Stressed-out young hit the bottle

High-pressure jobs and new-style bars mean binges are back in fashion
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The Independent Online

The bar was heaving. Getting a drink meant fighting through a crowd of well-dressed young men and women, all shouting to be heard above frenetic dance music. Outside, bouncers in black made sure the hordes did not spill too far on to the road. There were already smashed bottles on the pavement, and mobile phones rang every few seconds.

The bar was heaving. Getting a drink meant fighting through a crowd of well-dressed young men and women, all shouting to be heard above frenetic dance music. Outside, bouncers in black made sure the hordes did not spill too far on to the road. There were already smashed bottles on the pavement, and mobile phones rang every few seconds.

"It's just that weekend feeling," said Asif, 21, a sales executive with a glazed look in his eye. "It's about going out and letting yourself go a bit. Life changes, but beer is constant."

This was in the City of London, but it could have been Newcastle, Manchester, or any other big city in Britain, as hordes of stressed-out young people left their offices and headed for the weekend via the pub.

Workers have always washed away the cares of the week with a pint or two on Friday night, but we are spending more money and energy doing that now than ever before. The Independent on Sunday sent reporters out on the town across the country to confirm that after years of recession, when many of us had to stay in and save up, Britain is back on the booze in a big way. The amount that young adults drink continues to rise. Last year the average consumption per head for 18-24 year olds was 15.2 units a week, and it is expected to top 17 units within three years. That represents an increase from 940 million litres to 1.2 billion litres of alcoholic drinks. Only Germans drink more.

The influential All Party Parliamentary Beer Group called last Tuesday for opening hours to be made longer and more flexible - as they will be, temporarily, during the New Year festivities. The Home Office is thought to be sympathetic, and the law may change by Easter.

New bars open every week, all over the country. Drinkers no longer have to choose between snooty wine bars and old-fashioned pubs, thanks to a new generation of hostelries such as the All Bar One chain, with their polished wooden floors and high design values. Their customers are the middle-class, middle-management foot-soldiers of Blair's comfortable Britain.

And as we warm up for millennium night, the market analysts Datamonitor have confirmed the existence of a "fin de siÿcle frame of mind". "It has become fashionable again to be seen to be living an opulent, indulgent life," they say in a recent report. "Consumers feel that one session of 'being good' - going to the gym, for example - earns them an indulgence such as an alcoholic drink." In other words, if you work hard and put up with stress for five days, you earn the right to a Friday night binge.

And it's not just the lads any more. "Themed outlets and chains have been crucial in changing the traditional image of pubs and bars as being dark, smoky places to a more continental positioning that not only appeals to young adults, but has been successful in attracting more female customers," says Richard Robinson, drinks industry analyst for Datamonitor.

Some things never change, however. Outside the Slug & Lettuce on Friday night a swaying man in a suit was on the phone to his partner. "I'm at the station. Yeah. There's a problem with the trains. No, I'm not in the pub. I told you. I'm not. What do you mean you don't believe me?"

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