Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January 2010

* Another World *

The drinking scene of thirty years ago showed some amazing contrasts with the present day

AS A NEW DECADE dawns, it is interesting to look at just how much the pub and beer scene has changed over the years. So here are a few points of the drinking and pubgoing experience of the start of the 80s that are very different from today:

  • Most pubs here in the North-West just served standard mild and bitter. Apart from the odd sighting of Pedigree or Draught Bass, there was nothing that could be called a premium beer
  • Beer was often sold from unmarked handpumps
  • Electric beer dispense was commonplace, typically using diaphragm meters, which were generally unmarked too
  • Free houses were virtually unknown and there were no guest beers. It was just the regular products of the owning brewery
  • Across the board, there was a lot of choice, with substantial tied estates belonging to Border, Higsons, Burtonwood, Oldham Brewery, Boddingtons, Matthew Brown, Mitchells and Yates & Jackson that have now largely vanished from the face of the earth
  • But in many local areas there was a marked dearth of choice, in particular with large areas such as Warrington being dominated by Greenalls
  • It was considered a point worthy of note that in Macclesfield you could get beer from eight different breweries (Ansells, Bass, Boddingtons, Robinsons, Marstons, Greenalls, Tetleys and Wilsons)
  • Central Manchester was, surprisingly to the outside observer, virtually devoid of pubs tied to the local independent breweries – it didn’t have a single Holts pub
  • Many older drinkers still drank splits – a half of draught beer topped off with a bottle of brown or pale ale
  • Although there was a compulsory afternoon closure (around here, generally 3-5.30), most pubs stuck fairly closely to the standard permitted hours. Weekday lunchtime closure was very rare
  • Closing time was 10.30 pm Monday-Thursday, with 11 pm closing only on Friday and Saturday
  • Sunday lunchtime opening was a strict 12 noon – 2 pm, during which many pubs were packed
  • There was a lot more lunchtime drinking by office and factory workers
  • Middle-aged couples would just “go out for a drink” in the evening in a way they don’t tend to now
  • There was much less food served in pubs, especially in the evenings. Many of today's high-profile country dining pubs did not serve evening meals at all
  • On the other hand, food was much more varied and there was more of a sense of experimentation with styles and formats. It had not yet settled into today’s standardised “pub menu”. For example, a number of pubs had extensive lunchtime buffets – something you never see nowadays
  • A lot of the bottom-end pubs were extremely scruffy in a way that is very rare now
  • There was a clear hierarchy amongst country pubs of “No coaches”, “Coaches by appointment only” and “Coaches welcome”. Does anyone (apart from CAMRA) actually organise coach trips to pubs any more?
In some respects the present-day drinking scene is far better than it was then, but in others it is much worse. And pubs in general are certainly a lot less busy than they were.

Next Month's Column

Return to 2010 Index

Return to Home Page