It was after I read an article somewhere a few years ago that I began to think that things were going wrong for British Pubs. I can’t remember what it was in or when, but it was about John Illsley, former Bass player from Dire Straits taking over a pub in Hampshire, which turns out to be called the East End Arms. He made a comment about the kind of clientele he’d like to attract, something along the lines of replacing the lagers with real ales in an attempt discourage the “Lager crowd”.
The reason I’m talking about this now is on the back of some reading I did yesterday about the Government and Local Authorities trying to regulate how and where we use our local pubs. Typical New Labour stuff, no standing at the bar, no swearing, children welcome, you know. I put two and two together and came to the conclusion that New Labour and John Illsley are actually after the same things. Gentrification and profit.
When John Illsley spoke of the “Lager crowd” what he meant was people like you and me. People that use pubs in the way that they we’re always intended, rather than his idea of them as restaurants for his own kind of people. No more faded pictures of the 1979 pub football team, no more fruit machines, no more carpet complete with engrained filth, no more coloured curved glass hiding drinkers from prying eyes, no more raucous laughter, no more waiting for years to finally be let in. That’s all been replaced by inclusive entertainment for all the family. A restaurant, and a profitable one too.
I guess that’s what happened. The locals at the East End Arms were made to feel unwelcome, the place was stripped of any individuality and transformed into a hearty gastropub full of occasional diners and ‘hand cooked’ crisps. You could argue that it’s been voted one of the top 50 pubs in Britain, but by whom? The Guardian? What would anyone that writes or has ever read The Guardian know about local pubs? Nothing apart from the fact that the Sunday Roast can be ‘very pleasant’ when mum comes to stay and that the double buggy can fit through the doors that where widened for disabled access.
So John Illsley finally got the kind of gentrified clientele he wanted after installing “The Guest Ales”, an ordered and pleasant slice of New Labour’s soulless and boring middle classes.