Last Friday I enjoyed a drink with some friends at the Southampton Arms. Upon arrival we had immediately headed outside, partly because the pub was extremely crowded, and partly because, like many other people, we still enjoy a drink amd a smoke. Suddenly just as the clock struck 10 several staff appeared in the beer garden and very quickly ushered everybody inside – since 10 pm was when the beer garden had to close. Nowadays this is a very common part of the pub going experience. Usually a few people living near a pub will complain about the noise, and the council will respond by imposing what often seem to be OTT restrictions as part of the pub’s licence.
Of course, nobody would suggest that pubs be given free reign, and that the feelings of residents be given no weight. Yet, considering that pub-going is such an important and popular part of our communal culture, there needs to be some give and take (indeed the smoking drinker who is inconvenienced most by such restrictions has been forced to do rather a lot pf giving of late). The question on my mind last week was why somebody would live next to a pub if they wanted quiet by 10pm on a Friday. Granted, people are limited by their circumstances, but the pub is question was on Highgate Road in Gospel Oak, right near the Heath. In other words, local residents probably enjoy the means to exercise quite a degree of autonomy about where they live. Indeed, pubs generally are concentrated in more central locations where housing is at a premium. Surely we can expect people to move into them on the understanding that they may be kept up a little past 10 on a Friday or Saturday.
It is in fact not only concerns about noise that govern pubs outdoor spaces, but also the contemporary moral panic about people DRINKING on The STREET. In Camden Town – hardly the place where one would expect a quiet life – almost all pubs appear compelled to operate a no drinks outside rule. When combined with a “no smoking inside” rule, this can be a pain. Yet as somebody who is not overly cautious I am generally willing to leave my drink inside and watch it through the window if need be. Yet some of my female friends are understandably far more cautious about having to leave their drink unattended if they want a smoke – for them it can be far more than a minor annoyance.
Women are arguably made more vulnerable by a system of no drinks outside, no smokes inside. Yet my focus here isn’t purely on the worst possible outcome of these rules. The point is that women already face pressure not to go out and throw caution to the wind in the way that men are easily able to. Many already find themselves starting the evening by planning how they will get home for reasons men don’t have to think about. As such our night culture should be designed to make it easy for women especially do to as they wish, regardless of the threats they may face. And the current rules, I am afraid, do the opposite
With pubs still closing at an alarming rate politicians of all stripes pay lip service to the idea of supporting our pub culture. Yet they refuse to ever give the interests of pubs and their customers any priority over other concerns – whether it is the desire amongst some for quiet by 10pm on a Friday, or the amorphous and extensive concept of public order, or, in the case of the blanket smoking ban, public health. If our pub culture is going to be saved and supported, then public houses must be given some more leeway to operate in the way that we, pub going public, want them to.