What would the bar from “Cheers” be like in the modern era? Would Norm be checking fantasy scores on his iPhone? Would Cliff be trolling his Galaxy for a new conquest on Twitter? Would Frasier thumb out lengthy texts in which he complains about the personality flaws of fellow regulars?
No, what made the classic TV sitcom so great was the fact that it took place in a time when people who hung out in bars actually talked to each other instead of staring into tiny little screens.
Of course these days, in bars (and just about every other kind of establishment) from New York to New Zealand and Toronto to Tokyo, an overwhelming number of people—even those who are there with friends—simply stare at their devices. Sure, a small percentage of these patrons are doing “important” stuff such as booking travel and reading stories like this one on AFAR.com. But the majority are likely just checking Facebook or Snapchatting or Instagramming selfies.
We’ve already counted some of the other ways your cell phone could ruin your next trip. One pub owner in England has decided to take matters into his own hands.
That man, Steve Tyler (no relation to the Aerosmith singer), has turned his Sussex pub—a joint named the Gin Tub—into a place where cell phones simply won’t work.
According to a recent piece from NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” Tyler fashioned the pub into a Farraday cage—a 19th-century invention that reflects electromagnetic fields and conducts currents around, rather than inside, an enclosure. Specifically, Tyler installed copper wire mesh in the bar's ceiling and put tin foil on the walls. The treatment effectively blocks cell phone signals from being able to get in.
The online version of the NPR article explains that because Tyler’s approach doesn't send a signal to jam phones, the setup is 100 percent legal. It also notes that in order to prepare unsuspecting customers for the situation, the Gin Tub has a sign at its entrance that reads: "No Wi-Fi, no signal, just friends."
Early returns show the move is working; Tyler tells NPR that conversations and interpersonal interactions have come back in a big way. He adds that he’d be happy if other local (and not-so-local) watering holes followed suit. (In related news, so would this author.)
While the Gin Tub still may not be a place where everyone knows your name, in spirit it’s a heck of a lot closer than most establishments get these days. Sam Malone would be proud.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com