It is often said, and rightly so, that the British pub is a uniquely wonderful institution. The 50,000 or so which remain offer a rich variety of drinking and social environments. The vast majority, though, contribute significantly to the sum of the nation's happiness.
Pubs serve two distinct but intimately entwined functions – to sell drinks and to enable people to meet. The latter is especially important. Whereas, say, in a Belgian beer-cafe, drinkers will confine themselves to a particular table, where drinks are brought to them, in the British pub many customers are eager to chat with the other occupants, even complete strangers. Pubs are often the centre of community life – in towns and cities as well as villages – and play a huge role when it comes to social cohesion.
Pubs are also the best place to consume the Great British Drink, real ale. Sure you can get real ale in bottled form but nothing beats a cool, refreshing pint served by handpump or straight from the barrel.
The sheer variety of our pub interiors is a special joy. Although recent times have seen unfortunate tendencies to embrace the bland or the trendy, many pubs retain at least aspects of their traditional layouts and of their old fixtures and fittings. Pubs range from simple rural affairs to late-Victorian extravaganzas, from urban back-street boozers, through suburban estate pubs to picture-postcard rural idylls.
Yes, the British pub faces many struggles, but it remains central to our culture and way of life.