The Fate of The English Pub
Is Today’s Economy Lethal to The Local?
All About Beer Magazine - Volume 21, Issue 4September 1, 2000
Other countries have bars, cafes and bier kellers. Only the English have the public house⎯pub for short⎯an institution so unique and indefinable that it can never be faithfully uprooted and transferred elsewhere. But while the English pub is alive and well, the industry is in the middle of change, transformed by social, economic and political factors. Tim Hampson investigates four pubs in the village of Wolvercote, close to the famous university city of Oxford ... The English pub industry is a paradox. It has never been more successful, with sales topping more than $30 billion a year. But as an industry, it has never been under greater pressure. Every day, one pub closes its doors forever, unable to survive in the highly competitive world of the modern “leisure industry” with fast-food outlets on every corner⎯from pasta and pizza bars, to Chinese, Asian and Thai restaurants, and the ubiquitous McDonald’s. Just over a decade ago, the pub industry seemed so simple. Brewers owned most pubs. This type of business relationship, in which a brewer can be both wholesaler and retailer, has been long outlawed in the United States, but in Europe, it is legal. Some Britons believed that this cozy relationship did not work in the best interests of the consumer, so following a review in 1989 by the government's competition authorities, national brewers were forced to sell 50 percent of the pubs they owned above a 2,000 ceiling. The implications were dramatic. Overnight, 11,000 pubs went on sale. New giants stepped into the ring. Pub companies funded by City of London money began buying public houses. The pub was no longer owned by the brewer but by financial institutions, and even Japanese banks.