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 · 2 Comments
People have already expounded on many basic rules of pubs: go to the bar to order, know what you’re ordering before you get there, etc. For this rules section, I am going to talk a bit about the Court in particular, which many of us have frequented. There’s a snooker table upstairs (which is honestly just a pathetic imitation of billiards) that is of particular interest to me, as I love shooting pool in my basement and do so quite frequently. I noticed that people rarely went upstairs and simply took table, despite no one else playing – it would be rude to assume priority, as someone may have been thinking about starting a game and simply hasn’t gotten around to it. Only after a bit of time can one start a game. Then, once you start a game, you better get on with it. No silliness can occur, as others are now anxious to play as well. If you’re not good at snooker, then you can abbreviate your playing time by simply forfeiting the table to the next players (quite embarrassing) or by coming up with a discreet and fun way of knocking the balls in by some other means than the typical cue-to-cue-ball-to-other-ball method. We took quite a bit of time on our game, and were actually asked to speed it up. Fortunately there was no awkward overlap as one of the bouncers came upstairs to announce that everyone had to go downstairs.
I don’t particularly understand this everyone-to-the-first-floor rule. Why cram more people into the already-packed downstairs? The only explanation I can muster is that as the night goes on, people are increasingly drunk, and thus prone to act in exponentially dangerous manners. Another rule at the Court does involve ordering drinks, as they sell pitchers of ale, rather than just pints/half pints. To order 4 pints, rather than a pitcher of ale, will warrant you a scoff, from the bartenders and from eager-to-order onlookers. I suppose this is simply due to the increased efficiency of ordering pitchers, and by violating this principle you are delaying other drinks being poured. I also noticed that, at the court, public singing is completely fine, in fact, encouraged. For instance: about a week ago it was some patron’s birthday. Though there were about 8 or so others there clearly to celebrate with her, quite a few (as in, about 30 other people) more joined the chorus for her “happy birthday” song. Another example: R. Kelly’s remix ignition came on (once due to an unknown contributor, and once because of me), which is quite a popular song. I would say about half the pub was singing the chorus, with varying volume levels. This phenomenon occurred with most uber-popular songs. I think this public singing was acceptable and prevalent thanks to the younger crowd the Court… courts.
This type of public singing would NEVER occur at my favorite pub thus far, the George on Fleet st. The George is an older pub (has been around since the late 18th century) and attracts an older, and more reserved crowd. Obviously, their ale selection is great and changes from week to week, though my favorite so far has been a stout called Murphy’s. It’s older and darker interior encourages quiet conversation, which isn’t contaminated by any music. It’s also a lot less crowded than the Court. You don’t have to plow your way through to the bar, and then wait five minutes while desperately trying to capture a bartender. The bartenders are thus more relaxed, and though not necessarily friendly, they aren’t unfriendly either. There are fewer distractions at the George as well – no snooker, and only one plasma TV hanging up in a bit of obscure place, rather than the Court that has multiple TVs on every wall. Instead, there are occasional paintings on the wall. I like this, as it reinforces why we ought to go to pubs: to socialize, to interact with others in a great setting. The only thing I don’t like about the George is that I haven’t been to the mysterious second floor. I also seem to remember there being lanterns inside, but that might be unmitigated optimism. I will check when I go back tonight for one last hoorah.
Overall, it’s a great pub, and one that I will miss when we head out to Norwich in a couple of days. In the most central point I agree with Orwell’s interpretation of what makes a good pub – a nice and quiet inside. Oh, and good beer. Unfortunately there is no garden, but the elusive second floor and flowerboxes out front suffice.
above: the george, in all its glory. personal photo
Tags: 2010 ChristopherB · Pubs
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
September 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment
I’ll admit that I have not been to a wide variety of pubs, so I’ll have to do my best to draw conclusions from the experience I do have. I have genuinely enjoyed the ones I have been to, we’ve just been so darn busy here and I’m always so tired that I don’t go out very often. I disagree with some of my classmates who have been arguing that pubs are overpriced and that the food isn’t worth it. I actually think some of the pubs have pretty good deals. At some you can get a sandwich and chips or a sandwich and a drink for under four pounds, which is more than you can say for Pret or Sainsbury’s, depending on what you get there. The food might not be the best, and certainly not the healthiest, but on occasion I enjoy a bit of grease, and I especially like the part where you order and they bring you the food and you don’t have to do anything. Also there are chips (fries) which are my favorite food in the world.
