Tim Smith is losing his local. And he's not happy.
My local pub closes its doors for the last time on Saturday – yet another victim of what feels like an all-out attack on London’s pubs.
The Dignity public house in Finchley is an unassuming place, sitting beneath a bland, 1960s architectural monstrosity of an office block. Despite this, it is on the main high street and has for years been the only pub in Finchley Central worth going to (the Joiners Arms is terrifying, and the Catcher in the Rye is just downright weird). The Dignity has quiz nights, open mics and is an all-round decent local pub.
The Dignity’s closure feels like a personal affront. In the last few years, one by one my favourite drinking establishments have been unceremoniously shut down, often in the face of local objections. The Endurance in Soho is now a generic restaurant. The Victoria in Mornington Crescent is flats. The Winchester in Highgate has been mothballed, awaiting the results of various legal challenges... but will probably end up as flats.
Most painfully of all, the Mucky Pup in Islington closed, although the saving grace there is that it’s reopening as a comedy club.
Just over two years ago, the highly popular East Finchley watering hole The Alexandra was bought up by a capital management firm, closed and will shortly be demolished despite a significant local objection, petition and legal challenge.
And now The Dignity, being swallowed by a Travelodge, because what Finchley really needs is a Travelodge on the High Street.
Finchley seems to sum up what's going on in London. How has it come to this? Finchley ‘Central’ is a big place. People still like alcohol. What’s the problem?
There’s certainly no doubt that the younger generation are letting the side down. They simply don’t go out as much. Millennials stay in, on social media, ‘liking’ each other – they live virtually. On the rare occasions they find themselves in a pub, they’ll have one small glass of wine, or a half of lager. I recently saw a 20-something male ask to sample the beer in a Camden pub. The beer in question was Carling.
Youths just don’t go out and drink as much as 30- and 40-somethings did (and still do, in the case of my group of friends). When was the last time you saw a bunch of teenagers hanging around a park bench, sharing a two-litre bottle of White Lightning? Do traditions mean nothing any more?
Or maybe the answer lies in the parlous state of our city’s property market and the real-estate vampires (see The Alexandra) who see London pubs as easy meat. Rents have gone through the roof in recent years – the pock-marked London high streets are testament to that.
Small local businesses move out and are replaced by soulless, corporate coffee shops and supermarkets. The Lion, the only tolerable pub near Archway station, is now a Starbucks. Council officials, who always claim to be working for their local communities, let this happen. Some actively encourage it; Boris Johnson spent a large part of his chequered tenure taking off around the world touting the city’s wares like some foppish pimp, flogging chunks of our history like hand-jobs behind Holloway Morrisons.
Some would argue that the rot set in with the introduction of the smoking ban. Pubs brought in significant revenue through cigarette vending machines and have had to look for alternative ways to bring in money ever since. Despite this, many pubs evolved, selling extravagantly priced fish finger sandwiches and the like (this was certainly the case at The Dignity). They moved on.
Sadly, the idea that a pub housed a community — a place where people of all ages could gather under one roof, in relative safety, to drink, laugh, chew the fat (literally, in the case of the highly questionable pork scratchings hawked in The Mucky Pup) and meet strangers, seems all but dead in London. It’s definitely on its last legs in N3.
Maybe we should just do what the kids do: sit at home, live our lives online and take photos of homemade cocktails we’ll never make again because there’s no substitute for a surly, disinterested barmaid.
No. Bollocks to that. Get angry. Get out there. Save your local pub. Or at least go there for a pint.
RIP The Dignity. See you on Saturday night for one last hurrah.