Start drinking up now, please

A bell behind the bar in a pub.

For the first time in years, we found ourselves this week being chased out of a pub by staff, urging us to drink up as the lights came on. And we didn’t like it.

Now, we get it:

  • they’re no doubt bound by the terms of their licence
  • it’s in a res­i­den­tial area with no doubt grumpy neigh­bours
  • the staff want to go home
  • and they’ve become hard­ened through deal­ing with resis­tant cus­tomers.

But, still, some­thing about this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion left us feel­ing aggriev­ed and we’ve been try­ing to work out exact­ly why.

We think it’s this: at 10:58, there was no indi­ca­tion in the atmos­phere or man­ner of the staff that the pub was about to enter shut­down mode.

The music was thump­ing, the lights were low and the crowd seemed to be grow­ing. We assumed it was licensed until at least mid­night – it was that kind of mood.

Pri­or to 2005, when loos­er licens­ing laws came into effect, you knew where you were – most pubs called time at 11 pm and expect­ed you out by 11:20 and that was that.

If you ordered a pint at 10:58, that was your prob­lem.

But pubs being open late isn’t unusu­al these days, espe­cial­ly in cities, so the sig­nals need to be clear­er. In this case, if the lights had come up at 10:45 or some­one had sim­ply said “We close in 30 min­utes” – we would­n’t have ordered those last beers we had no time to drink.

And the atmos­phere for those last 20+ min­utes was ter­ri­ble, too – stressed staff, pissed off cus­tomers and lit­tle oppor­tu­ni­ty to chat between gulps of beers.

If the unique sell­ing point of beer in the pub is con­ver­sa­tion and atmos­phere then what was the point of this final round? We’d have been hap­pi­er drink­ing tins in front of the tel­ly.

Then, irri­ta­tion pass­ing, we start­ed think­ing about what shut­down looks like when it’s done right and realised that of course The Drap­ers Arms does it bril­liant­ly.

At 9:20, last orders is called, loud and clear; at 9:30, the hoot­er hoots; the crowd begins to clear; the buck­et of bleach comes out and the dis­creet tidy up begins.

Usu­al­ly, the pub emp­ties fair­ly nat­u­ral­ly, but on the rare occa­sion we’ve been there until the very close, we’ve been encour­aged out of the door with good humour: “Drink up, you bug­gers! I want to go to the pub myself.”

4 thoughts on “Start drinking up now, please”

  1. I have to say it’s rare that I’m actu­al­ly in a pub at evening clos­ing time, but the 2003 Licens­ing Act has meant we have lost the old pre­dictable rit­u­al of Last Orders -> Time -> Clos­ing. It’s also often far from obvi­ous when you are in a pub what time it as actu­al­ly going to close.

    In the old days some local author­i­ties were much stricter than oth­ers on insist­ing the law was adhered to – Birm­ing­ham was very assid­u­ous; Stock­port much less so.

    1. This is true. The Greater Man­ches­ter police had a very sen­si­ble atti­tude to drink­ing-up time and many pubs did­n’t think about throw­ing you out until 30–45 min­utes had passed. Get­ting two pints in at last orders and not hav­ing to rush either was quite com­mon­place.

      There was one occa­sion in Stock­port where a new and keen licens­ing offi­cer took over and sev­er­al pubs were raid­ed for let­ting peo­ple drink up after the legal­ly allot­ted time had passed. After a cou­ple of weeks of this it seemed clear that some­one high­er up had a qui­et word and nor­mal ser­vice was resumed.

      This could catch Greater Man­cu­ni­ans unawares in those parts of the coun­try where the time lim­its were very strict­ly enforced. Some friends of mine were in New­cas­tle and duly ‘dou­bled up’ at last orders – and were hor­ri­fied to have their undrunk beer tak­en off them and be eject­ed onto the street once offi­cial drink­ing up time expired.

    2. The rit­u­al is alive and well in my office – the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel. We have a good-natured ‘last orders pleeeeese’ at 10:50ish, fol­lowed by ‘time at the bar, thank you kind­ly’ at not before 11. On busy nights this can be a loud ‘Shut!’ so every­one gets the mes­sage but you can still get a pint for a few min­utes, and no-one gets chucked out because every­one is allowed to fin­ish their drinks before the staff leave at 12.

      As for pubs dis­play­ing their hours, that’s cer­tain­ly become almost non-exis­tent and hours list­ed on Google and Face­book are often wrong.

    3. Yeah, as a stu­dent in Brum in the mid-80s you knew that in any city-cen­tre pub, time would be called on the dot of 10.30 and you real­ly did only have 10 min­utes after that. We nipped out to a well-known War­wick­shire pub (still in the GBG) one night, and as was our habit, dashed to the bar at 10.20 to get a final round. And the bell did­n’t ring, so we got anoth­er one at 10.31, and when last orders were called at 10.50, we got anoth­er one. And anoth­er. And we end­ed up in there until near­ly mid­night – we weren’t served after rough­ly 11.05, but we weren’t chased out. Was quite a cul­ture shock com­pared to Brum.
      There WERE a few sub­ur­ban Brum pubs where you could get locked in, but even they tend­ed to be very sharp about chas­ing strangers out at 10.40 – one pub used to release an albi­no Alsa­t­ian (they weren’t Ger­man Shep­hards yet) to chase peo­ple out – reg­u­lars knew it was com­plete­ly harm­less, every­one else ran like crazy. But I nev­er did like being told to leave when oth­ers were hap­pi­ly sit­ting there drink­ing, it always seemed a bit daft.

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