Pub crawls in Britain get extra legs, thanks to change in licensing law
The first time Claudia Sofia Lopes went out for a night on the town in England, she followed the nightlife schedule favored by many young Europeans and Americans.
The RAF Mildenhall employee sipped some early evening warm-up drinks before heading to a bar sometime after 10 p.m., ready to start a night of drinking and dancing.
“Back home we used to get to a pub at, like, 11 [p.m.] and stay until about 2 [a.m.],” Lopes, 19, said. After that, she often would go to a club for some late-night dancing.
But on this night, Lopes said she was surprised to find that almost every pub in England, by law, was turning out its lights by 11 p.m.
“It’s a shock if you come from the States,” said Airman 1st Class Cody Ellis, from Mildenhall’s 352nd Maintenance Squadron. “People try to drink so much before 11 o’clock.”
But starting Thursday, that will all begin to change, when a long-awaited set of licensing rules for bars, pubs and clubs will go into effect. The new rules will — for the first time since the 1920s — allow the vast majority of bars to stay open past 11 p.m.
Part of a larger scheme, called the Licensing Act 2003, to modernize the regulation of food, alcohol and nighttime entertainment in English bars, the new plan essentially allows pubs to stay open as long as they want, said Inspector Geoff Nunn from the Suffolk County Constabulary.
It’s a fluid structure, Nunn said, built to battle the crime and public disturbances that take place every weekend — in the minutes immediately after pubs shut down and almost every pub crawler in England is pushed out into the street.
To foil the problem, the new laws have been designed without a mandatory closing time, allowing each establishment to apply for whatever hours it wants to have. One pub might choose not to apply for extended hours, while the one next door may get approval to serve until 2 a.m., just as the club across the street gets permission to keep its doors open for the maximum allowable license, a 24-hour, nonstop permission to sell, Nunn said.
It’s a program that has sparked widespread debate across the United Kingdom as the nation makes a public push to combat binge drinking. Opponents say allowing bars to stay open later gives people more chance to booze it up.
But Nunn said the point of the relaxed hours is to take the pressure off people to slam down their entire night’s intake before the 11 o’clock bell rings, and to dissipate the crowds moving in and out of pubs.
The revamped hours also create a new nighttime social structure that could cause upheaval for many in the industry, said Marvin Tillman, a former nightclub security manager and owner of Chequers Pub in Eriswell, near RAF Lakenheath.
“It’s a big issue because it turns everything on its head,” Tillman said. Nightclubs used to enjoy the luxury of a monopoly on post-11 p.m. entertainment, allowing them to charge heavy cover fees and prices for drinks, he said.
“The ones who are really going to feel the pinch are the clubs,” he said. “They have to change the way they do business.”
Airmen in the United Kingdom reacted favorably to the idea of longer pub hours.
Joanne Rainey, 20, said the early curfew often made going off base for drinks and entertainment seem useless.
“When I do go out, I want to stay out later because I’ve made the effort,” she said. “What’s the point of going out if they’re going to close early?”
Others agreed that, while English citizens’ habits may change substantially with the new laws, many airmen will likely stick to their ways simply because they can’t afford to be out for more hours — the pound is just too heavy against the dollar.
“I don’t think they’ll stay out any longer because [the pubs] are open any longer, because they’re out of money,” said one bartender at Mildenhall’s on-base Galaxy Club.
By the book
A history of alcohol regulations in England:
13th century: First regulations on the sale of alcoholic drinks are established by individual communities.
1660s: Taxes imposed on beer, but liquor stays tax-free, sharply increasing consumption of spirits. “Drunkenness common at all levels of society.”
1729: Taxes imposed on spirits.
1787: Liquor consumption peaks, increased government restrictions implemented.
Early 1800s: Modern licensing laws take shape.
1886: Sale of alcohol banned to children younger than 13.
1921: Universal “permitted hours” established, setting closing times across England.
1923: Drinking age raised to 18.
Source: Department for Culture Media and Sport, 2001 government report “Time for Reform: proposals for the modernization of our licensing,” Appendix 1.
By the numbers
New alcohol sales licenses are issued in two forms: premises and personal. Personal licenses are issued to individual bar and store managers; premises licenses can apply to bars, clubs, restaurants and take-away venues.
Licensed premises in England and Wales as of June 2004: 160,000.
Licenses approved in Forest Heath, home to RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath: personal: about 180; premises: 153 (with 77 pending).
24-hour operating licenses granted: 1 (Usher’s Club outside RAF Lakenheath)
Average weekly alcohol consumption in England: men: 17 drinks; women: 7.6 drinks.
Sources: Department for Culture Media and Sport, statistical bulletin, June 2004. Department of Health, survey published November 2002.