I’ll start by comparing pubs at lunch and pubs at dinner. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to get into pubs at lunchtime; it’s a lot less crowded. When it isn’t crowded, I feel sure that I’m not intruding or bothering anyone. Walking into a crowded pub at dinnertime or at night can be awkward because you’re unsure if all the people there already know each other or if you’ll be taking someone’s regular table or chair. It can be a bit unwelcoming.
The exception to this that I’ve found is the Court. The Court seems to cater specifically to a young, student crowd with their meal deals and discount card. Everyone seems to go there with their own group of friends and doesn’t really pay anyone else any mind. I don’t get the impression that there are “regulars” there. Students can be a bit transient. The consequences of this younger crowd, however, are extra loud American pop music, questionable wardrobes, and general drunken disorderliness. The times I’ve gone there I’ve had a good time, despite the fact that I have to shout to be heard and worry that I’m going to get beer spilled on me at any moment.
I agree with George Orwell that pubs where it is quiet and you can hear yourself talk are preferable. The Marlborough Arms has this advantage over the Court. The music is softer and there is less drunkenness. I feel generally welcome there too, although the crowd is a bit older and I do get the feeling that there are regulars, most of whom are British. I think the regular thing contributes to the different level of classiness, though. However, I also agree with Orwell that you can’t win on all counts – the food at the Marlborough Arms is more expensive.
I think as a group we are beginning to get the hang of the buying drinks in rounds thing, and some people remember to ask to buy the bartender a drink, although they usually refuse. Still, I’m not sure that we will ever fully be able to pass for being English in a pub, and I think that although we have knowledge of the general pub rules, each individual pub has its own hidden rules and traditions. I’m hoping that perhaps this will get easier when we go out with our roommates at UEA who are actually British.
Tags: 2010 Kaitlin
September 19th, 2009 · 1 Comment
From the limited experience I have with American bars, or even American bars in the style of English pubs, I would have to say that they are extremely different from their English equivalent. Physically, and atmospherically, the two were at one time mutually exclusive. Now however, with the advent of a global community, influences from the other are creeping into various establishments, both here and at home. Despite these changes the basic feel and idea behind British pubs is far different than in America and, I find, is an altogether more enjoyable experience.
To start, the atmosphere caters to an entirely different crowd. Pubs allow for anyone to come in and have a pint with a friend, be it businessmen just off work, old men with canes and dogs, or college students just wanting to hang out with friends. In the U.S. it seems that every type of person has their own seperate bar, and god forbid if you go into the wrong one. Granted, most of my experience with bars has been in the far north of the midwest, where bars are mostly frequented by loggers and bikers. Thus, the se bars are a bit more rough and tumble than others, and my judgement may be skewed a little.
Physically, I’ve found that traditional English pubs are quite different from their American counterparts. Due to lack of space, the buildings are often smaller, and the bars themselves are quite different. In the U.S. we are used to the catwalk-sized bars that take up the whole room. They often have seating along them. Here the bars are smaller with no seating. Customers are supposed to take their drinks and move, or if they must, stand at the bar.
The general mentality behind visiting pubs doesn’t seem to be to just get drunk. Often times back home I would see people downing beer after beer (or something harder) in a blatent attempt to get smashed. Here, however, a person goes to a pub with friends, and if after a few drinks one begins to feel a little bit differently it wasn’t a result of trying. Rather, people enjoy having fun with friends and if it happens, it happens.
