September 22nd, 2010 · No Comments
The first time I walked into a pub in London it was a bit like entering an alternate universe where everything is foreign and strange. It was almost like a bar scene in Star Wars. I was with a group of friends and we spent the first five minutes walking back and forth from table to bar, unsure of what to do. We stood awkwardly at the bar then awkwardly at our table, then back to the bar only to stand awkwardly a bit more. Eventually, we managed to be served which is better than I can say for a couple of times at the very beginning when, at the barman’s request, I sat down at pubs but then was never served. I still haven’t quite worked that one out. What I do know is that it was awfully confusing to be in a pub for the first couple of weeks that I was here in London.
The learning curve quickly flattened out and at the beginning of week three the pub became an event done by habit with hardly any thought involved. In that way, adjusting to pub culture is a microcosm of my acculturation into being British. At first you feel kind of weird about things but eventually they become second nature. Having visited probably over fifteen pubs since I’ve been here, I now feel qualified to make my own pub requirements like Orwell did. If I could design a pub it would:
Have good American beers (sorry for this one, Professor Qualls). I’ve become accustomed to drinking lots of delicious IPAs and Stouts which I haven’t been able to find in pubs in London. One really good IPA on draught would do wonders for my homesickness.
I agree with Orwell on this one: a pub absolutely needs a fireplace or three. Not only should a pub have a fireplace but it should also have dark wood paneling, plush carpets, and comfy couches arranged around heavy wooden tables. All of this adds to the antiqueness and hominess of the pub.
A logical extension of such cozy décor is something I’ve been told some pubs do as the days grow shorter. That is, pubs should have available delicious wintery hot drinks: hot chocolate with Bailey’s or peppermint schnapps, warm mulled wine, and hot cider with cinnamon sticks. As Fox talks about, the pub almost serves as a place of asylum, a neutral ground where the other rules of British culture melt away. Nothing would be better in helping them melt away than a nice warm alcoholic drink. England’s climate begs for it. I look forward to that in the winterier months.
Lots of good games. I realize that this might be partially against the ethic of the pub but I really like table tennis. Any pub with table tennis and a good IPA would make me a regular.
I think that about does it. I’m obviously not quite as picky as Orwell nor as cynical. I believe that I will find my pub, just as I want it, it’s only a matter of time.
Tags: 2010 Daniel
September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
As I read George Orwell’s article, I became increasingly interested in where this charming pub, The Moon Under Water, could be found. I will admit I was disheartened when I learned the pub did not actually exist. Nevertheless, I came to understand Orwell and his inability to find his “perfect” pub. I haven’t had extensive experience with pubs here in London, but after evaluating the ones I have visited, I can say I haven’t yet found my favourite pub either.
In regards to the location of the pubs, I have ventured into both the obvious pubs positioned glaringly on busy main streets and the more inconspicuous pubs situated off the beaten path in quieter areas. Like Orwell, my ideal pub is located on a side street where “drunks and rowdies [will] never seem to find their way” (The Moon Under Water, Orwell). The Marlborough Arms, which is just around the corner from the Arran House, is a local sort of pub that offers the intimate atmosphere where a mix of university students and middle-aged regulars can enjoy some privacy as they socialize over a few drinks. The bartenders are friendly (they offered a friend a free drink since her food arrived late) and the owner is also good-humored and amicable.
The Marlborough Arms Pub on Torrington Place, off of Gower Street
The clientele of a pub is also a significant factor in finding a great pub. There are pubs that seem to attract younger crowds, like The Court on Tottenham Court Road. It appeals to young adults mainly because of their young, attractive bartenders, booming beats, and prominent location. It’s a fun setting if you’re in the mood to deal with a jam-packed, noisy pub. Honestly, it reminds me more of a college party scene than anything else. I don’t want to find a number of other American students at the same pub! Another sort of clientele I’ve noticed some pubs gear toward is a tourist. The Rising Sun, also on Tottenham Court, does not seem to follow the normal English pub rules. Their staff seems to have adapted to serving foreigners since, for one, they have waiters who will cater to you as you sit at a table. I prefer the traditional English pub experience where one must go up to the bar to buy food, a round, or to discreetly tip the bartender—just as Kate Fox explains in Watching the English.
