Thursday, September 15, 2011

Walking around Paris’ rue Oberkampf (“one of the city’s premier after-dark hangouts”, apparently*) while on a trip to the City of Lights recently, my first impressions were just how ostensibly quiet things were. A few people milled outside bars, but for the most part the area seemed muted and languid rather than the boisterousness of the Bastille area. Then it hit me: people don’t go out drinking until midnight here, as with many other parts of Continental Europe. I was there at 10:15pm - too early.
I’ve touched on the contrast between opening hours in Britain and Continental Europe once before, but it still seemed to apply more than ever in my mind after this trip across the Channel. The ritual culture of drinking heavily before the 11 o’clock curfew and then all converging on the street at the same time (leading to the inevitable punch-up or some such activity) has become so embedded in the British psych that many people find it nigh on impossible to imagine an alternative. The Government’s slight attempt to relax opening hours hasn’t been adopted by many drinking establishments (there have been exceptions), and the result is an infantile drinking culture that sees no prospect of changing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
This is not an encouragement for people to get even more legless than before (and consequently put a strain on hospitals). While there would certainly be an increased amount of idiots in the short-run being admitted to Casualty wards, hypothetically if drinking culture were introduced there is no reason why British drinking culture wouldn’t adapt to Continental hours in the long-run, leading to a more relaxed drinking culture.
Exmouth Market, a busy pedestrian area near Farringdon full of independent shops and a great atmosphere by evening, is an example: it could be the equivalent of some of the side streets I saw in the Bastille area; yet by 12:30am everything remained shut and the area was completely deserted, with only one pub nearby open until 2am. Much of the area around Jaguar Shoes, Catch, The Spread Eagle et al, where Kingsland Road meets Old Street, is the same, leading to puzzled looks from many tourists after midnight. Late night clubs – the vast majority of which you have to pay to get in, of course – which genuinely do open late are not included here, of course, but rather simple opportunities for drinking after 12:30 or so.
We can hardly lay claim to London being a ’24 hour city’ in comparison to rivals such as Paris or New York when an irrelevant law left over from World War I continues to stymie the city’s nightlife.

* According to the Rough Guide Pocket Guide to Paris 2011. And when are the Rough Guides ever wrong?

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