Cigarette smoke fills the air, the bartender by the beer tap is serving several beers at once and briskly putting them in front of guests.
“Another week is behind us,” the men at U černého vola in Prague’s Pohořelec say and close their eyes in delight when swallowing the first sips of a cold Gambrinus.
Pubs are essential institutions at a time of financial crisis. More than 80% of Czechs go to pubs to forget about their daily concerns and problems, according to a survey conducted by Jiří Vinopal from the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences.
Growing reports on pubs and restaurants that are closing down are, in this respect, more disturbing than other declining statistics.
The question where the Czech pub sector is heading that HN has put to several experts, is from the point of view of the Czech society not only a matter of economic development, but also a question of the future existence of an exclusive space where time appears to stop flowing and worries are put on hold.
In his book Hospody a pivo v české společnosti (Pubs and beer in the Czech society) Jan Jiroušek writes: “The validity of the necessary is postponed indefinitely and till we get up from the table we do not have to prove even the gravitation law”.
“The really skeptical estimates say that 20% of restaurants will close down this year. I personally think that 15% is the maximum,” said Karel Mayer from Incoma research company, whom HN asked about the blackest possible estimate of the development of the “pub market”.
If the financial crisis were to continue and pubs would be disappearing at a rate of 15% a year, from the current 45,000 pubs and restaurants not a single one would remain in 66 years. The last pub in the Czech Republic would close down in 2075.
This scenario, however, is a matter of science fiction. However harsh the reality, it will not make local pubs to disappear.
“The Czechs won’t let their pubs disappear,” said Karel Mayer, smiling at the idea of the Czech Republic without pubs.
“Not mentioning the fact the expenses of out in the Czech Republic are still quite undervalued compared to western Europe,” he said. If this imaginary scenario took place, the crisis come to an end eventually, and the demand for pubs would start growing again and, consequently so would the number of pubs.
By the way – even statistics from 2008 show that the number of restaurants and pubs has not fallen from 2007.
For every pub or restaurant that closed down one new enterprise was opened. The total increase was slightly above 10%. Experts expect this trend to change this year and the number of restaurants to decline.
Rental is a burden
“Some restaurants have recorded a 50% decline in revenue. They can function one season like that – and they have to subsidise the operation,” said Václav Stárek, the secretary general of the Czech Association of Hotels and Restaurants.
In his opinion, enterprises leasing their premises are in the worst situation, and this constitutes the majority of pubs and restaurants in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Republic is not the only country with an unceratain pub season ahead. Great Britain, another hub of pub culture, is reporting even greater problems.
The impact of the crisis is fuelling the crisis further. There are now some 2,000 pubs less in comparison with last year.
Not even the recent statistics from the UK are optimistic. The British Beer & Pub Association published figures last week according to which 39 enterprises in the sector close down each week.
If the rate of closing down does not slow down, the prospects of British drinkers are poor. Reporters at The Times calculated that there are 28 years left until the last [British] pub closes down.