An establishment providing alcoholic beverages to be consumed on the premises. The traditional pub is an establishment found primarily in Britain and regions of British influence. English common law early imposed social responsibilities for the well-being of travellers upon the inns and taverns, declaring them to be public houses which must receive all travellers in reasonable condition who were willing to pay the price for food, drink, and lodging.
The local pub, long relied upon as a place of refuge, is under threat. Britain's pubs are closing at the rate of 39 each week, according to figures from the British Beer and Pub Association. More than half of the country's small villages are now publess. If one day there are no pubs left, where are we to go to drown our sorrows?
The answer, it appears, is our own living rooms. At home, we can smoke and drink until our hearts and livers give out. The ban on smoking in public places introduced in recent years is cited as a key factor in the decline of the pub. High taxes on the beer sold in public houses have also been critical, making a night out in the local too expensive for many people. At the same time, the cheap prices and special promotions on alcohol sold in supermarkets have made drinking at home doubly attractive.
As he travelled around the south east of England, Piotr Malecki found that closed-down pubs were being put to a wide variety of new uses. For much of the last two decades, property speculators encouraged the closure of pubs in order to convert the premises into flats. But the economic crisis and continued uncertainty in the housing market have begun to give others a look-in. In Standon, Essex, the local pub has become a Chinese restaurant. In Reading, the new owner of The Brewery Tap aimed to turn it into a lap-dancing club, but his licencing application was refused.
In some cases, a closed-down pub has been renovated to the benefit of the local community. In Clapton, East London, Malecki found two pubs that were being turned into places of worship: The Ship Aground was to become a Sikh temple, while The Swan had already been turned into a synagogue for the local Hasidic community.
In many rural areas where local pubs were once abundant, the choice of drinking hole is narrowing. The Cross Keys used to be one of six pubs in Paulsgrove, near Portsmouth, but it is now the only one left. Almost all of its patrons are local people and many of them end up at the pub day-in, day-out. The local is a place to meet the neighbours, watch the telly, read the paper, chat about the news or just reflect on life.
High street pubs in busy areas will almost certainly survive, but it's the locals that bind communities together. Their demise is a sign of wider changes in society. For many Britons, life without a local will be more lonely, less humane and harder to swallow.
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