Pubs and class

Inspired by an interesting post at Tandleman Towers (which was itself kicked off by this one over at Garrard’s gaff) I just rang my Mum and Dad and asked them: “Why don’t working class people go to the pub so much these days?”

Now, I should explain that, although I am now terribly middle class (I nearly bought a cheese dome in Peter Jones the other day) my folks are and always have been working class.

I live in London; they live in a small industrial town in Somerset. So, we have very different experiences of and feelings about going to the pub these days.

Here’s my perspective: I don’t bat an eyelid at paying £3.40 for a pint. I’m very blase about pub closures (“The ones that are shutting are probably horrible anyway, so who cares?”). I’m spoiled for choice, with loads of great pubs within an hour of my house on London’s excellent public transport system.

And here are the reasons my folks gave for their gradual abandonment of pubs in the last few years:

1. It costs too much — a pint should cost less than £2, surely?

2. The traditional pubs in town are cold, unfriendly and have a poor range of beer. Sometimes, says Dad, “it’s like walking into a hostile Wild West saloon”.

3. The newer pubs are almost like nightclubs, with DJs, dancefloors and offers on alcopops. To note: young working class people are going to those in some numbers, because they can get drugs and pull there, unlike at the distinctly unerotic Rose and Crown or Bunch of Grapes.

3. The nice pubs in the area are out of town, in the surrounding villages. Drink driving’s now taboo and there’s no public transport to speak of. Cabs are too expensive.

4. Working class homes are nicer now than they were in the 60s and 70s; it’s easier to get quality beer and spirits these days; and it’s relatively cheaper than it used to be. So, staying at home isn’t necessarily a compromise — it’s quite nice!

5. As it happens, they are going to the pub for the first time in a while tonight, and the draw is free live music from a local blues band. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother.

Interestingly, they didn’t think the smoking ban was an issue, although my Dad smokes and my Mum used to, and actually thought it had improved some of the local pubs.

Food for thought. I need to digest it.

18 thoughts on “Pubs and class”

  1. Nice expansion on Tandleman’s post. I do agree with you that the pubs that are closing are bad ones. The rest are good points and it all adds up. The class divide is right there in the middle somewhere too – kind of on the road between village pub and bar.

    Maybe the most pertinent answer to ‘why don’t the working class go to the pub?’ is that a tin of lager at home is massively cheaper than an pint of lager in the pub. Food for thought indeed.

  2. Peter — that Wetherspoons is a funny one. It’s cavernous, very ‘young’ and is on the street where people go for a fight on a Friday or Saturday night. So, no, they’re not keen. My Mum also went off it when they served her whisky in the bottom of a half pint tumbler instead of a stem glass. She’s fussy like that.

  3. This is a fascinating topic, made moreso because of British notion of class is something I’m still trying to get my head around.

    There are crap pubs in my neighborhood that have closed. They had the “Wild West” feeling your father mentioned. All the pubs I enjoy seem to be doing OK, so I wonder if this is just the free market forcing the pub to evolve?

    Even if my consumer habits (yes, I did spend £7 on that bottle of Goose Island stout!) mark me as middle class, I consider myself working class– again, I haven’t got my head around the British notion of class. Maybe it’s just London that makes me feel poor?

    Where are these middle class gastropubs? I don’t think I’ve ever been to one. Is the White Horse at Parsons Green considered one? (But that place is so lovely, despite the posh clientele– I just ignore them). Would anyone have an example?

    I still am shocked to see people fork out £3.40 for a pint of Stella. That has got to be the reason why pubs are closing, as Mark and Tandleman have pointed out– it’s cheaper to drink from a tin at home. Also, more people have home entertainment systems and the internet and leisure time is increasingly solitary, or at least free of any community involvement– which is the saddest development of all really.

  4. Class is one of those notions that falls apart when you try to quantify it. Lots of middle class people will claim to be working class because their parents are. Loads of working class people identify themselves as middle class because they aspire to be.

    White Horse is definitely a middle class pub. Would someone who works in a factory feel very comfortable there? They might, but probably not. My Dad certainly wouldn’t.

    This probably relates to this post from a while back in which we said: “A pub where you can be yourself without worrying that you’re being judged — one where you aren’t the centre of attention for the wrong reasons — is what most of us seem to be after.”

  5. Mind you, my parents are solidly middle class and they hardly ever go to the pub either. When they do, it’s because I’ve invited them to a nice one on a sunday afternoon.

  6. “A pub where you can be yourself without worrying that you’re being judged — one where you aren’t the centre of attention for the wrong reasons — is what most of us seem to be after.”

    Yes, absolutely agree – people are looking for somewhere they feel at home. And this is very often where people from different backgrounds happily rub along together.

