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In Praise Of The Great British Lock-In

Right lads, that’s the second bell gone now, but if you’d like to move into the back Jeff’s decided to put the ashtrays out and draw the curtains. Join us for a Good Old Fashioned Great British Lock-in.

Is there any more exciting walk on earth, wedding aisle included, than the shuffle to the back room, pint and fag in hand, to frolic in the promised land of the local lock-in? Like all great ideas, its genius lies in its simplicity: We’re allowed. In the pub. When it’s closed.

Unbelievable.

The lock-in represents the ultimate in hospitality, the very essence of the concept the bar industry is based on.

There are many reasons to call a lock-in including beer-line cleaning, someone’s birthday, or even a famous person in pub. Really though, the greatest nights happen organically, for no particular reason at all. It’s that spontaneity that makes you feel so special, so blessed as to have chanced upon this delight through sheer happenstance, glorious reward for being the last at the bar.

The two main differences between your local pub and your living room are: 1) The pub has better lighting, seating and pool facilities. And 2) There are usually fewer dickheads in your living room.

The lock-in format solves the main problem most landlords face in their day to day existence. Put simply, you can’t choose your customers.

After hours, said dickheads will be tapping on the windows doing please-face and wee-dance while you smugly sip your delicious pint of last-in-the-line pot luck lager. As one of the chosen few, you get to spend a cheap-to-free session getting absolutely off your face, usually with a larger than life cast of characters.

If your relationship with your local landlord isn’t one of the top five most meaningful things in your entire life then I feel for you, pal. This country's landlords are the surgeons of our boredom, the librarians of our bad decisions, the guardians of our very culture, and they have seen it all before.

If your landlord says you’re welcome to stay, it feels like you’re winning at life, you’ve passed the bar-room conversation test, you’re now a regular Oscar Wilde. 

The landlady at our local is my actual hero. Her day-to-day attitude is a sort of sarcastic hatred, hopefully, or maybe she does just fully hate me, but anyway, get a couple of drinks inside her and she’ll tell you stories that would make even the earthiest strumpet blush.

And you hipsters can keep your twizzle-tached Masterchef contestants, thanks – for me there is no character more intriguing than a pub chef. Absolute bunch of psychos.

What possible motivation is there on earth to spend 15 sweltering hours a day surrounded by knives, naked flames, and customers trying to order things that aren’t on the menu?

Every pub chef I’ve encountered has the same basic set of characteristics: very short fuse; partially-hidden horrific scar; extremely angry girlfriend/boyfriend. Despite this, the long hours and stress mean most develop a gallows humour up there with the very best and are usually armed with alarming levels of chat once out of the kitchen.

As for the millions of different personality types which turn up working in pubs - what do they have in common? We know you don’t need nerd stuff like A-levels or big dreams to get a job behind the pumps - in fact the only qualifications required are dedication to the sesh and at least a D in GCSE #banter.

Two minutes of Googling hasn’t confirmed whether or not it is legal to do a lock-in. Unofficially speaking, they seem to fall in the same category as pootling along a pavement on your bike, enjoying a cheeky tinnie on the tube home and guzzling funny substances in the confines of a music festival – provided you’re not being a plonker, everyone’s pretty happy to turn a blind eye.

To be honest with you, though I’d rather not know. For one thing there are shouty Redditers on both sides of the argument who are best avoided, but more importantly it’s the legal grey area that gives the lock-in some of its antiquated charm. Mysterious phrases like ‘money changing hands’ and ‘correct weights and measures’ lend a sort of courtroom dignity to what is essentially a fairly ramshackle piss-up.

Drinking after hours is a really good way to stick two fingers up at tomorrow and fully escape reality – whether that’s the daily grind of the office job or a Shaun of the Dead style zombie apocalypse.

You could just as likely find yourself stood, karaokeing shirtless, on the pool table as you could be signing Dwight Gayle on loan, as Mike Ashley erupts piping-hot chunder into the fireplace. Every now and then you’ll wake up in the ladies’ toilets next to a burning police horse. There are no rules but the law of the jungle – except everyone has to be ready to scatter and hide as soon as the 5-0 come tapping on the shutters.

So let’s hear it for the local lock-in – no other loophole on earth gets us closer to true freedom. Raise a glass of dirty nondescript lager, kiss the next day goodbye, and do things so stupid that you’re kind of proud of them. Just remember not to embarrass yourself too much, because a landlord never forgets.

George Utley
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Cover image - Empty Glasses by Lee Haywood, liscenced under CC by 2.0