I know other people have written about this place, but one of the pubs that I found most enjoyable was The Court. Located a few blocks from our hotel, most of its customers were college students. It had cheap drinks and food, and the bartenders were our age and enjoyed having fun. It had a great atmosphere and was the perfect place to spend the evenings. Now perhaps I just haven’t found the right place yet, but I have yet to find a bar in the U.S. that appealed to me as much as The Court.
If American bars are your thing, that’s great, but I prefer the atmosphere elicited by pubs here. The attitudes are more friendly and the beer is better. I’d take a pub over a biker bar any day.
September 15th, 2009 · No Comments
Even though I haven’t yet tried it, it cracks me up that I, at age nineteen, can walk into a pub and order a drink. Additionally, I can take that drink in its glass outside, where I’m likely to smash, lose, or run away with a perfectly good glass, and at places like festivals and street vendors, I can order beer or cider and carry it around in an open container!
As a non-drinker, I was a bit worried about how I would handle pub culture, as well as how my peers, both American and British, would participate in it. I have to say, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised. I think my newfound comfort with pub culture is both a function of the more laid-back attitude towards drinking in Britain, as well as appreciating the fact that most people I regularly hang out with in the group aren’t looking to get trashed. Additionally, however, I think I also appreciate the pubs themselves. Unlike George Orwell, I don’t think I’ve found my perfect pub, nor do I think I ever will, since my perfect pub would probably only serve soda, all meals would be slathered in cheese and decidedly unhealthy, the bathrooms would be Cloroxed on the hour, and the contents of my iPod would serve as the juke box. Despite not liking drinking or rowdy people, the permeating smell of beer-soaked carpet, or much of the music played at various volumes depending on the venue, I quite like the few pubs I’ve frequented so far.
My first experience in a British pub was on my first full day here. My friend and I popped into the Lord Stanley in Camden for two reasons: One, this is the pub my favorite band got their start in, and two, I needed somewhere to be sick. Despite not being in the best of moods (as well as being distracted by the fact that Coldplay used to perform right there on that piano…I am aware I’m a nerd), I was quite interested by the fact that the other patrons didn’t seem to think much of knocking a few beers back at lunchtime and going back to work a bit loud, as well as the fact that you could order a decent selection of full meals in a place primarily for drinks.
Since that day, I’ve mostly stuck to the Marlborough Arms and the Court with the other members of Humanities 309, as well as a few stops at the Fitzroy. I think we started coming to the Arms mostly because it’s the closest pub to the Arran House. It smells decidedly of stale beer, but the food is good, the bartenders put up with our Americanness, and the music is quiet enough so I can still hear it most of the time, but I don’t need to shout over it, either. Like many others, I enjoy the Arms when I just want a meal and a talk, though we’ve been permitted to get a bit loud in the corner when we so choose. The interior seems to be, as Orwell put it, “the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century,” though perhaps the Arms isn’t as authentic as many of the other more historic pubs we’ve been in this month. The Court, by contrast, caters to a younger crowd by having louder music and pool tables, as well as a more modern-looking interior and a designer cocktails menu. In America, I probably wouldn’t go near a place like the Court simply because of its loudness and the fact that people spill out onto the pavement and carry the rowdiness outside, but I’ve actually had some of my favorite nights there, which is as much a credit to the place and the carefree yet still somewhat reserved behavior of the British drunks I’ve seen as it is to the people on the trip I’ve partied there with.
In Watching the English, Kate Fox spends one of her longest chapters discussing British pub culture and customs, which was one of my favorites so far. Because Grace did the finer points such justice in her post, and because I already packed said book deep inside my suitcase, I will simply state that I have yet to see some of the behaviors she outlines. I did once get yelled at for not minding the “invisible queue,” and I don’t think most of us have yet mastered the act of ordering a round for the group and then working out who owes what later (not to mention offering the bartender a drink as tip), but I don’t think I’ve seen any “regulars” that the rules don’t apply to, nor have I heard any ritual arguments and camaraderie between regulars and the bartenders. Perhaps this is because the pubs we frequent are in the center of London and move probably thousands of different people through their doors each year. But in Norwich, I think the pubs might have a slightly different flavor, and I hope to do some of my own anthropological observing in order to understand most of what Fox has written.
