Death of the pub and the rise of coffee shops

Has the pub had its day, can it be replaced with something better?

According to a snippet on ITV News at the tail end of last year looking at the reopening of a pub, closed for a year, now reopened owned by the community, 29 pubs a week are closing.

If this figure is correct, and not simply regurgitating old statistics, then rate of pub closures as was several years ago. Actually the closure rate accelerating, four years ago it was 26 pubs a week.

Why? Why are pubs closing at an accelerating rate?

Pubcos are one cause of pub closure. These are property owning companies, zombie companies that make no money, can barely service their debt by screwing pub landlords and selling off assets, have large property holdings in pubs. They charge unaffordable rents, landlords are forced to buy drinks through the pubco well in excess of market rate, the landlord goes bankrupt, along comes the next mug to be fleeced of their life savings, or the pub if occupying a prime site sold off for redevelopment.

Pubcos are the classic example of extend and pretend. The banks keep them afloat. Kept afloat they can be listed on the balance sheet as an asset, when in reality they should be on the opposite side and would be if allowed to go bankrupt. There is no realistic possibility of loan repayment.

We also have an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Pubs were owned by breweries. The pub forced to buy from the brewery. The punter left with little or no choice, price hikes, especially if the brewery maintains a local monopoly.

The breweries were stripped of their pubs.

What should have happened, landlords bought the pubs, ran as independent businesses free of the brewery tie. Unfortunately this did not happen. Property developers, the pubcos, borrowed heavily and bought the pubs.

For a brewery, a common interest with the pub in doing well. The more beer the pub sells, the more beer the brewery sells.

For the pubco, no common interest. If the pub closes, find another fool to part from their money or sell off for redevelopment.

Pubcos though are only part of the story.

Too many pubs are badly run, very badly run. They are not pleasant places to be. Noisy, dirty, moronic music blasting out, widescreen TV, pub quizzes, drunken loud mouth idiots, rude and bored bar staff wishing they were elsewhere, serving disgusting rubbish from a global conglomerate chemical factory.

Too many examples could be given. But to list a few. A pub that served excellent, if expensive meals, changes to serving disgusting food but still overpriced; a pub where it was possible to sit in the back courtyard, relax over lunch, clueless new landlord takes over, insults the chef, chef leaves, where once excellent food, choice now burger burger or burger, illegal structures built in the courtyard, goes down market, noise and nuisance alienates neighbours and local council; historic pubs, heritage buildings, destroyed by inappropriate developments; a pub where is was pleasant to sit by the river, until smokers took over — the list is endless.

I have not named the pubs, but others could easily write similar lists, and some will know the pubs I am talking about.

Why have no lessons been learnt from Tim Martin and Wetherspoon? I am no fan of Wetherspoon, or the food they serve, but at least they try, they serve real ale. A pity they insult coffee drinkers and serve LavAzza coffee, even worse from a  machine.

But have the audacity to say pubs badly run, and the pissed trolls emerge from under their bar stools to add their ill-informed two-penny worth. And this included an abusive Camra regional official. A bit like being in a pub.

What we are seeing is an example of postcapitalism. The economy goes one of two ways.

  1. Serfs working for apps, eg Deliveroo and Uber, low paid part time temporary soul destroying McShit jobs, eg bar work, companies like Wagamama and the coffee chains.
  2. Open coops, collaborative commons, sharing society.

If pubs are to have a future, and looking at the current crisis, this is doubtful, pubcos have to be stripped of their pubs, as was the breweries, run free of tie, run as open coops, and far better managed than too many are currently.

Indie coffee shops are rapidly becoming the third place, the place to be to relax, not work, not home.

A well run indie artisan coffee shop, pleasant ambience, clean, art on the walls, live music, acoustic, jazz, classical, people sat chatting with friends, or sat reading a book or working on a laptop, craft beer, quality food and wine, books to browse, and of course serving excellent speciality coffee. And for lone females, added advantage of not being sexually harassed.

It is somewhat ironic, more likely to find craft beer, wine worth drinking, in a coffee shop than in a pub.

Warehouse Speciality Blends is known for its wine, The Underdog for craft beer,  Taylor Made for its cocktails,  Just Made 33 for its food. All serve speciality coffee, either roast their own beans or source from a reputable roastery, take a pride in their coffee.

Atlantis Cafe is a coffee shop in Liopetri, a one horse town, difficult to get to, where tumbleweed blowing through would not look out of place, a coffee shop with a pleasant ambience, where people relax, chat with their friends, play backgammon, that is busy until late. In the tourist areas, the slum bars attract the drunks, the bottom end of the tourist market, stay open until late, but are not busy, many are facing closure. The tourist industry spiralling downwards, the situation in the Middle East granting a temporary reprieve.

Atlantis Cafe, middle of nowhere, is busier than the tourist bars.

Coffee shops in Europe were the places of intellectual dialogue, political and philosophical discourse, haunts of artists. This did not happen in the English ale house, violent political discourse would have rapidly led to blood being shed.  The amount of alcohol consumed leading to retarded offspring.

When was the last time you saw bouncers on the door or a fight break out in a coffee shop?

What if a pub closes, a building that has historic value, is registered locally as a building of historic value, its community value recognised by registering as an Asset of Community Value (though it is difficult to claim a pub an Asset of Community Value when a myth it ever was), sits empty for several months, is stripped bare, restored to how it was as an historic building, reopens as an artisan coffee shop by people who are passionate about coffee, maybe in the evening a restaurant, where the emphasis is on ambience, service, good food, serves craft beer, wine, a venue that hosts cultural events, live music, book discussions and book signings, poetry reading, serves as a gallery for local artists, have we lost anything, or has the community and the local economy gained?

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