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The English Drinking Curfew

If Britain's Parliament passes a new pub-licensing bill in July, as expected, visitors to England will no longer have to witness the tradition of last-minute binge drinking at 10:45 p.m. The legislation would abolish the antiquated 11 o'clock drinking curfew and allow some pubs and bars to stay open up to 24 hours a day. Current closing restrictions, which date from World War I, were designed to give munitions factory workers enough time to sober up before going to work early the next morning. Now, government officials would rather curb the drunk and disorderly behavior that occurs shortly after 11 p.m. on streets from York to Oxford. "In Britain, unlike most European countries, there's a buildup of people on the streets at 11 o'clock. It's a critical time around here for public disorder," says Mark Devane, a spokesperson for the government office that's sponsoring the bill. "What we're hearing is fairly positive, because most people want to be treated like adults."

While some pubs, like the 340-year-old Red Lion near St. James's Palace, don't plan to change their business hours—"we don't have the late-night customers that other neighborhoods do," says manager Michael Rice—establishments in heavily touristed areas such as London's West End almost certainly will. If this bill becomes law, at least two popular West End pubs, the Phoenix and the Clachan, plan to extend their last-call hour.

"It's taken about eighty-five years, but we hope the situation will be put right this summer," says Bob Cartwright, communications director for Mitchells & Butlers, which owns the Phoenix, the Clachan, and more than 2,000 other pubs throughout the United Kingdom. "It should have been done in 1918."

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