More than 60,000 licensed premises have used the Licensing Act 2003 to extend their hours under the controversial new law.
Twenty four hour licenses have already been given to about 1,000 premises, including supermarkets, pubs and clubs.
Shortest closing time in history
In what’s been called the ‘shortest closing time in history’, last orders were called yesterday on the traditional 11pm closing time.
Then, drinkers were given their 20 minutes drink up time, and pubs with an extended licence could cleared away the empty glasses, ready to start serving again in just 40 minutes.
One industry source told London’s Evening Standard newspaper it was a case of “line them up, we’ll be back in 40 minutes”.
The controversial Licensing Act 2003 consigned to history the standard cut-off introduced in World War I to curb drinking by munitions workers.
Those in favour argue it will usher in more civilised, continental-European style socialising.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell insisted the law was about allowing ordinary people the chance to have a late night drink.
“If it really were about round-the-clock drinking I wouldn’t be supporting it,” she told the BBC.
The new law will allow the majority of drinkers “who never get into trouble to have more freedom as to when they drink”.
And Mark Hastings, from the British Beer and Pub Association, is pleased with the change.
“At last adults are going to be treated like grown-ups and given a little bit of choice about having a social life beyond 11 o’clock at night,” he told the Telegraph.
Fears of more louts
But those against fear a tide of vomit and urine as booze fuelled louts become free to binge drink and cause mayhem around the clock.
But Secretary Jowell said that’s not really an issue, because police will now have “the powers they need to tackle the problem we have as a country of alcohol-related crime and violence”.
“Some young people undoubtedly drink too much and make themselves very ill as a result,” she said.
But she added, “The evidence is that the length of time that pubs are open doesn’t actually affect the amount that people drink.”
It’s a different opinion to that of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.
“We are concerned that our resources will be stretched into hours that we do not want them to be stretched into,” Sir Ian told the Telegraph.
“I see anybody who wants a drink at four in the morning as a special interest group and those making profits out of it are going to have to pay,” he said.
Drinkers, however, celebrated the changes, with a relaxed drink.
At The Agricultural pub in north London’s trendy Islington district, barmaid Tina Davies rang out last orders.
“This is the last time I’ll ring the bell at 10.50pm,” she said as punters heeded the warning and headed for the bar to get a final drink.