What is the death of the British pub doing to our love lives?

A boarded up pub in Lewisham. Image: Getty.

An ex-boyfriend of mine had the habit of pointing out, every time we went down a certain south London road, that “that pub there” was where he had had his very first pint. I thought it was a funny thing to say, looking as wistfully as he did, because, goodness, he must have had hundreds of pints since. And yet that little pub stayed in his mind, powerfully enough to remind me, someone who had never even been inside it, that something as magical as a first pint had happened there. 

Recently I found myself going down that street once more, and looking at the fated pub. But the pub is no longer there: nothing is. The property is up for a new lease, the front not even looking like the pub that it was. The building has been literally whitewashed. An advert on Right Move from earlier this year suggests that, while the property is a former bar, “the landlord is willing to consider different usages.” Indeed, “its excellent size and prominence on the high street would make the property ideal for a variety of uses, subject to planning”.

Thus died yet another London watering-hole. 

The same ex used to tell me an amusing anecdote about how, in his younger days, a friend confronted him over a pint. In response to my ex’s sullenness the older man allegedly shouted, banging his hand on a table, “What you need is pussy!”, or something along those lines. The pub, once again, was the background to these displays of male affection. 

How many times, one wonders, did the pub play the stage for not just hypothetical cries for pussy, but very literal ones? To late night hook-ups and first dates? To awkward kisses and passionate coming-togethers and Sunday roasts with the missus? The first time that ex and I kissed was in a pub, a few good pints in. We exchanged many others – pints and kisses – in pubs in the subsequent years. I have since shared many more with other exes, but perhaps in fewer pubs. 

And here lies the crux of my worries: as our capital loses its public houses at an unprecedented rate, are we all hooking up a lot less?

According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Britain is losing no less than 29 traditional pubs every week. Since 2001, London has lost a total of 25 per cent of its pubs. The boroughs of Newham and Barking & Dagenham alone have seen over half of their taverns disappear. CAMRA figures suggest that the total number of pubs in the capital has gone from nearly 5,000 to just over 3,600 in the last 15 years – an average loss of 81 pubs each year. 

Dating contributes a whopping £5.9bn to the British economy (Match.com, 2017), which raises the question: what is all this doing to the dating scene?

“I'm reluctant to go on dates I'm unsure about if it means blowing cash,” single man-about-town Tom Mellors confesses. He adds that the rise in alcohol costs has affected the frequency with which he dates: first dates only happen once a month now. 


He isn’t alone. South Londoner Simon Kelman too admits that “cost is a factor” when it comes to dating. “Renting and living alone in London isn’t cheap,” he adds.

Changing places

But it isn’t just the high costs of boozing that are pushing the pub out of the dating routine. CAMRA believes that poor regulation has allowed gentrification to obliterate our cities’ pubs. “Holes in the current planning system allow pubs to be sold off, demolished or converted to many other uses,” the group’s head of communications, Tom Stainer said in a statement. 

Local communities often need to come to the rescue of their beloved spots. The Elephant & Castle had thrived in the south London neighbourhood of the same name for 250 years, but closed in early 2015 after a violent incident lead to the loss of the establishment’s license. 

When estate agent Foxtons made a bid to the council to turn the venue into one of its branches, the community went into uproar. A months-long battle, including the temporary squatting of the pub by anti-gentrification activists, had a happy ending, with the venue being listed as a community asset and quirky pub chain Antic Collective taking over. 

A good thing too. I’ve never seen anyone suggest a date at an estate agent, yet.

“I work with a lot of pubs and there's definitely a change in how they operate,” public relations consultant Allie Abgarian tells me. “Due to the power of the internet and social media, people have infinitely more choice and they no longer want to settle. It's all about demand and if the demands aren't met, they can simply choose to go elsewhere.” 

In many parts of town, she notes, there are “plenty of 'hipster' venues – but only a small part of these actually survive past the first few years. They're very niche.”

It’s not just pubs that are at risk of gentrification. “The local underground public toilet closed opposite my flat and re opened as a gin bar,” says Kelman. (I’m pretty sure that offering to meet people in public toilets meant something other than coming across as hip on Tinder once.) 

It’s not that I am afraid that people have stopped drinking before mating. I had someone telling me recently that “coffee dates are for job interviews” – boozing is alive and well in this fine nation. It’s just that while our attitudes towards mass dating have become far more liberal in the age of Tinder, our decision making processes on who to date have turned more thrifty with the collapse of the pub. 

“Despite rising costs of alcohol and eating out there is more competition and new reasonably priced places or ‘deals’ constantly opening up. So I would never use the excuse of not being able to afford to go somewhere to not go on a date,” comments Kelman, who seems nonplussed about such dating dilemmas after five years of singling and mingling in the capital. “There are lots of places I can’t afford to go, I just look harder for the best of the ones I can afford.”

The sad reality seems to be that gentrification is not just murdering a type of establishment that has until now been part and parcel of British identity. The days of dating prolifically and carefree are drawing to a close at the same speed as our much esteemed pub.

 
 
 
 

A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.


Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.