pubs and bars will need to be specialist to really succeed. They will need to attract people in from miles around with something unique. Maybe itís the food, the location or maybe itís whatís on the bar. Beer bars might become more popular and a pub known for stocking great beers will get more customers, but they will probably be the type of customer who only drinks once a week. The specialist market - appealing to the connoisseur, wannabe expert or curious newcomer Ė might be the only place which can grow; either that or all pubs will become gastro. Can the local survive without a USP? Will the Ďlocalí be one of those terms which slowly drops into antiquity.


Itís been a gradual generational shift, not an overnight thing. Fast-forward two more generations and what will the pub be? When the existing pub goers become extinct, how will the pub survive? Will it evolve? Survival of the fittest kicks in, whether we like it or not. Itís no surprise that we donít drink out like we did two, three, four or five generations ago and itís no surprise that this community spirit is dying (communities of people we don't know, chain pubs, corporate chain managers not doting landlords). But itís a shame. The government battering ram of warnings and fear-mongering wins the battle of attrition; the world is dangerous so stay inside, eating healthily, not drinking and saving money Ė things arenít going to get easier.


What is the real future of the pub? Can, and will, it survive as we know it, or has it already started to change?
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