|Brigstock Tavern, Thornton Heath|
You are onto it here, pubs ARE places that encourage, foster and ferment innovation - they are the original Social Networks - and conversation and free association in pubs has undoubtedly stimulated new ideas in people and movements in thinking throughout British history.
Paradoxically the demise of pubs, which threatens the demise of much innovation in British society, industry and politics, is the result of pubs themselves NOT innovating. For twenty five years the British pub sector has been in the grip of pub companies who've comprehensively asset stripped their estates to pay interest on the gargantuan loans they raised to buy the pubs in the first place... In order to service their debts the pubco's have over charged rents and forced publicans to pay double the open market price for their supplies - which has meant no profits for the pubs and not enough investement in the businesses, little or no improvements to the fabric of the buildings, little or no organised training, development or product innovation. Because of this the majority of British pubs have become dilapidated, run down and unable to move with the times while (many of) the British people have come to expect much higher levels of comfort, amenity, service quality and product choice than their pubs provide.
Meanwhile the rest of the catering sector has moved on, with Starbucks et al bringing the 'Cafe Society' to the UK. There have been loads more pressures on pubs but they've not been in a position to ride out the economic storm as people have abandoned old run down boozers in favour of many other businesses that offer nicer environments, better value and more relevance to their expectations.