The future of drinking is uncertain. In the midst of all this confusion, here’s a guide from the good people at Old Blue Last Beer, on how to tackle this strange new boozing landscape.
For all the excitement around al fresco dining and the freedom to once again pay an hour’s wages for a pint, we’re staring down the barrel of a very different kind of drinking culture. The rituals and routines we’re so accustomed to are now facing their first serious challenge since the smoking ban. The pubs that became second homes are only half-recognisable in their current form – and many won’t be coming back at all.
It seems that a new set of boozing codes needs to be established. The situation demands a certain kind of “drinker’s ingenuity” in order to save the Great British Night Out – a shifting, versatile take on the sesh that takes in different forms, spaces and ideas. A freeform piss-up, if you will.
Here’s how it might go down.
Pubs are an inherently casual concept, quite literally a “public house”. You’re supposed to drop in, sink a few, shout at the telly in the corner and stumble out. People try to sentimentalise pubs into warm, cosy bosoms of British traditionalism. But really, they’re at their best when they’re anonymous; when few questions beyond “cash or card?”, “red or white?” are asked. They’re essentially French Foreign Legion barracks with scampi fries, and that’s how we like ‘em.
But we’re now looking at a situation where a trip to the boozer means not only anti-bac on tap and landladies in hazmat suits, but having to register your name and address every time you want to pop in for a long one. This means that, potentially, if a hypochondriac with the chisel-sniffles calls up the tracers in a fit of Monday morning paranoia, you’ll be straight back into the quarantine hole like a COVID Charles Bronson.
The solution, it seems, is to drink exclusively in pubs where nobody answers their phone and nobody fears death (anywhere with a sign in a Celtic typeface and bookies slips on the bar seems a good place to start).
Fucking hell, the park. Of all the corona-flashpoints, the park has become perhaps the most contentious – a perpetual battlefield of litter, piss, barbecue-scorched earth and “uni mate get-togethers”. In cities across the country, dog walkers, birdwatchers and slackline walkers are forced to share precious green space with displaced messheads of all ages, tensions spilling over in terrifying synchronicity with the Magners bottles and hot coals flowing out of the all-too infrequent bins.
How to combat this going forward? Well, if you are going to drink in a park, choose an unpopular one. Don’t go to London Fields expecting to find some kind of generation-defining vibe you can just lay back and soak up like Haight-Ashbury in ‘68. This isn’t a temporary autonomous zone, just a tribute to the lack of imagination among the Aperol class.
Really, basic human experience should teach you to do the opposite of whatever everyone else is doing, and no more fundamentally should you practice that then when it comes to post-COVID park life. But by the same token, that doesn’t mean you should go and sit on a duck island or in a layby or on one of those lonely flyover roundabouts with a bench on it.
One thing that’s never really taken off in the UK is the idea of “sitting outside your house”. In the States, the stoop is a hammock, a living room and a stage all in one. But here, some deep-lying instinct levels suspicion at anyone who sits outside of their house. It’s seen as a pursuit for weirdos, exhibitionists, sex cases, “foreigners”.
In fact, I have a recollection of an old Channel 4 News report about the residents of some Midlands cul-de-sac who’d formed a neighbourhood snitch service to keep their eyes on some recently-arrived Romanians, citing them “standing outside their houses” as a cause for concern.
However, lockdown seems to have put an end to this. With the parks packed and the pubs temporarily shuttered, people across the country scrubbed their steps, pulled out the deckchairs and made the most of those liminal zones between door and street. The front garden is very much one of these “new nightclubs” – but don’t get dragged into some lame game of “street bingo”, because you’ll end up in a viral Facebook video shared exclusively by people with faded French flag profile pics.
I said the Zoom quizzes are over, but we have to assume that some of the habits we’ve formed over lockdown might carry over into peacetime - particularly the idea of video socialising.
Granted, it's not as good as a bit of old fashioned, tete-a-tete human conviviality, but it’s also a fine, fine way of swerving that “birthday drinks” event you really don’t want to go to.
In the 2002 novel The Beach, Alex Garland imagined those stretches of land between sand and sea as the closest things to Eden on earth: “…this is where the hungry come to feed… for mine is the generation that travels the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before”.
But in the UK of 2020, when a British passport means a two-week stay in a Portuguese airport hotel, most of us are having to make do with mini sausage rolls and fistfights in Bournemouth. A British beach is never going to give you the screensaver sunset you were hoping for, but at least you can get some sand on your toes and seagull shit in your hair.
Those videos of raves in Lancashire nature reserves might make them seem tempting when you’re sitting in your kitchen trying to work out how to pay the gas bill, but unless you’re a 16-year-old with a shoulder bag and a Depop reputation, they’re probably not for you.
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