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Of all English institutions, the one to count on would surely be the pub. Shelter to Chaucer’s pilgrims, home to Falstaff and Hal, throne of felicity to Dr. Johnson, the pub — that smoky, yeasty den of jollity — is the womb of Englishness, if anywhere is. Yet in the midst of this national identity crisis, the pub, the mainstay of English life, a staff driven down into the sump of history, old as the Saxons, is suddenly dying and evolving at equal rates. Closing at something like a rate of more than three a day, pubs have become scarce enough that for the first time since the Domesday Book, more than half the villages in England no longer have one. It’s a rare pub that still thrives, or even limps on, by being what it was meant to be: a drinking establishment. The old idea of a pub as a place for a “session,” a lengthy, restful, increasingly tipsy evening of swigging, is all but defunct.

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