The Court Pub on Tottenham Court Road
Another topic Orwell brings up in regards to pubs is the selection of food and drinks. Unfortunately, I have not come across a pub that combines great food and drinks with my ideal pub environment. The ambience at the Marlborough Arms is great—decent music, some noise, a match playing on the telly, friendly patrons, some privacy and comfort—, but the food is mediocre, in my opinion. Moreover, I have had better drinks served elsewhere. Like, for example, the great menu at The Cock a few blocks off of Oxford Street. I agree with Orwell that the quality of food is important for a pub. Superior food and a good selection of drinks add to its comfort and distinctiveness.
Speaking of distinctiveness, I also think it’s important that a pub distinguishes itself from other pubs. As Orwell stated, he enjoys pubs with gardens and he only knows of three that possess them. Moreover, he covers in detail the architectural layout of his ideal pub, The Moon Under Water. Not that I have discovered my preferred “look” of a pub, I have recognized that I like pubs that express some sort of distinction from the rest. My ideal pub should definitely stand out. It could attain this through its architecture, its garden, or even just its quirky name, like The Moon Under Water.
The Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street
Sure, I hope to sometime pick a favourite pub, but I also don’t mind exploring all sorts of pubs and their disparate clientele, atmospheres, food and drink selections, patrons, and quirks. In the end, each pub is different; I just have yet to find that one “great” pub. It’s not The Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street—a high-class pub near the legal courts that had potential to be the favourite—so maybe I will stumble upon it in Norwich.
Tags: 2010 Mary · Pubs
September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment
Since I’m most of my visits to pubs have been for meals, I’ll use my pub post to talk about the meal that I’ve ordered most often: fish and chips. George Orwell describes food as something that varies from pub to pup: to some extent, this is still the case, however, fish and chips is a constant, and in fact it is very similar from one pub to the next.
The presentation of fish and chips in pubs shows a definite lack of pretension. On the menus, the dish is usually labeled as just “fish and chips,” sometimes, “served with mushy peas.” And what you get on your plate is just that: fried fish, sometimes over the chips, and sometimes next to them, with tarter sauce, but no more fancy sauces or toppings besides those such as catchup and vinegar that are already on the table. Customers are free eat any of the condiments on the table with their fish and chips. My first time ordering fish and chips, I was not sure what mushy peas would be, but they are exactly what their title suggests, definitely mushy, and not very much like vegetables, served simply in a small container or on the plate with the fish and chips. At the Court, which much of our group has frequented, fish and chips meals are offered in medium and large serving sizes. This, as well as the presence of vinegar, catchup etc. shows that customers are familiar with ordering fish and chips, and have specific preferences.
After ordering fish and chips at a few restaurants that are were pubs, I realized that the quality of the same meal decreased dramatically. To be fair however, these restaurants were both in highly touristy areas, one by the British Museum, and the other in Bath. At both, I was served more hard breading than fish, and the fish itself did not taste nearly as fresh. Since the two fish dishes were so similar, I wonder if they got the fish frozen and already breaded from the same provider. The fish and chips at both of these restaurants also cost over seven pounds, as compared to the five or six pounds that I usually spent on the same (and better) meal at pubs. Clearly, the touristy restaurants do not need to worry about providing their customers with good food, because they get new customers who do not know where to find good food every day. The difference in quality demonstrates that people who know where to go, and are truly looking for a good meal go to pubs.
Something else that I noticed about eating meals at pubs, is that although the food is simple, they are certainly not designed for quick meals. After we order, food can take upwards of fifteen minutes to arrive. When I ate lunch with a few other students during a forty-five minute lunch break, we were left with only five or ten minutes to eat after our food arrived, and inevitably we were a little late to get back to class. I think that this is because pubs are truly places to hang out and to relax, instead of simply places to go for a meal. Whether going for an evening out or just a plate of fish and chips for lunch, customers are expected to take their time, and enjoy socializing with the people they are there with, instead of just eating and leaving.
Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized
September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
As a young American, it is really hard to find a good pub in London. And I’ve tried. We’ve all had the experience of going into a pub and being told that it’s not open, despite the fact that there are still a lot of people sitting at tables, some even being served at that moment. And, no matter how early pubs close in London, 9:42 is not a believable closing time.
