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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK
Last orders: A culture under threat?

"10.58pm? I'll have two pints, please"
If the government goes ahead with allowing 24-hour drinking in England and Wales, British cultural life will never be the same again.

The "11pm swill" forced by pub closing times is a huge part of UK living, as many visitors from abroad comment.

The same visitors are also often mystified by the empty midnight streets, the love of the late-night curry, the taxi-rank brawl, and Friday night TV scheduling.

There is much more to last orders culture in Britain then familiarity with the phrase: "Come on, haven't you got homes to go to?"

Pub behaviour

Last orders engenders almost ritualistic behaviour among pub drinkers, aimed at squeezing a final drink from the landlord.
International licensing laws
Australia: Varies from state to state. Virtually 24-hour in Sydney.
France: Licensing is complex, but bars generally close about 1.30am, and up to about 3am in Paris.
Spain: in theory regulated by regional councils, but in practice virtually 24 hour.
US: Varies from state to state. New York more restricted in recent years but most bars open after midnight..
Germany: Laws vary from state to state but most city bars stay open after midnight.

Rowan Coleman, 29, a former barmaid at a pub in Stoke Newington, north London, says there are many ploys.

"People will buy two pints at 10.45, even if they can't by that stage drink half a pint," she says.

"If it's 11.01 they say they've been waiting at the bar and you haven't seen them, or that your clock's wrong.

"They try and hide from you as well. If you've got a garden they'll go and hide in the garden."

Brits abroad

Just as visitors to Britain are often mystified by the 2300 shutdown, so Britons can be confused by foreign licensing laws.

Edith Meyer from the French Tourist Office says there have been problems with British tourists going out too early, and then wondering why places are not lively enough.

The journey home

Most experts say 24-hour licensing would have to be accompanied by all-night transport. That would see off another post-pub ritual - the dash for the last bus home.

Those who drag their feet inevitably wind up at the taxi rank, where a keen bid to catch a cab can quickly degenerate into a drunken brawl with another last orders refugee.

Eating and fighting

If pubs don't close at 11, there's no one fighting on the way to the club between 11 and 12. And if there's no one fighting, there's no one in casualty. And if there's no one in casualty, nurses will lose their jobs. And before you know it we'll have nurses begging on the streets. And all because people wanted a late-night drink

Comedian and 'pub landlord' Al Murray

In West Yorkshire, police list taxi ranks alongside nightclub entrances and takeaways as top spots for late-night fighting.

Alcohol also stimulates the appetite for food.

Britons spend millions of pounds each year on post-pub fare - traditionally a curry, kebab, chips or pizza.

The UK Indian food industry alone is worth an estimated 2.8bn a year. And about a fifth of the business done by Indian restaurants and takeaways in the UK is post-pub.

However Tanya Ahsan, editor of Tandoori Magazine, says the industry is not worried, as it has been busily promoting itself to new markets.
Barmaid pulling a pint
Late shift: Pub workers are looking at long hours

Those not in the market for a meal, may end up queuing for a club. Although nightclubs open at about 2200, most clubbers turn up after last orders.

Hence the last orders phenomenon of the nightclub queue - a crocodile of people that swells from 2300 onwards.

The changing times are worrisome for club owners who fear relaxed licensing laws will eat into their profits.

Veteran club owner Peter Stringfellow believes the rot has already set in, with later licenses being granted for drinking venues that also provide entertainment or serve food.

Are you lounging?

"It will be the death knell for a lot of clubs. There is a trend towards lounging rather than dancing," he has said.

But veteran of a thousand pulled pints, Rowan Coleman, is not so sure.

"Think how ratted people get by 11.30 and then think what they'll be like at 12.30," she says.

"It will still be all about drinking as much as you can as fast as you can, and not even thinking about what it tastes like.

"British people just don't know how to drink."

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Time looms for pub laws
02 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Pub troublemakers barred
18 May 99 | Rugby League
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