A reader writes:
Coincidentally, I just returned from a trip to England, where I was able to enjoy the amazing pubs in London and in some of the smaller towns in Shropshire. While I can't speak to the regulations or culture in DC and New York, I believe I do have an insight as to why there are no corner pubs in the rest of the country: Most of America is suburban, and in suburban America we don't have corner anything. Pub culture is town and city culture. It's walking culture. A pub that everyone has to drive to is no longer a pub. It's a piece of kitch that sells drinks and hamburgers.
Actually, America did have a pub culture just like that of England today. It just disappeared over time.
If you look at any city that had a huge influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe 100 years ago, places such as Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, you can still see remnants of what it was like: neighborhood bars on virtually every block, places you just walked to from your home or right after work. (For example, the town of Depew, NY, just outside of Buffalo, was once in the Guinness Book of World Records in the 1940s for more bars per acre than any other place in the world. That's because a major railroad coupling factory was just down the street, and the men would stop by for a beer or three after work every day.)
Many still exist, but barely hang on. Washington never had an immigrant culture from that part of the world and so never developed it. My grandparents operated several bars of this type, so I know exactly what had happened.
What changed? The flight to the suburbs, of course. Suburbs are far less dense than urban area, so bars are spread out over a greater distance. Any new bar would have to open in a strip plaza or other new construction, meaning that the rent is at a premium. Premium rents mean you can't survive unless your bar is packed on the weekends. Additionally, once you are settled in a suburban house, you now have to drive to get to a bar, and that makes is a hassle just to get there.
If you want more, read Verlyn Klinginborg's book, "The Last Fine Time," which describes the exactly the culture you hint at. He married a woman from Buffalo who was in the tavern business, and his book is perfect about what we have lost.
I think we'd see a lot more corner pubs if most people didn't commute to the city from the suburbs by car. When I lived in Australia, another country with lots of pubs, I would often stop for a pint or two after work with my mates before catching the train home. I rarely, if ever, do that now that I'm back in the U.S. because I have to drive for 45 minutes and don't want to be impaired.
While researching for an article on lagers and ales, I came across an interesting statistic that might help explain the lack of corner pubs in America. In the UK, 80% of beer is consumed in pubs and other public accommodations, with the remaining 20% is consumed in the home. In the US it is the exact opposite, with 80% of beer being consumed in the home, and only 20% in public bars.
America's corner pubs are on just about every corner. Conveniently, they all have the same name: Starbucks.