While pub culture is one of the UK’s most enduring traditions, the industry is in fact characterised not by growth but by a decline that spans more than a hundred years.
The Telegraph notes that the number of pubs in the country dropped by a quarter between 1905 and 1969, from almost 100,000 premises to 75,000. Now, with just over 52,000 left in the country, there’s evidence that pubs are evolving in order to stay relevant.
Bacon and Eggs
Most JD Wetherspoon-branded pubs now double as breakfast venues, opening at 7am and feeding 400,000 people a week. That figure puts the brand in the same bracket as monolithic burger joint McDonalds as far as its weekly output of bacon and eggs is concerned. Similarly, the Economist indicates that the number of coffees JD Wetherspoon pubs make every week is third only behind Starbucks and Costa Coffee.
The evolution of sports bars has also been a vital lifeline for the pub industry, filling empty spaces with entertainment options that appeal to younger audiences. In March, many pubs around the country will stream the Cheltenham Festival to horseracing fans, an event featuring relevant runners like Champers on Ice, Bloody Mary, and Bacardys, the latter of which is an outside favourite with oddschecker (11/1) for the Neptune Novices Hurdle. Cheltenham is certainly one of the most important horse racing tournament in the UK, with race prizes only second to the Grand National.
There’s also something of a revival going on in classic video game arcades, albeit ones marketed specifically at adults – game bars. While largely a London “thing”, game bars meld craft beers and finger food with classic gaming cabinets like Street Fighter and Donkey Kong. Meltdown, a game bar on Caledonian Road, shows competitive video gaming 0r “eSports” in place of the traditional football.
Despite the doom and gloom in the press, things are looking up for pubs. The closure of 27 pubs a week in the last two quarters of 2015 might sound like the death knell of the industry but it’s actually an improvement over 2009, when that figure reached 45. Pubs’ sudden, if undramatic, recovery owes a great deal to George Osborne, who cut a whole penny off the price of a pint in 2014 and prevented the addition of further levies on cider and whiskey.
The numbers are a little difficult to understand – they may be far worse or a lot better – simply because the company that collects most of the figures for the British Beer and Pub Association, CGA Strategy, has 66 different definitions of what constitutes a food and drinks outlet, inclusive of premises selling food, ones showing sports and TV, and so forth.
Still, the diversification of the pub experience into sports-orientated premises and even game bars is something to be celebrated rather than mourned, especially if it keeps pub doors open.