Time at the Bar


Now there’s a phrase, ‘time at the bar ladies and gentlemen’, an expression that I have heard and called out many many times over the years.

In my time I have witnessed more than one change in the Licensing Laws and watched the licensees struggle with the implications of the letters of the law, but the most interesting and humorous side of these mindless changes was the reaction of the public at large, who vigorously try to ignore all and everything, as long as they can squeeze in that last extra drink.

Now, as in all things that I have observed for any length of time in my life, pub users, whether they are ‘the core’, as in people who use the facility most days, ‘the regulars’, people who use the facilities on certain days but at least once a week, ‘the locals’, who come in as and when but you see them twenty times a year and finally, ‘the non locals’, people who drift in every now and then sometimes never to be seen again, all have different opinions as to what ‘TIME AT THE BAR’ actually means.

Best set the playing field first: Most pubs, restaurants and hotel bars all shut at a predetermined time and if that is not displayed on the outside of an establishment, it will be visual somewhere inside (not that this matters, as there is a section of people who would deny seeing it even if they were stood directly in front of it with their face stuck to it for an hour or two). It is also a well known fact that, before time is called, the majority of premises will call last orders, ten to fifteen minutes before calling time, hence warning the public at large that the hostelry is about to close. That may be all well and good. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what kind of establishment you are operating, or the audible volume of the pending closure, not even the social standard of the clientele who frequent it, there is always a small minority of people, not all airing their views at the same time, that are the ones that get really humpy if they can’t snaffle that last drink.

Remarks such as, “is it an early night then?” – “that Landlord must have too much money” – “it’s been a dry old night,” – “if you don’t want my money, I can drink somewhere else,” – “I like to get five pints in, but you always shut too early,” to “is that the time, can I get a quickie for the road,” – “come on, I never heard ‘last orders called’ (as if it’s a right), “bloody hell, are you opposed to making money”, – “are you still serving or what?” These are but a few, but the ones most frequently used.

Of course, it is not only the customer that can cause the late night drink scenario. Often, without realising it, allowing drinks to be poured slightly after time even once will be spotted by the late-night drinker and the next time you try to shut promptly they will bring this up and can cause a scene. Even if you are busy and a mad rush hits the bar at two minutes to time, endeavouring to be fair and make sure everyone who was waiting is served, will have consequences. If you are in this  trade, you will know exactly who I am talking about.

You will also get those customers who wait for the last second. You call time, they place their glass in front of you for a refill. Here you have choices. You can do the refill and avoid the confrontation, you can pick the glass up and place it in the glass washer (I can advise you, this will annoy the hell out of them) or you can firmly state, ‘no more, you are too late’ (this is not going to exactly endear you to them either).

Then you have the customer that doesn’t come out till gone 22:00, knowing when the bar shuts, but expecting their quota. It is quite funny really, because they never seem to learn. They come in with all the joys of spring and even with a couple of direct remarks like ‘You’re out late tonight,’ to ‘If you’re hoping to get four down you by closing time, drink fast.’ Then when refused any more, they either sulk or pass a caustic remark or two, but are back the following week as if nothing has happened. I would like to say, and I don’t know why, that these people are of a likeness, but that is not the case. They come from right across the spectrum, from the unemployed to professional people, but what I can say is that they are loaded with their own self entitlement: not a great trait.

So when the bar steward calls, ‘Time at the bar,’ – ‘Let’s be having your glasses ladies and gentlemen,” – “Haven’t you lot got a home to go to?” – “Drink them up or lose them,” it can have different meanings, to different people, in different moods, at different stages of alcohol oblivion, of different social standings, at different ages, in different states of mind, but ironically, the meaning of that phrase only comes into question at the same point in the evening and that’s closing time, depending on licensing hours.

To sum up this fluid set of dangerous circumstances, it struck me some time ago, that the immortal words of Humphrey Bogart applies:


So true.

Andy Collidge was raised in Pershore, Worcestershire, then moved to Hertfordshire aged 14. Andy had careers in the Police Force and Fire Brigade, then later in sales. Now, with his wife, Andy owns a successful hotel in the Devon heartlands with an acclaimed restaurant. Although not a Devonian, Andy now regards the county very much as home. Andy has written 6 books, three that are published, with two more coming out this year.

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