For a country that practically invented the night on the town, Britain has long been a difficult place to find a late-night tipple. Drinking hours in England and Wales are a source of much grumbling for locals and confusion for visitors. While bars in major cities like Madrid and Paris stay open till the early hours, most of London's publicans are obliged by law to close by 11 p.m. But take heart. After years of false starts, the government last month promised legislation to allow bars to serve through the night.
"I've prayed for this for 25 years," exults Mike Tayara, who runs the Argyll Arms in London's West End bar district. Not everyone is so happy. Policemen know that Britain's heavy-drinking culture makes for a law-and-order nightmare. The government argues later hours will remove the incentive for binge drinking which usually takes place just before last orders and that staggered closing times will prevent staggering drunks from pouring in to the streets at one go. But Deputy Assistant Com. Andrew Trotter, responsible for policing the West End, says all-hours drinking would simply "spread trouble right through the night." And who would drink to that?