‘It was more than a pub’ – the story of five boozers forced to call last orders

Squeezed by the pandemic, staff shortages, redevelopment and a cost of living crisis, pubs across the country are shutting in droves. We meet five landlords who have recently had to call time for good

The smoking area takes over the whole pavement. Inside everyone shouts and screams along to the karaoke, clinging to each other on the dancefloor. Every inch of the bar at the Lillie Langtry pub in Kilburn, north London, is crowded with fresh drinks as the last-orders bell rings, for the final time, around 11pm.

“There is nothing,” said Dr Samuel Johnson in 1776, long before the arrival of karaoke machines, “by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” Unlike being a guest at someone’s house, thought Johnson, at the pub “there is a general freedom from anxiety … the more noise you make, the more trouble you give, the more good things you call for, the welcomer you are.” The loud, friendly scene at the closing night of the Lillie Langtry – in which strangers hug, sing, shout, chat, buy each other drinks and smoke each other’s cigarettes – suggests his argument still holds.

Top and above left: Regulars attend a karaoke party at the Lillie Langtry pub in Kilburn, London. It was due to close the following day. Above right: Margaret Percy, the pub’s general manager

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