A few things that make pubs special
Imagine trying to explain why pubs are great to people who don’t ever really visit them.
A friend recently confided that they felt more at home in restaurants. To them, pubs seemed like the scruffier cousins of the hospitality trade. Why should anyone go to a bar when they could be waited on for food and drink at their table and get, what they deemed to be, a higher grade of service?
But they wanted to know what it was about pubs that others liked so much. Perplexed, they asked what made our nation’s pubs so special.
Defensively, a conversation began to develop.
It centred around the reason why pubs were (and still are) both our joy and pride with a little bit of our identity muddled in there. Surely, everyone should know why pubs are great. Atmosphere, a sense of belonging and great beer all play a part.
The mistake so many venues make is in considering the look, but not the feel of a place. There are many places beautiful to behold, but have all the banter of a clueless supermodel.
Great atmospheres are created with our ears as much as our other senses. Conversation and laughter emit from secluded seats, across bars and around rickety tables. Why is this? The simplicity of the everyday – the nicks and scratches and bare wood – isn’t trying to be more or any better. As such, more honest and heartfelt and open conversations are debated around pub tables.
Informality and a certain lack of posturing put people at ease. If you want to hear the truth from someone, talk to them in the pub. The point they put their drink down and say: “Look, the truth is…” you’ve figuratively helped them remove their armour.
Growing up in a council flat with a shared concrete backyard where friends played amidst stairwells, washing lines and dustbins, offered a priceless perspective on ‘what we can create’ vs ‘what we have.’ The point is, not everything is easy on the eye. But a cheery disposition can reflect beauty all the same. Without the sunny backdrop of lawns with summerhouses, we sometimes need to remember that children still play. We need to recall that notion as adults too. Charm exists in all things that are real.
For those not predisposed to charm’s subtleties, it is a tough task to reawaken it. While some see venues as variations of ornamentation, they forget that the real treasures of pubs are not in their positioning, but in the people within them. You can’t measure the value and quality of the friendships formed, the deals struck, the arguments resolved or the true life-affirming moments created from a pub scene.
A sense of belonging
Lots of people misconceive that loving pubs simply must be about having a love of alcohol. Not true.
My love affair with pubs began from the top rung of a climbing frame, amidst the scent of freshly cut grass, orange fizzy pop and the tang of prawn cocktail crisps.
It follows on through university, jugs of beers on tables, quizzes and games of darts.
The pub taught me life lessons – like the art of holding a conversation while interchanging to take your shot at pool, all while keeping a tally of scores on the blackboard.
The pub embrace is a nurturing one.
Through part time bar work (which was not in any way like any of the chaotic or glamorous scenes from the film Cocktail) consisted of something like five hours of being heckled followed by 20 minutes collecting glasses. Luckily, there were evening beers lined up, waiting, ready, empathising.
The pub was the host for first date encounters and then, reflexively, also helped to set the world to rights during their agonising demise.
There is just something about the pub that makes a person feel comfortable. It makes a fire crackle in the only way a pub fire can, with a sleepy dog nearby as if to show you that this is a simple life, but a good one.
The pub doesn’t just take us through to adulthood with an inexplicable awareness of weights and measures and how to erect picnic bench parasols– it teaches us about life and people and who we are in a way that formal education does not and cannot.
It treats us all as equal, irrespective of background or ability. For this reason, the pub is both that impartial friend and supportive parent who, without expectation, judgment or remorse, will love us always.
It is a home for the nomadic, a place where everyone and anyone can feel a sense of belonging and never feel lonely.
Pubs really should be remembered more frequently for their benefits to people’s state of mind. No one really talks about their commitment to social inclusion and general states of happiness for their community. They really should.
The freshest beer you can drink
We are blessed with a variety of beers we can buy in shops now in both bottles and cans. But then we need to try to cultivate a pub-like atmosphere in which to drink them. This doesn’t work.
Ever had a beer while sitting on your living room sofa in front of a TV? Unsurprisingly it’s a bit rubbish. It’s like mistakenly bringing back a bottle of Ouzo from your holiday expecting it to taste the same. It won’t and it never will.
Beer feels so closely related to the ambience of chatter and sounds of the pub – right down to the smiles reflected in other people’s gazes – it seems a shame to consume it stoically.
We can buy some amazing beers in a few restaurants now, but what we can’t buy anywhere else (other than a pub) is beer that has finished its final stage of fermentation on the actual premises – in the cellar beneath our feet as we walk up to the bar.
Indeed, the freshest beer you can drink will always be a cask beer and it can only be enjoyed in a pub. It’s what makes pubs so special and what makes beer special too. The two work in natural symbiosis and both have their roots firmly in the business of enjoyment.
Pubs are incredible places. We really do hear so much about them as though they are just purveyors of alcohol, but they’re not. Pubs are special because of what they generate and not just what they sell.
You can’t buy goodwill and cheer from a shop shelf. And why would anyone want to?
There is something very human about having a desire to interact with others and to share in our joviality. The pub is the place where we do that.
We don’t book a seat with a pre-ordained guest. Instead, we just bumble along as ourselves and the rest falls into place.
Life is meant to be like that: adventuresome, informal and unplanned – the opposite of a starched white tablecloth.