Is the British pub an endangered species?

British pubThe figures are in for 2011 and it’s more bad news for the British pub. An average of 14 a week shut down, and Oxfordshire alone lost 35 this past year.

The pub is an institution. More than just a place to drink real ale, it’s a place to see friends, get out of the house, do the pub quiz, and watch football.

My family and I spend every Easter and summer in Oxford, and while we aren’t big drinkers, the pub is one of our regular destinations. Our local is The Fir Tree, which has a great Sunday roast and friendly atmosphere. They even allow well-behaved children like my son.

When I’m in Oxford I’m usually researching in the Bodleian Library. After a few hours of poring over old manuscripts I need a break, so I head across the street to The White Horse, familiar to Inspector Morse fans as Morse’s favorite watering hole. Usually I bump into several other researchers there and The White Horse has been unofficially designated the Bodleian Library slack-off pub!

British pubs are an institution, now under threat from a number of factors. High beer taxes make a night out expensive, and cut-rate supermarket booze is drawing many drinkers away. Also, the demographic of many neighborhoods is changing, with some areas filling up with immigrants who don’t drink, or who at least don’t drink in public.

It’s a shame so many pubs are disappearing but I don’t really see how that trend is going to be reversed. The government isn’t about the lower taxes, and the economic crisis is making more people stay home. If you’re coming to this part of the world, however, make sure to visit some pubs. You’ll find a genial atmosphere, good drinks, historic buildings, and interesting local tales. The White Horse is more than 300 years old and during renovations a “witch’s broom” was found in the rafters. Nobody would touch it so it was boarded up and is still there. Other pubs have stories too, including ghosts, visits by royalty, and of course acting as backdrops to movies and TV.

So go drink at a pub. Saving a cultural icon has never been so much fun.

Photo courtesy flickr user calflier001.