For the second time in the past five years, the local pub has shut down. The curtains are closed, the car park is empty and cellar door is wide open. The landlord and landlady packed all their stuff into cardboard boxes and disappeared into the night; leaving a mess of debts, thirsty locals and a stripped out pub.
I guess we should be getting used to this by now. The previous incumbents did exactly the same. A moonlight flit and weeks of disruption to the local community ensued.
Rural pubs aren't what they used to be. They are less tied into the community than they ever have been. Take our local for instance; there used to be two pubs in the village, a rough and ready drinking pub and a smarter (but not much) eating pub. The drinking pub closed down more than fifteen years ago and has long been turned into executive housing. The local drinkers; the hunt, the rabbit men, the long dog men and all the other local nere-do-wells, moved to the posher pub, but it was an uneasy union. We wanted to sit in a pub where you could swear, drop your brace of pheasants and dogs in the snug, tell a filthy joke or two and not have to take your boots off or mind your language. The occupants of the executive housing wanted a gastro pub – coordinated paintwork (Farrow and Ball of course) minimalism, brushed chrome, and definitely no stinky beater's dog pissing up the curtains or in your Bolly! The occupants of the executive housing got their way, after all they have the money (don't they?) and they refurbished the pub from distressed functional charm to something that looks like the interior of George Michael's bathroom. But there was a problem; the occupants of the executive house were so worried about their mortgages and jobs that they forgot to come out and spend the credit card company's money. So the old boys were tolerated for their real cash, but they were told to clean up their act, leave their dogs and boots outside and definitely no dead things or guns on the premises. So eventually the old boys drifted away; some finding other more forgiving places to drink, some to the warmth of the allotment shed and a bottle....
In 2009, an independent study estimated that 52 pubs were closing each week – things have hardly have got any rosier since then. The increase in VAT to 20% and talk of a second wave of economic depression, all seems to have taken their toll on the viability of the rural pub. But it isn't just the economy that's sounding the death knell of the rural local; the real villains in this piece are the pub management companies who are playing fast and loose with an untenable business model and the morons who buy into their propaganda and think that running a pub is easy. Well, they have been on the pub management company course and have certificates to prove it.... what more could you need.
Pub groups such as Punch or Enterprise Inns care for only one thing; the bottom line. They care not a jot that the pub used to be the heart of the community, a meeting place, a focus, a lifeline. They only care for profit. If the current managers don't cut the mustard, there will be another idiot along in a minute wanting to spend his or her retirement fund to replace them; and generally there is!
And the moral of the story is "cater for your real market, not the one you would like to have!" If you want to run a restaurant, buy a restaurant. If you want to run a swanky designer bar, buy a bar in a city. If you are running a pub in the middle of the country the people who pay your wages don't wear designer suits and sip champagne, they wear green or tweed, probably smell a bit, drink pints, have lots of dogs and drive proper 4x4s, not Range Rovers. These are the only people who will be spending real money (the type that makes a noise and isn't plastic) in your pub in February, when it's snowing and the Audi TT won't make it off the block paving drive of your executive home. These people don't want designer cocktails and modern British food, they want it the way it used to be.
Warm, friendly and unrefurbished.