Today’s Cranky Telegraph Theme is The Trouble with Pubs:

Telegraph Blogs – The real reason pubs are dying: the totalitarian smoking ban, by Gerald Warner

So, when we learn that publicans are selling only 14 million pints of beer a day, compared with 15.6 million a year ago; when the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) reveals that more than half of all English villages are dry, due to pub closures, for the first time since the Norman Conquest; when we hear that 1,400 pubs closed in the past year and that sales of beer in the surviving hostelries are at their lowest since the Great Depression of the 1930s – we know what to say.

We know we should blame the “unfair” competition from supermarkets, where beer sales are increasing; or talk of “rising costs”; or observe that the credit crunch is biting; or welcome a healthier lifestyle spreading throughout the country.

We also know what we should not say: that the Stalinist ban on smoking, just one item on the tyrannical politically correct agenda of the Blair/Brown regime, has destroyed the traditional focus of sociability as it has been known in Britain for a thousand years. When English pub culture is dying, so is the nation.

Telegraph – Pubs are the last place I’d want to drink in, by Andrew O’Hagan

Not according to the statistics. British pubs are in crisis – they sold seven million fewer pints of beer last year than they did in 1979. Some of you might cheer if that figure represented a decline in alcoholic consumption, but it does not: more people are drinking to excess (and starting at a younger age) than ever before.

The decline in pubs is to do with three things: the smoking ban, a fraying in the old notion of community, and as a result of Happy Hours and drinks promotions, which have transformed the average British pub from a haven of smoked glass, polished brass and mahogany into blaring dumps filled from one end to the other with quiz machines, karaoke stages, and drunken teenagers shouting at each other over lurid drinks.

George Orwell once described a warm beer and a country pub as being among the essential flavours of England. Nobody would claim that now: perhaps a blood red pair of Mad Dog 20/20s (two for the price of one) would more accurately summon the present atmosphere.

I’ve gone from being someone who stopped in at a pub several times a week when I was younger – and practically living there when I was a student – to hating pubs.

Many of the establishments are so pressed for custom that they will do anything to fill their bar – mainly selling toxic drinks in devastating quantities to kids who consider a good night out to be one that ends in copious vomiting.

But at least the kids aren’t smoking!

The European-style café culture that New Labour fantasises about will never be possible while British publicans demonstrate such utter contempt for responsible drinking and the social rudiments of drinking pleasure.

Decent licensees in France would never sell alcopops – never mind sell them at minimum prices – because they know it would destroy their custom, their self-respect, and ultimately their business.

The smoking ban was not a mistake in restaurants and most public places, but it was a mistake in bars. Publicans should have been free to make the choice, just as we do in our own houses, and patrons could have chosen whether to visit smoking or non-smoking places. The policy was coarse and undemocratic, and is quickening the death of the pub. …

If you want your European café culture, you don’t just get it by throwing up a few neon signs saying Open All Hours.