A good pub is perhaps one of the best of things, at least for me. There are few places where I feel as relaxed, as content, as when nestled into a deep, soft chair in the corner of a dim local. Not really wanting to be confused with alcoholics I should say that, with few exceptions, I normally do not enjoy a drink publicly in either the US or Australia. But England is different, because they have perfected the art of the social drinking establishment, and this is not something that can be just thrown together any old place. It is an institution born from decades, in some cases centuries, of tradition, history… and minimal structural alterations.
History and age are keys… oh, new cosmopolitan bars with their hip minimalist furnishings, sterile lighting and lurid drinks abound in England too. But they are a stain on venerable establishment that I called a “good pub”, they are mere skid mark on the underpants of England’s pub scene. A martini bar???? If you want to drink mixed drinks go and do it in Vegas, or Reno, or anywhere other than where I am for that matter. Ordering anything other than a properly pulled pint of bitter at a pub IS TANTAMOUNT TO A CRIME.
What follows is my humble list of attributes necessary for a good “local pub.”
Dark wood walls – possibly stained from years of pipe smoke.
Brass and marble – bartops, beer taps, and ale handles liberally polished by the bartender at all available moments, except when having a pint with the customers of course.
Proximity to your base – you should never have to go far to find a decent watering hole. Pubs are everywhere in this country so that shouldn’t be too difficult. Some are good, some shite, but the process of finding one to call your own is half the fun. When do you know that you have found a good one? You’ll know. It will fit like an old shoe, that favorite T Shirt that you can’t get rid of, or like Grandma’s cooking.
A publican – who looks as though it was his chosen profession in primary school. In the country of peerage perhaps this is something you are born to. Birth right counts for a lot in this country, “My father was a duke, and therefore I am now a Duke. My father was a publican, now I am a fucking publican.”
Sunday roasts with the family – “Ohhh look Gerald, they’ve got a lovely lamb roast on for only £4.99… wonderful.”
Selection of beers – from all over. That means Northern England, southern England and Central England, none of that crap from the continent. Real ales must be available.
Comfy nooks in which to sink – and watch the world go by. No rush to push you out the door if you choose to muse over a pint for a couple of hours.
A colorful name – like, “The Fish and Firkin, The Liberty Bounds, The Winchester or The Whistle and Flute.”
Regulars – who call the publican Guv’nor.
Pictures on the wall – that were hung there when they meant something. And although now they don’t, they are not removed and replaced with a plasma screen.
Simple, traditional, affordable pub grub – like fish and chips, bangers and mash or a good Indian curry.
Pub talk – “Watching The English” has a whole chapter on the conventions of speaking when in an English pub. It almost always involves the weather, and inevitably, how shitty it is.
A worn front step – when you place your foot on it you are conscious of all those before you who have placed their feet on the same in the quest for a cold pint.
No TV’s or loud music – no gambling machines, pokies or other distractions from your beer.
There are over 53,000 public houses in the United Kingdom, 7000 in the greater London area alone. That’s a lot for a guy like me to check out alone. So here I am appealing to those like-minded souls to come to London, take a vacation and dedicate yourselves to finding your local. A pub is where some of the world’s best ideas were generated after a little creative lubrication. The United States of America, for that matter, was thought up not sitting on the back lawn of Monticello but in the taverns and pubs of colonial America. Inasmuch as the US was thrust from England’s fervent, though already decaying loins, and then threw off the chains of colonial servitude, (as I wish Australia would as well) it lost touch with the tradition of pubs, the measured social drink, and in many cases brewing proper beer. I am glad to say that much of this is being quickly mended in America with Microbrews and local pub-breweries being some of the fastest growing sectors of the lubrication industry in the past few years.
If, in reading this post you are moved to purchase a plane ticket to England, find a pub and begin your search, then welcome aboard, it is great to have you. You are participating in an esteemed practice. It is a tradition steeped in convention, and pity be top the person who bellies up to the bar of a pub without at least an awareness of rules and regulations. And to those of you who would want to go to the aforementioned Martini bar, bugger off!