I told myself before I came that I was open to the idea of becoming a social drinker while I was here, since it’s part of the culture, but I didn’t expect to want to. Not only have actually enjoyed the sips of friends’ drinks I’ve tried (surprising, since my number-one reason for not drinking has been dislike of taste), but I find the attitude towards drinking so laid-back that now since I’m not pressured to drink or ostracized for not drinking (thank you, group), I’m willing to give it a go. Now I see myself ordering ciders or Pimm’s and lemonades sometime in the near future, but I think because I have little to no experiences with alcohol, I have to be careful how much even one drink would affect me. Either way, I’ve embraced what I’ve seen of the pub culture so far with open arms, surprising myself, and I’ve enjoyed going out to the pubs almost every night for either a meal and a chat or a bit rowdier of a time more than I ever could have expected.
Tags: Chelsea · Pubs
September 14th, 2009 · No Comments
As discussed in several different capacities, the pub remains vital to the daily lives of Londoners and, as we will discover in time, the larger United Kingdom. Inns were common along the roads of Roman Britain, as they provided lodging for officials and others. There were also small hut-like establishments – a taberna – from which the word tavern is derived. Pubs have a long history dating back to the Roman occupation of the city. Over the course of the last 2,000 years, London’s taverns and pubs have adapted to fit every shift in London’s history. (As we have learned over the last few weeks, the shifts have occurred constantly and regularly.) This is why there is such a vast variety and selection of pubs and taverns in and around London; we have yet to find a model for the perfect pub. You can find them on almost every street corner, but each differ in some way. Some cater to an older crowd, some to college students, and still others to a wider range of ages.
In this blog, I want to briefly discuss the importance of the two pubs that most of the group has frequented: The Court on Tottenham Court Road and the Marlborough Arms just one block away from the Arran House. We first discovered the Marlborough Arms simply because it was in close proximity to the Arran House. Still reeling from the combination of shock and exhaustion, I had no expectations for the pub culture in general, except that they served alcohol (In addition to the shock of being in London, who was not the least bit shocked that we could legally consume alcohol?). We quickly learned the bar is not the only important part to the pub as a whole. In retrospect, it is one of the lesser significant aspects of the pub. Sure, the drinks have their place, but what of the atmosphere and history? It does not take much effort to recognize pubs as part of London’s social fabric – especially when you consider the sheer number of pubs in just the immediate London area. The pub acts as a place for friends, family, neighbours, coworkers, and complete strangers to come together and enjoy one another’s company in a relaxed and friendly setting. I have often remarked (somewhat incredulously) that more people frequent the pubs after the average workday. This shocks me given my experience in the US, I generally don’t see massive groups of people rushing to the bars on a Tuesday night. Everyone comes together to in an atmosphere that lends itself to laughter and fun. I admire and appreciate the pub culture here, as it allows people to look forward to something throughout the day and also enables another outlet for positive social interaction outside of the one’s occupation. Ultimately, when the alcohol is used appropriately, pubs generate a sense of community and belonging in a healthy and interactive way. These observations have mostly been from my experiences at the Marlborough Arms where the pub-goers are mostly middle to older gentlemen and women.
The Court breaks serves a much different age group, though. The majority of the crowd is generally an amalgamation of college students from the surrounding area. Large groups of friends come to hang out there not only to spend some time with one another but to meet new people as well. Pub life again creates an outlet and space for people to come together to enjoy some drinks and pleasant (though not usually quiet) company.
Now that I realize the significant presence of pubs within the greater social life of many Londoners, I have also discovered that these pubs remain vital at the local level as well. Pubs open for centuries draw in crowds simply based on their legacy. (Consider the Museum Tavern and how quick it will point to Karl Marx’s patronage while writing the Communist Manifesto. This example extends to large numbers of pubs – the only difference is the figure that visited the pub, be it Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. The Marlborough Arms has a rich history. The Court has yet to set its legacy among its neighboring and much more famous pubs. The history also of the beer has an interesting history if anyone is interested check out this site.
