I am in one of my favourite bars, in a railway arch in Peckham in South East London. Good music. Friendly staff and customers. Czech beer on tap. A quite decent Mendoza malbec. Fast and free Wifi (yes, I am hiding behind my laptop. Yes, I am a nerd. If you do not like that, well fuck you). The woman opposite me seems to be staring a little too excessively into the eyes of the man opposite me. Nice for them, no doubt (and yes, I may be bitter, although I am perfectly sincere when I say that this is nice for them and I wish them well).
However, a member of staff just came over, telling me that (sadly) the bar was closing soon (it is 10pm), and asking me to sign a petition, requesting that their licensing hours be increased, so that they can close at midnight rather than the present 10pm.
The story behind this is this. During the first world War, licensing hours in Britain were imposed, requiring bars to close at 11pm. Allowing people to go out drinking after this apparently hurt the war effort. In my native Australia, a 6pm closing hour was imposed at the same time, In some jurisdictions this lasted until the 1960s. But I digress. And this is now generally gone.
My friends from the Latin countries have always been shocked by the 11pm closing hours in England. Coming from countries where they would barely considering going out before midnight, they have always found this odd, to say the least. But the 11pm close was fairly standard, none the less.
However, three or four years ago, things in the UK changed. Responsibility for licensing bars had for a long time been the responsibility of magistrates. If an applicant could demonstrate that he was responsible, then a licence to open a bar would generally be given.
However, the law was changed, so that licensing became the responsibility of local councils – theoretically elected, but much easily bullied by national government than magistrates. Theoretically, this meant more flexibility with respect to licensing hours. At the time, this was sold as allowing bars to open later. In some parts of London, this is true. Generally, the louder and less pleasant places to be are the ones with the later opening hours.
On the other hand, I am in a bar at 10pm on a Monday night. This bar is full of perfectly nice people who are no trouble to anyone. And we are being thrown out onto the street at 10pm.
Update: As I was on my way out, I stopped and asked the landlord for more details as to the situation. Apparently he has a “facilities licence” allowing him to keep his bar open until midnight, but simultaneously, the council has invoked “planning laws” requiring him to close at 10pm on most nights. He pointed out to me what I knew already, which was that his bar occupies an arch underneath the main London Bridge to Brighton railway, on which (loud) trains run 24 hours a day. My experience is that I was visiting a pleasant bar containing a few perfectly nice people enjoying themselves. Heaven forbid that.