From balls in the face to swingers, it’s all happening over a drink.
The latest thing in the drinks industry is ‘activity pubs’. Attendance at the local has been decreasing in recent years, with customers ignoring the rattle and neigh of coaches and horses across the UK, and beyond. We might chalk the reasons up on a board marked ‘specials’: cheaper alcohol at the supermarket, smoking bans consciously uncoupling the traditional ‘fags and booze’ combination, boxsets, Netflix.
But the main reason, I contend, is that no one has any conversation any more. Sit at the pub, and there’s a chance you have to talk. Shocked emoji! The pub presents a big challenge. How to actually engage with other human beings?
Showing an intelligence beyond their species, ‘Dogs and Ducks’ – or their pub descendants – across various lands have come up with an idea: doing stuff whilst drinking. This is pubs getting involved in ‘the experience economy’, a snappy phrase used by retail industries for people wanting to buy less and do more.
London already has a ping pong club where you bat ping pong balls around. Fun, and filled with potential for flirting too. If you fancy someone, you actually hit them, rather than hit on them. Conversational content can then largely be taken up by discussion of hand position and arc of your balls. All about ping ponging.
The British capital also has a ‘skate, dine and bowl’, where you can visit the ice rink and drink. Try a Double Salchow, then a double vodka. Both will leave you on the floor.
Throw up. Get thrown out. Sure, all terms associated with pubs. But just throw? Another activity pub in London concentrates on darts, but we’re not talking one meagre board in the corner. Flight Club has a carousel theme, people can book an ‘oche’ and have two hours to play. Little hope of romance, though. You’re more likely to get hit by a dart, not Cupid’s arrow.
There’s also a ‘Swingers Bar’ – crazy golf plus drinks. And a ‘draughts bar’, where you can square off against others without getting asked to leave. And whilst one might observe that the original activity whilst drinking was karaoke, and reasonably wonder if this new trend is just copying entertainment norms from the East, it might actually be time to sit down and have a rest. All this activity is so tiring.
Seated, let’s wonder: Where is this all leading? Pubs used to be a central public space where villages gathered, and gossip was exchanged. And Apple’s recent bid to have its stores called ‘town squares’ is yet another threat to pub culture. Can you see a pub in the corner of an Apple store, with beer on app not tap?
And what does this all mean for women? Pubs have traditionally been ‘peak bloke’ – how many times did you, lady reader or scroller, venture into an old-fashioned pub? (Even after they grudgingly added Chardonnay to the drinks’ menu, the equivalent of putting out dog bowls with water. Because, yes, that is what we all drink.) But ping pong girls’ nights out? Ping pong plus prosecco? I spend enough time covering spots and undereye circles; adding a ping pong bruise is not enticing.
Let’s stay glass half full. I hope that, however social changes affect pub culture, a reference will be made to old names. Many pubs in the past had a picture board outside because not everyone could read. How long until a new pub sign uses the modern version? Fancy a drink at the Dog emoji and Duck emoji?