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“Last Orders, Please!” and the Lock-in

Drinking later than allowed. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

sunny 18 °C

Last Saturday night, both my flatmates had disappeared for the evening and all my friends were busy, so I was on my own for the evening. I had been at home watching some TV, but got bored and decided to grab a quick drink round about 11 o’clock in the evening.

I wandered over to my “local” for a pint. A “local” is the term people use for the pub they usually frequent. I actually have a couple pubs that I call local. My favourite is actually further down the street past at least two other drinking holes, so technically it isn’t my “local,” but it is small and quirky and often has a very diverse crowd, which appeals to me. Unfortunately, it also closes at 11:00 PM, so last Saturday night I’d already missed the closing bell, so I went to my second favourite local, the pub right around the corner, The Thornhill Arms.

It is a proper looking pub with wobbly tables, stained stools and a few moth-eaten couches on which you can sometimes get a seat, which is all a plus. On the negative side, though is the fact that they do karaoke on Saturday nights. Last Saturday night was beautiful though, clear and warm, so I took my pint and grabbed a seat at one of the picnic tables on the pavement outside. Many other folks were also out enjoying the weather, and I happened to grab the last picnic table.

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This picture is not actually The Thornhill Arms, but it has a picnic table and beer, so is illustrative of the concept. In fact, none of the pictures in this blog are of The Thornhill Arms, but they do have beer in them...

A few moments later three men wandered out of the pub, pints in hand, and asked if they could share the table with me. I nodded, and the gents sat down. We started talking, and it turns out they were from Ireland, in town for the weekend for a boozy weekend.

“Is there a strip club around here?” one of them asked me. I replied there was a dodgy looking one down by King’s Cross Station, about five minutes walk away. “Nothing closer?” he asked. I shook my head.

The weather must have put everyone in a joyous mood, because soon there was a lot of chatting with the tables on either side of us. I ended up talking to a Brazilian student who was studying here in London, while the Irishmen were getting directions to a nearby “spa” from two bemused women in their early twenties.

The bartender was a woman in her fifties. She came out of the bar and called out, “last orders, please!” I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight, closing time of The Thornhill Arms. I wandered into the pub to get another pint, surprised that the Irishmen had declined my offer to buy them a round. Apparently they had been drinking since 10 in the morning, and had finally become so saturated with alcohol they could take no more.

I returned to my picnic table, glad to escape the awful warble of a man attempting (but failing) to sing Cracklin’ Rose by Neil Diamond. The Irishmen were arguing amongst themselves whether to try and find the spa that the women at the other table had mentioned to them. Finally, one of them decided that he was off to find it regardless of what the others did, and as he was the one holding the card that had the address to their hotel, the other two were forced to follow.

I chatted a little more with the Brazilian student, but soon he and his party were off, and I was left alone. No matter, I had started the night alone and was fine with just sitting back, sipping my beer and enjoying the warmth of the night.

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Finishing up, I must admit that it was so pleasant I decided another pint would hit the spot. Of course, the landlady had called last orders, which meant I missed my chance… Unless there was a chance of a lock-in!

The landlady was standing outside, saying goodnight to a couple of regulars. After they departed I wandered up.

“Any chance of one more?” I asked. The landlady shook her head. There would be no more beer for me that night.

I should have guessed that would happen. After all, the Thornhill Arms has no curtains, and curtains are absolutely required for the lock-in.

A lock-in is the term used when a pub keeps serving after closing time. Generally the publican will close and lock the doors, thus locking in the customers and giving the practice its name. The curtains are necessary because otherwise the police would be able to see that the pub is breaking its license and serving out of hours. With the curtains closed and the door locked, no one from the outside knows.

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Usually a lock-in is an honour reserved for regulars, but a few times since I’ve arrived in London I’ve been included in a lock-in. I will refrain from naming the pubs (after all, it is illegal), but I will tell you about my first experience with the lock-in.

It was at a pub I was at back when I lived on the Isle of Dogs. At 11 o’clock the landlord walked over and shut the curtains and locked the door. He then walked back behind the bar, and kept on chatting to the two regulars sitting there.

I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Was the pub closed and were we meant to leave? I continued to drink my beer and watched the behaviour of the other patrons, the two regulars at the bar and a threesome playing pool at the back of the pub. One of the pool players wandered up to the bar and ordered another round, so once I finished my beer, I figured I was safe to do the same.

The landlord served me without question, and I went back and took my seat, pleased to be included in this strange ritual. It was only much later when I discovered that this practice had a name, and the history of the lock-in. The lock-in dates back to World War I, when opening hours of pubs were changed to keep factory workers from getting too drunk to contribute to the war effort. The tradition continued after the war, and in most cases if things were kept low key, the police didn’t bother to break down the door and arrest everyone inside.

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In 2003 the licensing laws in Britain were changed, and pubs and bars could continue to serve alcohol past 11 o’clock at night, depending on the conditions of the license the pub receives (thus why the Thornhill Arms was open until midnight last Saturday night). With this change, the practice of the lock-in apparently has diminished, though I can attest that it does occasionally still happen, as I experience in that pub in the Isle of Dogs.

After I had finished my beer, I decided to head home. The landlord came around from behind the bar and unlocked and opened the door to let me out. I walked out and he closed the door behind me. As I walked away I heard the lock click, the pub still with the three pool players, two regulars and the landlord downing their pints.

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Posted by GregW 10:11 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged food migration_experiences

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