After a trip to England, Ryan Avent pines for an American equivalent to the British pub. Why it doesn't exist:
London, like cities and towns across the British Isles, is filled with pubs. They vary in type, quality, and clientele. I was very lucky this time around to find a near-perfect gastropub just a five minute walk from my flat. It was quiet and well-maintained with a great menu, and while there were always people there, there was also always a free seat. Kids were welcome during the day, as were dogs. Every time I went I thought to myself how great it would be to have such a place close by back in Washington. And every time I thought that, I immediately reminded myself that such a place, back in Washington, would be perpetually packed and fairly unpleasant. In the Washington area, you can’t have a place that’s both really good and quiet in a neighborhood-y sort of way.
That’s largely because it’s very difficult to open new bars. And the result is a pernicious feedback loop. With too few bars around, most good bars are typically crowded. This crowdedness alienates neighbors, and it also has a selecting effect on the types of people who choose to go to bars those interested in a loud, rowdy environment, who will often tend to be loud and rowdy. This alienates neighbors even more, leading to tighter restrictions still and exacerbating the problem.
Matt Steinglass fingers culture instead of economics:
[W]hat strikes me overwhelmingly about the difference between bars/pubs in London, New York and Washington is that these three cities have completely different nightlife cultures. Those cultures are irreducible to the regulatory environment or to economic behaviour. The regulatory environment in London doesn't do much to explain why, when you walk through Southwark on a winter's evening at 6:30pm with the thermometer tipping 0 degrees centigrade, you see crowds of men and women in long dark coats standing on the sidewalk sipping pints of bitter. It doesn't explain the fact that up until 1990 there basically wasn't a decent atmospheric bar with good food in Washington, DC, or not one that would be recognised as such by someone from New York or London. It doesn't explain the fact that even though breweries are allowed to own pubs in England, and are prevented from doing so in America, most pubs in London that are bought up by breweries or conglomerates have retained their individual characters and atmospheres, while in America they would almost certainly be swept under by company-wide branding campaigns. It doesn't even explain why bars in Washington have gotten so much better over the past 15 years that when I go back, I barely recognise the place.