Two hundred years ago, pubs were probably considered the "soda shops" or "coffee shops" of their day. People would attend pubs not just to become intoxicated. It was often a meeting place for business or just a place to meet with friends. Many community friendships and celebrations took place in pubs.
No, the role of alcohol is not underestimated in history. Even the Bible mentions Jesus turning water into wine. The Prohibition Era was all about alcohol - outlawing it, breaking the law to get it, a whole industry of speakeasies and literal holes in the wal to drink illegally. Alcoholic bevrages have been an important part of history since the beginning of time.
The Babylonians worshipped a wine goddess back in 2700 B.C. and the Ancient Greeks and Romans used alcohol regularly in their celebrations. In England during the Tudor times, both adults and children regularly drank beer as it was safer to drink than the available water, so it should not be a surprise to find a 200-year-old pub in the country.
I feel like pubs have always been used as gathering places throughout history. People need to just accept them as places to socially gather rather than the role they have in the alcohol industry. What is being served isn't what is important, it's the act of bringing people together as a unit of society, not what's in the glass at the table.