It would be interesting to get a sense of what age group George Orwell would have preferred to see at his imagined and idyllic Moon Under Water pub. He certainly prefers “regulars” to “rowdies,” but would he find himself more comfortable with the regulars at The Court or the regulars at the Marlborough Arms (if, let’s say, those were the only pubs in the entire city)? Age plays a not-so-surprising role in determining how well one enjoys the atmosphere of any pub. Simply put, just as the people in a pub help define the image of a pub, the ages of those patrons further defines the inherent nature of a pub. The younger generations of pub-goers will usually enjoy pubs like The Court (except when a Meatloaf music video comes on….or of course, for some people, even more so…). If I were to imagine the group of individuals to comprise the crowd at The Court, George Orwell may be THE last person I’d picture there.
We (Maddie and Brandon) do not know how to find the perfect pub, or if you can even pin down a pub as “perfect.” Each has a different personality, to its immediate advantage or disadvantage. Some prefer a roomful of George Orwells. Others prefer rowdy pubs filled with cheering football fans. Still others can settle down with their familiar drink and “chew the fat,” whether or not Meatloaf plays in the background.
Tags: Brandon · Maddie
September 14th, 2009 · 1 Comment
You can tell our time is London is winding down by the mass influx of required posts; it would seem pubs is the one people have been holding off on the most. I feel bad as I continue to bring up Kate Fox’s book Watching the English, as we are going to be reading it soon anyway, but I think that attests to what a good choice it was for reading. She is one of the few anthropologists I would actually read out of enjoyment rather than the pursuit of knowledge (No one really wants to read Jared Diamond, the man is drier than a desert). What’s nice is that she is both an insider and an outsider; I mean by this that she has the privilege to make frank comments about the British without offending anyone, yet she has the background of an ethnographer. Anyway, that long rabble was just an explanation of the biases I came into the pub scene having.
A common theme with all British life is knowing one’s place; this applies to class, cross walks, but more importantly ques. The greatest offense one can do at a pub is getting in the way of a person and his cellar-temperature beer. There is in fact a distinct social script depending on where you go. For the most part, in the more upscale pubs, there is simply an unwritten code where you wait your bloody turn. However, in the younger and louder pub, one must take a more aggressive approach, which is equally acceptable: a person shows up to the bar, checks out who is leaning into the counter the furthest and then leans according to his placement, gradually marking his territory with a further lean-in as it gets closer to his turn. Both more classier and collegy pubs follow the same script if two people believe they have arrived at the same time. The British have an interesting way of complimenting people, where they play down themselves so as to gain a compliment from the other person, who in turn plays the same game. It is similar in a pub scenario: two people will go back and forth as to who was truly there first until one of them admits defeat and accepts the first drink. For the most part bartenders seem to be more bored by this then anything. Surely they will call a wanker out if he’s jumped the que, but for the most part they are looking for the most efficient way to serve alcohol to people. Which brings me to the next biggest faux-pas: buying drinks separately. It doesn’t matter where you go, if you’re in a group buy those drinks together (especially if a friend like Baron is paying). What I do enjoy is the concept of tipping– i.e there is none even if you eat food there. Similar to in American, it seen as a very nice gesture to buy the bartender a drink; in order to do that you say “and one for yourself.”
One of the greatest things I have ever come across in my life(next to pasties) is the great equalizing nature of the pouring system in this country. More than anything i think this speaks for the true nature of the British. When you order a shot in America, the bartender will eye it and guesstimate. Normally it comes out correct, but sometimes you get a little more/little less. In Britain, people don’t really care about getting more, they just want to get exactly what they paid for, exactly what they feel they deserve. They don’t look to cheat the system by complaining about the amount of beer– you paid for 330 ml, that’s what you get. That is beauty.