Jesse, Emily, and I were discussing why we thought pubs would tell us they close so early. Don’t they want our business? The answer, of course, seems to be dependent on who we are. If we- a crowd of excited, loud Americans- go into an already full pub in Bloomsbury, the bartender doesn’t necessarily want to bother with the hassle. In groups, we can be very noisy, and the fact that sometimes we want to order separately doesn’t seem to help our cause. If just a few of us walk quietly into a relatively empty pub at quarter to 11, they are much more likely to serve us, despite the late hour. Recently the three of us were looking for a pub in the neighborhood, even though it was nearly 11, and The Jack Horner of Tottenham Court seemed to be open. Even though it was late, we had the best service I’ve had at a pub. They were friendly, attentive, and even apologetic when they told us (at 11:17) that they were closing, even though we had already been warned. We even got a “good night” from them, something I have definitely never heard from a bartender at a pub before.
I suppose that different areas have different “pub rules,” if you will. Bartenders in Covent Garden, for example, expect all sorts of rowdy customers at all hours of the night. A pub I went to in Covent Garden, for example, was completely packed at 11 one night, and the clientele made no indication that they were about to leave anytime soon. And the bartenders didn’t really seem to mind. In Bloomsbury, though, where the customers generally seem to be upper-middleclass businessmen and regulars who are all relatively quiet, the bartenders don’t exactly look happy to see us when we walk in.
Since I haven’t seen many people my age in pubs, though, I wonder how much of it is that we are young and how much of it is that we are Americans. I think this would be an interesting theory to test. I suppose, in Norwich, it will be easier to tell if we really are being snubbed for being loud Americans or if it is our age group that is less appealing to the pub staff.
On a slightly different note, I would have to agree with George Orwell when he says that it is “the atmosphere” that really distinguishes pubs. I, for example, much prefer quieter, well-lit pubs (like The Jack Horner), where I can sit down and enjoy a pint rather than the more rowdy, crowded pubs (like The Court, for example), where people seem to be drinking their ales (and shots) as fast as they can. What I will call the “college atmosphere” of crowded, dark pubs is all well and good some of the time, but other times I just want to relax.
Tags: 2010 Jessica
September 21st, 2010 · No Comments
Perhaps I should begin by writing about how different they are from what I expected. First of all, London is supposed to be this big hoppin’ city with a fantastic nightlife. Wrong. Almost every pub we tried the first two weeks we were here closes at eleven o’clock – weekends included. When the first bartender told us, I didn’t believe it was true. I thought they were just trying to get rid of the annoying American kids that don’t know how to order a pint. But then I started to realize that everyone in the pub was leaving and it was the same for each of the pubs we visited after that, so it couldn’t be simply a conspiracy against obnoxious students. My next reaction was annoyance and frustration. What kind of city closes at eleven?
I also expected that the music selection would be a little bit different. My assumption was that a British establishment would play British or at least European music. Wrong again. As Mel’s post pointed out, pubs here play mostly American music. During the course of an evening one may hear Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, Journey, Lady Gaga….and the occasional Beatles song (but let’s face it, we have Americanized the Beatles to the point where we have adopted them as our own). I am really disappointed that I haven’t heard any new songs yet. Has American pop music become a British norm? Hopefully once we get up to Norwich and out of such a touristy area we will encounter a more diverse and authentic British sound.
One of the things we learned from Kate Fox is that pubs are one of those bizarre exception places where British people are allowed to be friendly if they want to. This is perhaps the only one where my expectations have held true. I assumed both from reading Kate Fox and from my own social instincts that although no one would approach me, if I instigated a conversation people would generally respond warmly. My first experiment: the bartenders. Almost every one of them has been friendly. No one has made fun of my accent, or my inability to sort through the ridiculous multitude of coins which any British child of five could handle. My next victims were the actual pub goers, and it seems that the same rules apply. One night at The Court, a couple of us wanted to play pool but we weren’t sure what the etiquette was for queuing or why table seemed to have different dimensions than the ones we are used to back home. The group of British kids that were already playing were happy enough to explain to us that the table is smaller because it wasn’t actually meant for billiards but a different type of game. While we waited for our turn a few of them continued to talk to us providing us with little helpful tips and tidbits of information.
