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article imageLondon Pubs Face Choice - Terminal Decline Or Move Upmarket

By Rohan Minogue     Jan 10, 2002 in Lifestyle
LONDON (dpa) - Baked porcini-rubbed free-range chicken with a wild mushroom and cream ragout and mashed potato - this main course offered in a London pub would have raised ribald remarks a few years ago, when cod, chips and peas or steak and kidney pie were still the staples.

So would the price at 13.75 pounds (about 20 dollars).

Not any more. The Engineer's in Primrose Hill just to the north of London's Regent's Park, has this item on its current menu, and it's not alone in the trend to smarten up the local London boozer.

The battered sign showing a railway worker and a train still hangs outside. Inside patrons can still go up to the bar to order a pint of beer at what was once the old public bar and remains as smoke-filled and beer-sodden as it used to be.

But the saloon bar and the rooms upstairs, where the landlord, his family and his staff would have lived, have been transformed into an upmarket restaurant with linen table cloths and expensive cutlery.

The trend is overtaking the smarter parts of London. The old boozer, where the regulars had their places at the bar and red and gold flock-wallpaper set the tone, is increasingly a thing of the past.

Many pubs have simply closed down, while others eke out a marginal existence until a manager with entrepreneurial flair and the necessary capital comes along.

The situation is worse in the countryside, where the village pub, once the hub of social life, is dying. In England and Wales six rural pubs close every week. Away from the free spenders of the urban centres the option of moving upmarket is simply not on.

As Christmas approached, Prince Charles called for village pubs to save themselves, suggesting they provide other services, such as post office and local shop.

"The country pub, which is at the heart of village life, is disappearing in many areas," Charles said, urging them to "draw on their resourcefulness and resilience built up over centuries to meet changing circumstances".

A shift away from the heavy-drinking habits of the past, increasing social pressure on men to spend more time at home and a shift to wine drinking have all contributed to the pub's decline.

Smarter and bigger homes allow many to invite friends over for a drink, rather than "go down the pub" for their evening pint and chat.

Many a London local now has forlorn air, even on a Friday evening, when 10 years ago customers of all ages would have been spilling boisterously onto the street come closing time at 11 p.m.

But at pubs like the Engineer's that have managed the transition successfully, the smell of sweet success hangs heavy in the air.

Well-heeled punters from the media and information technology sectors exude an air of casual self-confidence and have booked out the restaurant days ahead, even on week nights.

Paying 6.25 pounds for a starter of tequila-cured salmon with blinis, horseradish cream and soused leeks does not faze them. And the request for a glass of New World sauvignon blanc to accompany it no longer draws a bemused look from the barman.
More about Food, England, Kidney pie, Steak
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