    I’ve been in pubs dominated by pretentious twats talking about chateau-bottled Bordeaux and Jocasta’s gymkhana, and others where I’ve been called a poof because I wear specs. Neither of which qualify, obviously.

    This post lists a number of non-financial reasons why people visit pubs less than they used to. You may well disagree on some, but the increased congeniality of the home and the attractions of multi-channel TV and the Internet are certainly significant factors.

  7. No, I think that list is pretty much spot on.

    My Mum also said last night that it was very unusual in the 1970s to have beer or spirits in the house except at Christmas. Big car trips to the supermarket must have made a difference there — why not pick up a few bottles for the fridge while you’re there?

  8. Agree all the pubs I go to seem to be doing just fine but they all do decent cask ale and that’s why I go to them. I can’t get that from a supermarket – cost is irrelevant.

    ‘… it was very unusual in the 1970s to have beer or spirits in the house except at Christmas. Big car trips to the supermarket must have made a difference there — why not pick up a few bottles for the fridge while you’re there?’ – Absolutely right.

  9. Excellent post that raises some fascinating points.

    I’ve been banging on for a while on the theme that pubs are businesses with no divine right to stay open, and those that operate as a business – understanding the needs of their clientele and catering to them, keeping high standards in what they do (whether that’s food, great real ale or a DJ who knows what he’s doing) will thrive. Those who think someone owes them a living will go to the wall.

    The class thing is very interesting – in a recent survey 57% of people described themselves as working class, whereas if you take it by the ABC1C1DE demographic classification system about 60% of us are now ‘officially’ middle class. There’s a difference between having to work hard to make ends meet and being ‘working class’. But what is it?

    I am now a North London media ponce, but my dad worked in a carpet factory and my mum was a cleaner. And I grew up in Barnsley for God’s sake. I think the point at which I stopped being working class was the point at which I stopped adding up the cost of my groceries as I went round the supermarket, so I think the original post and most comments are bang on. A lot of it is about not having to worry about every penny, knowing that you might be skint, but having the confidence that if you stick it on a credit card you’ll be able to pay it down next month. But many pubs are clearly losing the plot. Recently, a pint of lager and a glass of white wine for the lady broke the £10 barrier for me in a pub. I can afford it, but I’m offended by being ripped off on principle and haven’t been back since.

    I think the points your parents made are excellent and you should send them to the Publican and Morning Advertiser and make pub landlords and PubCos see the truth.

  10. I agree with Pete — god help me — that is an excellent post with plenty of points for consideration. One thought that springs to mind, however, is that aside from the price issue, the rest of your parents’ complaints boil down to the local pubs not giving them anything they can’t get at home. (A notion further reinforced by the fact that when they finally are given such an enticement — live music — they’re only too happy to go out.)

    Again, as Pete notes, pubs are businesses and I believe should be operated as such, rather than as de facto community institutions that possess some sort of god- or council-given right to exist. Give people something they can’t get elsewhere, whether a great pint of ale or live music or simply a place larger than their living room in which they can socialise with friends, and they will come. Operate like you’re doing your customers a favour and you’ll soon be whining about the lack of business.

  11. Armadillo — cask ale is certainly one of the things that gets us to the pub. Sadly, though, my Dad can get much nicer beer from the supermarket (Meantime London Porter, for example, which he’s developed a taste for) than he can in most of the pubs in Bridgwater.

    Pete — glad you like the post. Here’s another through on class, from Boak’s brainy (middle class) dad: working class people get fewer chances to fuck up in life than middle class people. Upper class people can do more-or-less what they like without consequence.

    Stephen — hello! “Local pubs not giving them anything they can’t get at home” sums it up nicely.

  12. Cor blimey, class, you can’t get away from it in this country — my parents drank in hotel bars in North Wales in while my grandparents drank stout and mild in pubs in rural Wales and Irish bars in Liverpool. Haven’t got a clue where I stand in all this.

  13. An older (sixty-something) relative of mine who would punch your lights out if you called him middle-class says there are three reasons why working class people don’t go to pubs like they used to: fitted carpets, double glazing and central heating (at home that is, not the pubs)

  14. My (posh) dad goes to a pub where there are two bars. There’s an unwritten rule that one bar is for working class people and the other is for the posh people. The posh bar ajoins a small restaurant, is adorned with hops and has a good selection of real ales. The working class bar ajoins the skittle alley, has bar billiards, a jukebox and Fosters.

    Sometimes the posh people have to go into the other bar if they want to find out from the mechanic how long their car’s going to take or see if the local handyman’s got time to fix a fence.

    I think the whole pub’s about to go bust though because no one’s really drinking now, posh or not.

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