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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