The Cock Tavern, 150 years of drinking at dawn

It is 6am, and while most people are still asleep, Mike Callaghan, a pub landlord, is pulling his first pint. The Cock Tavern in London's Smithfield Meat Market is as packed as any night-time local; the jukebox is playing and the air is filled with the smell of beer, grilled steaks and sausages.

Around the bar, it's ER meets Emmerdale as apron-clad butchers rub shoulders with nurses, surgeons and even off duty policeman all winding down at the end of their night's shift with a pint or two.

The Cock Tavern has opened its doors at daybreak for 150 years, enjoying a tradition reserved for pubs in market towns throughout the country which can open their doors at the crack of dawn for stallholders and delivery drivers.

Mr Callaghan, 52, who has been running the pub for nearly 12 years, admits that to outsiders, drinking beer and eating steak at 6am seems bizarre, but he wouldn't swap it for a regular alehouse. The amiable banter of people enjoying themselves and the trouble-free atmosphere is too good to give up.

Mr Callaghan is equally laid-back about proposed changes to the licensing laws which could lead to 24-hour opening in pubs around the country.

"If other pubs fancy trying opening at 6.30am, good luck to them," he said. "I think they will find it pretty hard going and there can't be many bar staff prepared to work those hours."

He said that nightclubs were the most likely to suffer as a consequence of extended opening hours. "I suspect many people would rather stay in their local than pay a hefty admission fee and over-inflated nightclub bar prices," he said.

The pub's licensing hours are 6.30am weekdays until 11pm, although most of the early morning drinkers have gone off to their beds by 8am. The Cock Tavern is closed weekends. Mr Callaghan believes the changes to the licensing hours are overdue and feels it will create healthier drinking habits and reduce drunkenness. "I could never understand why a law brought in during the First World War was ever kept on," he said.

At The Queen's Hotel in Scunthorpe, Barbara Gibson, the landlady, is more nervous about the effects the licensing changes could have on her pub. It is the only one in the city with early morning opening for regulars that include steelworkers, distribution staff and other shift workers.

On a Friday morning at 6am, she gets as many as 150 enjoying their end of week celebrations around the pool table.

Under the existing licence, The Queen's Hotel, owned by Punch Taverns, must close at 8am and then reopen from midday until 11pm. They are not allowed to open on weekends.

"I am quite worried about the changes and I can see it putting a lot of pressure on us," Ms Gibson said. "If people can drink in the early hours somewhere else they may be lured away from here.

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