How different things are across the Pond. Last week the Globe and Mail ran a story about the ongoing loss of pubs in Britain, and what some municipalities are doing to protect them. What caught my eye is that the city of Cambridge (yes, THE Cambridge) has enacted a bylaw requiring that pub owners must prove that their pub is not economically viable before they are allowed to redevelop it into something else. This quote from the article by a city councillor demonstrates how far they want to go:
“You have to show that it’s not popular, it’s not profitable and it can’t be made profitable. So just running it into the ground, by putting in a bad manager and being rude to all your customers, isn’t good enough.”
Two other towns are following Cambridge’s lead in this matter. The problem, the article suggests, is not that pubs can’t make money – although they have been in crisis for many years now – but that nightclubs, restaurants and the like can make MORE money. I doubt the new bylaw will do much to stem the crisis, but at least someone is trying to fight for central aspect of British beer culture.
Here in Canada, we have, in an odd way, a reverse issue. Our pub culture for generations was (and is) anemic. Yet, thanks to the burgeoning popularity of craft beer, our pub scene is improving, albeit slowly. I realize we continue to have a fraction of the number of pubs Britain has (and most of ours can’t hold a candle to their history, decor and atmosphere), but I am no longer sure that Britain has the right model for beer drinkers. Don’t get me wrong, I would kill to head over and spend a few nights walking in and stumbling out of some of England’s best pubs. But, I wonder if part of the problem with the British pub is that it is associated with the grumpy old toffer in the tweed hat staring down his bitter and mumbling about “the frogs”. Younger, more cosmopolitan beer drinkers aren’t particularly attracted to that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, here in North America, we are not burdened by history, meaning the new craft-oriented beer pubs can be designed to satisfy urban, modern beer drinkers. There is a reason Craft Beer Market in Calgary looks the way it does. As sterile and impersonal as it (and many other places like it) can be, the young-ish, mobile urbanites that frequent it seem more comfortable there. (I don’t mean to pick on Craft – just using it as an example.)
Me, I still prefer a cozy, character-laden small pub feel. And I don’t mind spending a few minutes chatting with the grumpy toffer. So, I lament the disappearance of the British pub, and I am glad someone is trying to defend it. Yet it does seem that high ceilings, lots of chrome, and spacious rooms may be the way of the future.