All in all, I’d say that the pubs have been a mixed experience. I think that after I get over the initial shock of early closings, I could really learn to enjoy them.
Tags: 2010 Sarah
September 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments
This afternoon a barman told me a story about his pub. He said that in the corner across from where I was sitting Charles Dickens wrote his novels (he didn’t elaborate further) and that on the top floor 1800’s government officials came up with legislation. There is history, he said, in this place. It’s too bad that I’d seen exactly the same decor and menu in three other London pubs.
It’s no secret that modern London’s pubs are mostly corporate-owned and operated. I’ve been to maybe fifteen and there have been four or five structural models that each follow- each one corresponding to a different corporate owner (Young’s, Fuller’s, etc.). While each pub in any given structure has its own name, they’re all, in actuality, links in the corporate chain. There are pros and cons to this little situation. The food that the pubs churn out is relatively low priced and consistently good quality. The regulations within the corporate structure make sure of that. The pubs themselves are, usually, well-maintained in terms of cleanliness and furnishings. They give off airs of old-country quaintness and warmth. Those are the pros.
The cons are a little bit more subtle. The pubs are warm and the seats are comfortable. The music is American. The bartenders are Bulgarian and Italian. I don’t know if it’s a fair complaint to make, but it seems like these pubs are much more Ruby Tuesday’s than Leaky Cauldron (for all you Harry Potter fans). The authenticity seems to have been drawn out as the corporate model has taken hold. When I think “London pub” (or, thought, before I got to know the city) the images conjured are more rugged and organic than what I see now. It’s not that I have anything against cleanliness or order. I just expected the neighborhood pubs to be visually representative of the neighborhoods themselves. Instead, they seem to be systematically reproduced molds of what is perceived to be “authentically English”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if “authenticity” becomes something striven for, quantified, and fabricated, doesn’t it cease to be authentic?
Tags: 2010 Patrick · Uncategorized
September 20th, 2010 · 1 Comment
The Marquis of Granby around 18:00 (personal photo)
Even more so than Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, possibly even the Queen herself, the first thing that comes to mind when Americans hear “England” is pubs. (At least when American college students hear “England.”) I don’t think I exaggerate when I say this. (Do I?) When we first arrived in England, hitting the pubs was at the top of our to-do list and it has pretty much stayed there throughout our time here. Whether we are unwinding at the end of the day, or enjoying a (culturally acceptable! awesome) midday pint, it is almost inevitable that we find ourselves in a pub at some point during the day.
In his essay, “The Moon Under Water,” George Orwell describes his ideal pub. Before arriving in England, my romanticized vision of what a pub would be like was much like what Orwell describes. I certainly did not envision strawberry-pink china and children running around as Orwell did, but the familiarity, the “regulars,” and the “atmosphere” were all very distinct in my imagined pub, an amalgamation of bits and pieces, images and texts, from the likes of Harry Potter books and movies, works by Charles Dickens and Shakespeare, paintings, children’s books, and countless other popular culture representations.
While I haven’t experienced exactly what I imagined, not surprisingly, the look of English pubs, what I call the “pub aesthetic,” has been consistent with what I envisioned. Pubs are not light, airy spaces, they are not in line with current commercial interior decorating trends, they are decidedly old-looking. A color palette of some combination of maroon, deep forest green, rich chocolate brown, navy blue, black, and some muted taupe-y hues is de rigueur. Generally, at least some or all of the walls will be wood-paneled, as well as the countertops. The chairs, stools, and tables are generally made of wood as well, possibly with iron bases for extra sturdiness. You will be served your drink in a real glass- nothing is plastic. (An exception to the “pub aesthetic” is the pub popular amongst our group, The Court, which has more of a Potbelly’s/Buffalo Wild Wings atmosphere, and I wouldn’t classify it as a traditional English pub. To me at least, The Court feels a bit artificial, a little too streamlined.)
