Notable Pubs: The Milestone, Exeter, 1985–1988

"Pub with no beer"

There have been repeated attempts to test the idea that the identity of the pub need not be tied to alcohol. The Milestone, which opened in Exeter in 1985, was one such experiment.

On the book­shelf at the Drap­ers lurks a yel­low­ing copy of the Wordsworth Dic­tio­nary of Pub Names, a cheap 1990s reprint of a book by Leslie Dun­kling and Gor­don Wright first pub­lished in 1987. The nam­ing of pubs is an area of study requir­ing more pinch­es of salt than most, and the book is not with­out its inac­cu­ra­cies, but flip­ping through it over our Sun­day night pints, we often find some nugget or oth­er, and that’s how we first heard of the Mile­stone:

The pub sells only soft drinks, non-alco­holic beers and wines. It was set up in 1985 by the Devon Coun­cil on Alco­holism and the Exeter Com­mu­ni­ty Alco­hol team to help peo­ple with a drink prob­lem. It is in the base­ment of an office block, and those who named it clear­ly see it as a high­ly sig­nif­i­cant step.

A con­tem­po­rary report from the Liv­er­pool Echo (20/11/1985) offers more infor­ma­tion:

Mr Mur­ray French, chair­man of Exeter Dis­trict Health Author­i­ty, will pull the first pint – or rather pour the first soft drink – at noon [today].

The pub, com­plete with pool table, dart board and the usu­al bar fit­tings, is the brain child of Exeter Com­mu­ni­ty Alco­hol Team.

Mr Stan Ford, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Devon Coun­cil on Alco­holism, said: “The main aim is to pro­vide an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple can get the atmos­phere of a pub with­out alco­hol.

A lot of my clients have asked where they could go if they stopped drink­ing. There was nowhere. Now there is.”

Laud­able as this might sound, it’s hard to imag­ine any­one con­vinc­ing friends who are still drink­ing (pos­si­bly heav­i­ly) to come to a tee­to­tal pub, and how­ev­er con­vinc­ing the fac­sim­i­le, there’s no deny­ing that an air of mer­ri­ness is an essen­tial part of the plea­sure of the pub.

With­out booze, it will just feel like a youth club, won’t it?

There’s a cer­tain inevitabil­i­ty to the next men­tion we can find in the news­pa­per archives, from the same news­pa­per for 25 Octo­ber 1988:


Britain’s first alco­hol-free pub, the Mile­stone in Exeter, Devon, is to close next month after three years. It failed to attract enough cus­tom.

This feels like the kind of thing that might have gen­er­at­ed the odd aca­d­e­m­ic paper or offi­cial study but, if so, we can’t find them online, on this side of a pay­wall.

It would cer­tain­ly be inter­est­ing to see pic­tures of the Mile­stone, or to hear from any­one who remem­bers (not) drink­ing there.

5 thoughts on “Notable Pubs: The Milestone, Exeter, 1985–1988”

  1. There are plen­ty of Halal pubs in Asian areas of cities, com­plete with sky sports, pool tables and all the usu­al pub para­pher­na­lia.

  2. Aren’t Star­bucks effec­tive­ly a pub with no alco­hol? Cer­tain­ly, lots go to Star­bucks to chat and socialise but not to drink alco­hol.

    1. That’s true, and from its incep­tion the cof­fee bar has posed a threat to the pub. In Toron­to we have a num­ber of blend­ed cof­fee bars and pubs and those I’ve been to work well. Some sep­a­rate the two on dif­fer­ent floors.

  3. Trad­ing as a pub with­out an alco­hol licence doesn’t have to be a finan­cial dis­as­ter. The Cross Keys Inn near Sed­bergh in York­shire has been trad­ing as a tem­per­ance bar since 1902.

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