Sarah Sands: They think it's all over for pubs. It isn't now ...

Related Topics

It was the interval of the distinguished As You Like It at the Old Vic last Wednesday afternoon and the audience was frantic to know the score. I legged it past the cafés and shops to the one place I knew wouldn't let me down.

I could not push through the door for the crowd staring up at the communal television screen and then I was further forced back by the rapture of applause and cheering. "What, what?" I asked a woman on the step, holding a sun-drenched pint. She raised her glass to me and laughed breathlessly: "Defoe."

The World Cup has restored pubs to the centre of national life. As Al Murray puts it in his terrible anthem: "Football's not coming home, it's going to the pub." Perhaps because England's performance has been so painful to watch, we have opted to share the anguish.

The pub is the right place to slake our thirst for glory, to deaden our dull dread of defeat. It is true that many traditionalists will decry the presence of a television. They tend to share George Orwell's 1940s fantasy of "draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio". But if television is going to help the communal experience, I think we have to let it in.

The death of the pub has become such a cliché that we hardly notice how many are in robust health. Despite the general retreat into the home for food and entertainment, even though television now offers a zillion channels, it turns out that, given the chance, we all want to watch the same thing and to watch it together. Communities exist, they are just not necessarily the same thing as villages.

Pubs survive against all cultural predictions. Women were meant to hate them – since Bridget Jones, female relationships shifted to wine bars. The smoking ban threatened to kill them off. Higher taxes, longer opening hours, stricter drink-drive limits, men's first steps into child care, conspired against their survival. And at the end of all this, what becomes the chief celebrity playground in London? Guy Ritchie's unpretentious Mayfair pub, The Punch Bowl.

Pubs prosper because they follow the grain of human nature. It took a recession to make us understand that nobody is truly happy in a grand restaurant. Good plain food in bare but friendly surroundings is much nicer. Who wouldn't prefer the York and Albany gastropub to the Ritz? A sorrowful clue to the failing marriage of Mr and Mrs Guy Ritchie was Madonna's attitude to pubs. She tried so very hard to embrace them. But they never suited her. It is a collective experience rather than a star system. Nothing much happens. The table is often a bit wobbly and profundity is achieved through silent reverie in front of a pint rather than zealous spirituality.

Madonna praised British pubs enthusiastically, so when she returned to America she was asked sympathetically if she missed them. "No," she snapped.

Meanwhile, Lady Gaga arrived in the country to drink our pubs dry.

Many pubs are closing, but the ones that get it right are doing a roaring trade. Wetherspoon profits are up 41 per cent on 2009. The founder, Tim Martin, understood that pubs, like football, are built on teams. And that the needs of the customer are not complicated. His secret formula, with which Orwell would surely have had much sympathy, is only this: "You can talk all you like about building brands... but I still say 80 per cent of your view of a pub is how your pint is poured."

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before