As American tourists who don’t necessarily know our way around, we often end up in pubs on the main roads in the touristy areas. Also as Americans, we think of drinking as a predominantly nighttime activity, as our bars generally don’t open til 8pm or later. So we were initially puzzled when we discovered that nearly all of the pubs close at 11 and appear deserted after 9pm. We soon discovered that in England, pubs are much more like American coffee shops than American bars.
Like Orwell, I believe the best pubs are those off the beaten path, down the side streets and through the alleys. For the best pub experience, get off of Tottenham Court Rd. and go right at the end of the typical office work hours, then you will find scenes like the one pictured above at the Marquis of Granby. The pubs on the side streets are where you will find the locals, where you will see people drinking on the crowded pavement outside the crowded pub, hear snippets of every day gossip and banter, and observe the Brits really being Brits.
Tags: 2010 Rachel · Uncategorized
September 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments
When I first got here, I didn’t really understand why Englanders were so big on pubs. All you do is stand around and drink, and then by the time you get tipsy, the last round bell rings and then what? Do you go home? Do you go to another pub? Do you go to a club to party? I guess because of the fact that in the NYC nights out with friends don’t end until about five the next morning, being kicked out of a pub at 11PM to go home and go to sleep felt a little weird and incomplete. It was also strange because I would never eat and drink at the same time. Pub food was surprisingly really tasty to me, especially hot wings and chips.
I agree with George Orwell when he says that the “atmosphere” of a pub is what appeals to people the most. I’ve never been much of a bar type of girl back in the states, but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate and quite enjoy going to pubs once in a while. Generally, a pub that I decide to go to on a particular night varies with my mood and the atmosphere of the club. The three pubs in our area that I most frequently visit are The Marlborough Arms, The Court, and The Rising and they all have three entirely different atmospheres. The Marlborough Arms is fairly quiet compared to the other two, and fosters a mixed crowd in terms of age. In my opinion, the Marlborough has the best tasting pub food and the best service out of all three (their service isn’t even that great, so you can imagine that of the other two). If I am seeking a simple evening out with some friends to have food over a pint or a pitcher of Pimms, then Marlborough is the place for me. I love that fact that it isn’t rowdy and crowded and every time that I’ve walked in I was able to find a table, and kick back and relax without having to scream over other people’s voices and loud music. I actually also really enjoy the completely random music selection at the Marlborough. Rachel, Jamie and Jesse and I really enjoyed having dinner the other night while singing along to “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child (click song title for lyrics and then imagine us singing along haha)
The Court and The Rising Sun slightly different. The Court caters to a younger audience but I am always stuck having to push my way through throngs of people just to get a drink. I’ve never had the food there, but from Sarah’s love of their Cheddar and Bacon fries I guess it’s pretty good. The Court has an upstairs component, which can make a night out with some friends a bit more personal, but you still have to scream over the extremely loud, but entertaining music selection. The Rising Sun also attracts an older audience and is always jammed packed every time I’ve gone there. The service sucks, the food isn’t that great, and the music is okay. So I guess The Rising Sun is my last resort if I’m looking for a pint and nowhere else is open.
Overall, my pub experience has been a good one. I’ve never had any types of altercations with anyone. There was this one time when I asked the waiter for a take away container for some wings that I didn’t finish and when she told me that they didn’t have take away containers I gave her the “what do you mean you don’t have take away containers” look and she probably got offended. Then I realized that it is a pub, not a restaurant, and that people usually finish their food at a pub. Yes, I felt really stupid afterwards, but the waiter smiled and wished me a good night when we were leaving, so I guess it was all good.
Tags: 2010 Melissa
September 20th, 2010 · No Comments
We were asked by our professor to investigate the culture and society that revolves within and around pubs in London. I honestly think he didn’t even have to require us to do it; we did it instinctively. But nevertheless I did what I was asked to do grudgingly, just kidding, I definitely did it willingly. And what I found in my short experience with pubs was that to the British or Londoners in general the pub is the equivalent of the American coffee shop with just a little more pizzazz.