There is a common conception that I’m going to have to slightly disagree with: pubs are indeed an area where the British let go of their reserve more than other places. However, beyond a football match, the patrons seem to rarely interact beyond their bubble of friends that they came with to the pub. From what I have seen, within a pub there is very will in the way of co-mingling. There is a sort of comradery though, an invisible thread that binds all the patrons in a unified understanding of common purpose and intent, which is quite beautiful and harmonizing. Going outside for some reason changes things quite a bit, and it may be because of the smoker’s-bond, but it is often there that you’d find people talking to people they hadn’t met before that night. This is of course shifting with the more youthful (dare I say Americanized?) pubs. As the more “authentic” patrons, such as the businessmen, the construction workers and the local drunks, are pushed out in favor of the more profitable groups, the pub scene changes. More and more you find pub owners who own six or seven cookie-cutter like pubs. So whereas in any other market, supply and demand would kill off many of these pubs, artificial inflation keeps them afloat. And yet as I say this, I have never seen an empty pub, except when it was closed. Further, historic pubs like those subsidized by CAMRA are slowly getting addicted to the tourist teet– as much of London is. A valid point brought up in my tour was ‘why?’ Why keep these historic pubs afloat if they are simply becoming mausoleums for the glory days of British ale? Their answer, from what I’ve gathered is simply: because we are British. Even if they have become nothing more than relics to be gawked at, people still should pay their alms. Why do we keep these churches around when they could just as easily be turned into cafes, dance halls or web publishing companies(all of which I have seen here in England)? They retain cultural heritage, and people will do whatever it takes to maintain them. If you sell out, at least you can still think of days gone by, when the Viaduct wasn’t filled with loud Americans trying to get into the cellar for a photo.
Before I begin with the Orwell thing, I’d like to say I have been to a restaurant by the name of The Moon Under Water right off of Leicester Square Station, it paled in comparison to the fictitious one that Orwell describes. Rather than diving into the topic, I’d like to note how much I liked his use of stylistic shifts; the entire time he’s talking about the pub it is flowery and light, but he shifts to reality and with it shifts his style into one of flat tones and matter-of-fact explanations.
As far as my favorite pubs, I hate to be so plain, but I honestly don’t care about the decorations at all. As long as they are relatively sanitary, the place can be as run down as it likes– adds character. The most important thing for me is cheap food and pitchers. Pitchers are a necessity. If I want to drink and relax, I’ll go to the Aran House garden and drink some wine with my buddies. I go to pubs to socialize and be around other people who seem to be having a good time. Sure it’s neat to see pretty architecture and a neat history, but the history isn’t going to help me with my growling stomach and the pretty ceiling isn’t going to satisfy and thirst at all. I think that is why I am able to go back to the Court time and time again, even after my buddies are sick of it: beer and burger 4 quid. It doesn’t get much better than that. And you have that guy standing at the bar always laughing about something. The garish 80’s music and the rowdypool players just add to the experience. This may be simply from my personal drinking experience, but I don’t like the idea of drinking alone. This is why the pitcher is such a good idea, and quickly becoming a staple of the pub environment. While some may scoff at the idea of a pitcher, it is closer to a pubs original purpose than one might thinks. People, huddling around each other to stay warm, trying to get their caloric value in for the day with a pint of beer. If I had to pick out the best atmosphere of a pub, I’d say the Blackfriar, I really like the way it’s structure, giving a very intimate feeling to the patrons and enveloping you in the gorgious wood carvings. As far as bartenders go in a good versus great pub, it’s all about respect. You treat them with respect they treat you the same. As long as they get the drink right and don’t screw me on the change, nothing else really matters.
Of course, the Marlborough Arms will always have a place in my heart: it was my first after all. We have a close relationship with Justin, the food isn’t bad and they have some really good deals on spirits. It has a relaxed environment, and yet a lighter attitude then other pubs I have been to this month. But what is it that makes the Marlborough Arms a good pub and not a great one? I feel like it’s almost too static for me, but other then that I can’t figure out why we quickly left our first love in the dust of time.
I do pray I’ve sufficiently answered the prompt because I don’t know if I could bare to write much more for fear of being stoned later. But it is interesting as I look back that I have sort of chose the “dances with wolves” version of a pub: I want the British charm and nobility with the rowdiness and technology of an American bar.
