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What does it take to be fit to run a pub?

Just back from a night out at the theatre. We’d all love to think that someone who lives in London goes out to the theatre all the time, but it’s not like that – we went to see a play because it had John Simm in it, and I can’t remember the last time we went out to the theatre. The play was brilliant though.

Anyway, after we left the theatre, we went to a fairly iconic West End pub, which I won’t name. But if you’re a Sam Smith’s fan lurking near Trafalgar Square, you can probably guess.

Anyway, it’s got some really nice partitioned snugs, which were all full when we arrived. We got a perch near the end of one of them, which contained a young couple on one side of the table, and a pretty girl, maybe 22-ish, across from them. It looked like the couple were there with the girl, though I might be wrong. Anyway, the girl decided she’d be more comfortable lying flat on the seat at her side, and the people she was with left. If they did know her, then deciding to abandon her just as she slipped into unconsciousness makes them without doubt the villains of the piece – the kind of people for whom my wife Liz is happy to suspend the embargo she has on the use of the word “cunt”. So these cunts left, and this girl is lying prone, quite a bit of shopping on the table in front of her, her eyes slightly open and a bit gluey. It doesn’t look good, so Liz checks that she’s actually still breathing. She is, and her legs are moving, so I think we’re OK to leave her, especially since the bar staff are trying to get us to leave.

But then these bar staff come past once, twice, three times, collecting the empty crisp packets and glasses in front of the girl, but ignoring the comatose customer herself. Well no, that’s not quite right – the third time, the bar person – a spotty Australian youth – comments “Jesus, that’s disgusting. I’ve never been drunk like that in my life,” before walking away. So he’s clocked that this is someone who is in no state to get home on her own, but the idea of taking some kind of action to resolve this doesn’t occur to him. Neither does the possibility that the girl might have had her drink spiked, or even intentionally taken something other than alcohol.

Liz and her mate Joan decide not to leave until we know this girl is going to be OK, but the bar staff are insistent that we leave. They tell us they’ve called an ambulance and that the manager is coming down, so we move outside. Then we see they have revived the girl to the point that she is just about able to walk, and are trying to shunt her out of the pub so she’s not their problem any more. Liz and Joan make thier presence felt again (a fat northern bloke sticking his oar in was probably not what was needed) and they eventually agree to look after her until an ambulance arrives.

Look, we don’t know what the story was: she might have just been really pissed. She might have been an insufferable pain in the arse who her ‘friends’ couldn’t wait to get away from. She might have been a regular. But we have this tendency to say “It’ll probably be OK, and anyway it’s none of my business.” And 99% of the time this is probably right. But it strikes me that every date rape victim, every person who has ever been attacked and/or robbed while pissed, probably thought “It’ll probably be OK” up to the point that it was too late.

Here was a girl who was quite clearly incapable of getting home on her own, and quite clearly not with anyone who was left in the bar. So I genuinely don’t know, and am asking if anyone does: what are the legal responsibilities of the bar/pub in this situation? And if we wanted to say “fuck whatever the law says, what about basic human fucking decency”, what moral obligation do bar staff and management have?

Let’s have a heated debate!



Stan Hieronymus


This isn’t answering your question – other than the say that in the U.S. bars and bartenders are legally responsible for letting drunks head out the door – but …

Our (the U.S.) romanticized version of a British pub is that the customers makes sure these things don’t happen. People don’t get laying done drunk because their friends don’t let them (and if it happens by accident their friends don’t abandon them), and publicans are connected to their patrons.

Are you saying we are wrong? Has the way pubs changed or were we always wrong?

Is it a London pub versus country pub thing?


Hey Stan, we’d certainly like to think that your perception is spot on, but often it’s an outdated view. I think you’re right though – it’s about city centre pubs versus suburban/rural pubs. The beauty of the traditional English pub is that it is the hub of the community. The problem with the big city centre pub is that there is no local community – it’s what the trade call a “destination” – people come from elsewhere to be there, and part of the appeal even is that it’s the opposite of Cheers – absolutely nobody knows your name. They guys who work there are not part of the lcoal community, and neither are the customers. Anonymity means nobody on either side of the bar really gives a damn about how they behave.


Pete, a lot of this may bound up in “best practice” with regards to the pubs “duty of care”, Imagine if she was ill would they have pushed out of the door? Also aren’t they breaking the law in supplying booze to someone already wasted? I’m not sure city centre pubs have got any worse for this sort of thing, the boring drunk has been with us for long time. Also you stepped in and helped. I think this happens a suprising amount of the time. I am a great supporter of Sam Smith’s pubs but their bar staff let them down as they rely of temping antipodians who are more interested in cleaning and shutting up than good service. Last week they sprayed the table while we still sitting there something that is most annoying. was Torchwood in the play as well?

Lew Bryson

I’m probably way out of line, but…is this a pubco issue? I was just in the UK for the first time, and one of the most depressing points of the whole trip was visiting a Wetherspoon’s pub. The other pubs we visited (for more than a few minutes, in-and-oh-my-God-no-out) were independents. The hard-eyed barman who just wanted to turn over drinks, the chatty laminated menu that looked like it had floated across the Atlantic from an Appleby’s, and the chillmeter display proudly telling us the frosty temperature in the beer cooler… It did not feel like that pretty picture Stan talked about.

So: can we blame the thousand-pub chain effect here? JMO, just my experience, maybe, but when a bar or restaurant chain goes over 5 or 10 units, something is lost.

Kieran Haslett-Moore

In NZ the manager of a liqour license is most definitly responsible for those drinking in the premise and is legally bound to care for anyone intoxicated (its also illegal to serve someone to the point of intoxication, however that part of the law is super ideal), to the point that licenses that repetitivly serve drink drivers can be revoked.


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