I have done another research pub crawl since my last blog, bringing my tally of pubs visited to 23, and I’ve still only had one bad experience. Nonetheless, human nature being what it is, this is the one I shall dwell on.
The incident happened on my expedition into lower Eastgate Street. This is the heart of Gloucester’s night-time economy, targeted at young ‘vertical drinkers’. I am 42, so far too old to be anywhere near these pubs really. However, I found three friends – all female – willing to brave it with me, so I had to give it a go.
We were having fun until we got to Butlers, which calls itself a ‘venue bar’. The distinction between pub and nightclub is blurred in this part of town, and Butlers is definitely on the nightclub side. The outside is all black and silver and policed by lots of bouncers; inside is basically a dance floor with a bar on it.
It was still early when we arrived, and the place was largely deserted. We got our drinks and I went to take a look around. Having an awful memory, not much improved by copious amounts of alcohol, I carry a small notebook with me, in which I made some brief notes before joining the others at one of the few tables. Funnily enough, at this stage we quite liked the place.
After a short while one of the bouncers came over to the table and asked if he could have a word. He said there are cameras all over the bar and I had been seen taking notes: could I explain what I was doing? So I told him I’m writing a book and just needed to make a few notes. He was pleasant and polite and seemed content with this.
About 5 minutes later he returned. ‘I told the manager what you’re doing,’ he said, ‘and he’s furious. He wants you to leave.’
I grinned, assuming he was joking. His face told me he was not. He was apologetic but insistent: I was being thrown out.
‘You did hear me say I’m writing a book didn’t you?’ I asked. ‘How unbiased do you think my assessment of this place is going to be?’
‘You’ll have to get permission to write anything,’ he said.
‘I think you’ll find I don’t!’ I replied.
And so I was frogmarched out. My beer was confiscated on the way: when I tried to insist that, having paid for it, I wanted to drink it, I was warned that my hand may get broken if I didn’t let go. Outside on the pavement I was told the error of my ways: this, he said, was a nightclub, not a pub; a place for drinking and partying, nothing else.
So, what do you think? Did I deserve to be thrown out? Even if you think the owner has a point about my strange behaviour, surely he over-reacted. What heinous thing could he fear that I would write that would be improved by this treatment?
Also, what is the wider social impact of this heavy-handed behaviour on our violent, binge-drinking society? Waiting outside to be joined by my friends I had the opportunity to watch the bouncers at work. Of course I was now biased, but I was put more in mind of a border crossing into a totalitarian police state than the entrance to a place to have fun: an impression all the more vivid now I knew there was enough surveillance equipment inside to give George Orwell nightmares. I’m generally a pretty mild mannered kind of guy, but after my experience of Butlers I wanted to hit someone. What would my reaction be if I was an eighteen year old fuelled by bravado, hormones and alcopops?