Since our first day in London we have been to a variety of Pubs ranging from overtly tourist pubs to a bit more native pubs. In all the pubs that I visited there is a sense of privacy. Some people who have just gotten off of work go to pubs with co-workers discussing the day’s events over a pint. Others go to pubs alone seeking a sense of solitude to relieve some of the stress. Yet, others attend a pub to see the playing field pick up on someone and maybe have a good night. That is why drinking in the United Kingdom has a largely different connotation to that of the United States. I believe it has more of a positive air than back home. Yes like any other place there are alcoholics here but the majority that I have seen are able to compose themselves and carry on with life.
I definitely had to learn a couple of things when it came to ordering drinks and food at pubs. I first had to learn that customer service in the UK is virtually non-existent. Second there are no waiters what so ever, you go to the bar and order for yourself. Third and this is the most important part, you have to KNOW WHAT YOU WANT BEFORE YOU REACH THE BAR. If you fail at any of these three unwritten guidelines there is no ale for you. Considering I am a fast decision maker I had no trouble with this but I have definitely seen people get some glares of annoyance when they reach the bar and hold up the line.
As George Orwell wrote in his essay entitled The Moon Under Water, people favor not over the beer that they sell or the furniture they but instead its based upon what they call “atmosphere”. From the pubs I have been to my favorite by far has got to be the Marlborough Arms. What makes this my favorite from all the other pubs I have been is based on two aspects. The first is simply that I have been there so many times the staff already knows me and they crack jokes with me. It makes me feel like I am part of the establishment and above all makes me feel welcomed. And second they always, always have the best selection of American music. They play music that I haven’t heard in years. The place just simply lifts up my mood.
Pubs have been a place for people of diverging backgrounds to convene and have in depth conversations of life, politics, and religion. This has been true of London in the past where great minds discussed the status of the general welfare, like Karl Marx, and it is still true today. I have grown to love and appreciate the pub scene in London, and I look for forward to this next year.
Tags: 2010 Jamie · Uncategorized
September 20th, 2010 · No Comments
While I do not think anyone has encountered a pub serving beer out of strawberry-pink china mugs like George Orwell describes in his article The Moon Under Water, I think Orwell’s definition of what makes a pub great rings true today. It is less about the alcohol or food served, and more about the feel of the place. A pub’s atmosphere is what makes it great, and every pub I have visited certainly has its own distinct personality. From the Jack Horner’s somewhat upper-class, snobby atmosphere (the presence of poached salmon on the pub menu was rather unappealing) to the Marlborough Arms more casual, friendly interior, each pub in London seems to offer something slightly different.
The fact that each pub feels different is actually a little surprising, as I’m sure many have noticed the fact that there appears to be about five pub “companies” that own a bunch of different places around London. Every new pub I go into at this point, I recognize the menu because it is shared with a least twenty other pubs. Luckily, as Orwell points out, a pub is not based on food and drink alone. No, the differences in the pubs are really in the clientele they serve. Younger pub-goers and tourists make a place much more rambunctious and bar-like, while older patrons and locals will make a place more casual and homey.
The two strongest indicators of who will frequent a certain pub, and as a result dramatically change its atmosphere, are location and closing time. The more off-the-beaten-path a pub is, the less likely tourists and young people will go there. These pubs tend to be much calmer and feel like old institutions. However, if a pub is on a main road or near a big landmark, you can bet that the pub will be packed and playing loud American music, like the Rocket on Euston Street, a few blocks from the train station. Closing-time might be an even stronger indicator. Many of us have become fans of The Court on Tottenham Court Road for its 2 a.m. closing time, and it’s clear that other young twenty-somethings are attracted to the pub for the same reason. As a result, The Court is much louder and more bar-like than other pubs that close by 11 p.m.
I and many of my peers have tried adhering to Kate Fox’s pub rules, with mixed results. Generally, the more off-the-beaten-path and traditional the pub, the more likely you could buy the owner a drink or observe an invisible queue. You are also far more likely to see actual regulars at one of these pubs than you would at, say, The Court or The Rocket. Regulars cannot easily fit into one category, but you can usually spot them out by their attitude. All of them seem to congregate close to the counter, and are visibly more relaxed than other patrons. Hopefully, we will someday match the relaxed tone of these regulars. Until then, I will continue to observe pub rules and try to figure out where they actually apply.
Tags: 2010 Andrew