At This English Bar, An Old-School Solution To Rude Cellphones

Aug 6, 2016
Originally published on August 6, 2016 11:05 am

There was a time when people went to bars to talk to other people, maybe even meet someone new. But that was in the BC era — before cellphones.

"I've been in the pub industry for a long time, and progressively it's become less and less social and more and more antisocial," Steve Tyler, the owner of the Gin Tub in Sussex, England, tells NPR's Scott Simon.

And that's bad for business. So Tyler wanted to bring back the conversation, and he did by turning his bar into a Faraday cage — a 19th-century invention that reflects electromagnetic fields and conducts currents around, rather than inside, an enclosure.

He installed copper wire mesh in the bar's ceiling and tin foil on the walls, effectively blocking cell phone signals from getting into the establishment.

"It's not military grade," Tyler says, but "it does its job."

Tyler says that, because it doesn't send a signal to jam phones, the setup is totally legal. But just in case, the Gin Tub has a sign at its entrance that tells people exactly what they're getting into: "No Wi-Fi, no signal, just friends."

A week in, Tyler says that people are loving the change.

"I think I've hit a nerve in the world, that I think it's rude, and I think society has accepted people on their phones in bars and in places where it's socially unacceptable," he says.

He hasn't seen sight of any imitators, but Tyler is confident that his approach — or at least the general idea — will win out.

"I think this is gonna be the new way forward for restaurants and bars and clubs," he says.

Without phones in their hands, people are no longer drinking in silence but instead talking with each other. Tyler says that's how bars were intended.

"It's like Cheers, the TV program, when you walk in everyone knows your name," Tyler says. "Well, there are no pubs now where everyone knows your name."

That is, except within the Faraday cage.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There was a time when people went to bars to talk to other people, maybe even make new friends. Then, cellphones became commonplace, and people sit and drink in silence now while they text with someone who could be anywhere in the world, on the other side of the globe.

Well, a new gin joint in England is trying to fight the rise of this anti-social technology. The owner has turned to 19th century science to block phone signals. He uses tinfoil. Steve Tyler owns the Gin Tub in Sussex, England. He joins us from the studios of the BBC in Brighton. Thanks for being with us.

STEVE TYLER: No, you're welcome, man. Good afternoon.

SIMON: So what bothered you about this as long as people are drinking?

TYLER: I've been in the pub industry for a long time. And progressively, it's become less and less social and more and more anti-social. People don't meet so many new people. They don't interact so much. And it's almost recently become a burden to the bar. I think the bars are losing business because of it.

SIMON: Yeah. How did you block the signals?

TYLER: So we basically built a Faraday cage - copper wire in the ceiling, copper mesh, and we covered the walls in silver foil. I mean, it's not military grade, and it does it's job. At certain places you'll get a signal, but generally you won't.

SIMON: Is it legal?

TYLER: It's absolutely legal, yes. It's illegal to jam a signal, but it's not illegal to block a signal.

SIMON: So people know this when they walk in?

TYLER: Yes, we got a big sign outside saying no Wi-Fi, no signal, just friends.

SIMON: So nobody walks in and says, all the gin joints in all the world, and I walk into a place with no Wi-Fi?

TYLER: No, they don't. It wasn't in the film (laughter).

SIMON: All right. OK. I thought I was being clever but you...

TYLER: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Corrected me. And is it working?

TYLER: It's working amazingly. Everyone in my bar is having an amazing time. I think I've hit a nerve in the world. I think it's rude. And I think society's accepted people on their phones in bars and in places where it's socially unacceptable. The first thing that happens when you walk into a bar with a friend, when your friend goes to the toilet, the first thing you do is get your phone out and socially insulate yourself from the public. No one's going to talk to you, and you're not going to talk to anyone.

But if you can't get your phone out to do anything, then people will talk to you, and you will talk to people, and you'll meet new people and enjoy their company. And that's what pubs used to be like, and they've changed. And I wanted to bring that back. It's like "Cheers," the TV program, when you walk in, everyone knows your name.

SIMON: Yeah.

TYLER: Well, there are no pubs now where everyone knows your name because all you are is on your phones. Immediately the - somebody leaves you, you don't talk to anyone else.

SIMON: Mr. Tyler...

TYLER: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Have you started some kind of new business model? Anybody imitating you?

TYLER: Well, not yet 'cause it's only been a week. But to be absolutely honest, I think this is going to be the new black. I think this is going to be the new way forwards for restaurants and bars and clubs because we're losing out because of social interaction with phones. And I think when we've all stood up and said enough is enough, come and enjoy what we provide. And what we provide is great when you're not on your phone. When you're on your phone, it's not so good. So the atmosphere in my bar is far better than the atmosphere in other bars because there's no one on their phone. Everyone in my bar talks to everyone else.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Tyler, cheers.

TYLER: (Laughter) Cheers to you, too.

SIMON: Steve Tyler, proprietor of the Gin Tub in Sussex, England. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.