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No pub should be ‘child-free’ – parents are the ones keeping them afloat

As a St Albans boozer goes viral over its pavement sign proclaiming it to be ‘dog-friendly’ and ‘child-free’, Flic Everett says you’ll miss parents in pubs when they’re gone

Tuesday 16 April 2024 12:48 BST
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A St Albans’ pub sign, posted on social media, has sparked a debate about clientele
A St Albans’ pub sign, posted on social media, has sparked a debate about clientele (x.com/ItsThatEM)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Old men’s pubs – of the kind championed by self-conscious, irony-loving young drinkers – have always let in dogs, while extending all the welcome of a dank cellar to women and children.

Which is why, since the birth of All Bar One and its imitators, drinkeries that want to actually make any money have installed giant windows, offered ‘small plates’ menus, and served frothy coffee in the quieter part of the day, as well as frothing pints of Timothy Taylor.

In what is beginning to feel like the end times for local pubs, it’s mums who have kept them going – popping in with the babies to meet friends for coffee and cake, taking the kids for a pub lunch at the weekend, or getting together for a family birthday party over food.

Without dogs, pubs would be fine. Without old men with faces like inside-out washing-up gloves nursing the same tepid pint for three hours, they’d probably survive. But without mums, they’ll be in real trouble.

Yet the Lower Red Lion in St Albans has gone viral for the stark message on its pavement sign, which proclaims: “Dog-friendly, child-free.”

“Found my new local,” wrote Kyle on X (formerly Twitter), with a photo of himself crouching happily beside the sign, in Ray-Bans and retro colour-block jumper, obviously. That was two days ago. Last time I checked, the post had been seen 56 million times.

It has since become a meme, and has launched a heated debate about who and what should be allowed into pubs, with contributions ranging from “So sick of kids racing about having tantrums in adult spaces” to “This is proof that British people hate kids”. A few even criticised dogs, but they’re obviously psychopaths not worth the breath.

Many thought that pubs should be sacrosanct, a place for the weary adult to enjoy a pint in peace – but these people forget that we no longer live in the land of the Queen Vic and the Rover’s Return, where the community leaves the kids at home to get bladdered with the neighbours. (Did Tracey Barlow ever even have a babysitter or was she just upstairs listening to tapes alone while Ken eyed Mike across the bar?) In reality, those cosy local nooks would have shuttered and graffiti’d long ago, or turned into studio flats for young professionals.

Nobody now stops on the way home from work to read the paper for an hour while The Wife checks the kitchen clock and sighs over spoiled mince. More likely, said wife and children meet Dad in the pub for an early pizza, regardless of the tutting from those who still think a pub should be like a peep-show – for men only.

Largely, whether children should be in pubs at all comes down to their behaviour – which holds true for cafes, restaurants, galleries, cinemas and theatres, too. In fact, anywhere which requires a certain ambiance to remain pleasant. Yet while the odd baby might wail, traumatising men watching the football at top volume, or a couple of five year olds might break free to run past the bar, yelling, is that worse than groups of City boys roaring to each other, or a hen night shrieking over pink Prosecco?

Kids can be shushed and corralled – adults can’t. And, in fact, nor can dogs once they’ve started snarling because a Jack Russell threatened them under the table.

As pubs shut for good, at the rate of 29 a week, and even chains with giant windows and small plates struggle to stay open in the cost of living crisis, it seems entirely self-defeating to ban your core clientele – because kids come with mums, and mums spend money.

What some men really object to, I suspect, aside from the occasional burst of poor parenting, is the requirement to share a traditionally adult space with a reminder of their obligations. A pub was always a place to forget – and now there’s no escape. Mini-pizzas for three and squash all round it is. Sorry, Dad.

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