Tags: Andrew R
September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment
My idea of the “perfect public house” is not one with a fireplace (this is, clearly, a safety hazard) or China mugs or different bars (this is, clearly, a social hazard). My ideal pub is by no means quiet and I can always order dinner there (but one must consider that, on a student’s stipend, “dinner” oftentimes means “chips”).
Like George Orwell, I have yet to stumble across my own “perfect pub,” but I’ve come close. The Court, located on Tottenham Court Road, has the atmosphere I’m after. The music is loud, and usually American, but encourages no dancing (Andrew Russell and Megan Liberty – who will dance anywhere – are excluded). Customers stand out on the corner with pints and fags in hand, puffing and sipping away and enjoying the views of the bustling city that closes around 7 on a Saturday night.
Note: When in Londinium… talk to strangers in pubs. Bum a light or ask or just strike up conversations. You’ll find that “pissed” Londoners are generally much more amicable than sober ones (unless football is on, in which case you should avoid the pub scene entirely if you value your life). You’ll meet people like Pete – an unnaturally animated world-traveler with no regard for personal space – or Mikey – the green-clad, leprechaun hat-wearing music student who holds a stuffed duck (plush, not real) and finds endless amusement at squawking it in your ear.
Though The Court has the atmosphere, the people, and the music that I’m looking for, the food at The Marlborough Arms is superior, and their White Zinfandel is 25 pence cheaper. For the health-freak, vegetarian foodie, ordering the Meze platter at the Marlborough Arms is a must. For roughly 8 quid, you can sample: greek olives; warm, seasoned pita bread with oil and aged balsamic vinegar; marinated artichoke hearts; feta cheese; roasted red peppers and; an amazingly smooth hummous sprinkled with pine nuts. Not exactly the classic bar food one might be used to.
The history of the Museum Tavern pub, however, trumps all others. It is not a particularly memorable pub, though the Strongbow is good (but then, where isn’t the Strongbow good in the UK?) The atmosphere is dull, there is no music and no one speaks much louder than a completely inaudible whisper (Note: Loud Americans will receive dirty looks), but, alas, it is here that Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto.
So if you find yourself in London again, or perhaps for the first time, do go out and experience the pub scene for yourself. It is an integral element of British culture, and a valuable source of entertainment, Squawking ducks, leprechaun hats and Andrew Russell’s dancing included.
Tags: Anya · Pubs
September 13th, 2009 · No Comments
When someone asks me “where is a good pub?” I have a hard time responding. What exactly is a good pub? Each and every one brings something different to the table that makes it unique and appeal to a certain crowd. I will explain this simply by comparing and contrasting three of the places I frequented the most within the vicinity of the Arran House.
The “Marlborough Arms”, located just a minute from the Arran House was an extremely convenient place to go for the first few days here. After visiting a few other places I quickly learned that the Arms is best suited as a great place to grab a meal with friends (preferably on a weekday) since it features a complete traditional pub menu and ample seating. The bartenders there are friendly and welcoming and even make the effort to card people once in a while.
“The Court”, located on Tottenham Court road and about a five minute walk from the Arran House features a completely different atmosphere. If you’re looking to get a full dinner this is not the place to go. With a setup more like a college bar The Court is two floors with a decent amount of space to sit both inside and outside. Open late every night of the week the Court draws in a large crowd regardless of the evening. The jukebox is always blaring with pop and rock music and there are pool tables upstairs for anyone who’s feeling ambitious. The major draws for “The Court” are that the drinks are a bit cheaper overall and it draws in a younger crowd. While the average age at the Marlborough Arms was usually between 30 and 40 The Court drew in a mostly 18-28 crowd. This makes sense since it is located just a block away from The University of London.
Another place I frequented was called the “Bricklayers Arms”. Located just two blocks past Goodge Street Station and a block down Rathburn Street, I had gotten recommendations over and over again about the B.A. from people who had studied in London in the past. I soon learned that the major draw of the Bricklayers is twofold. One: it features the cheapest pints of ale around (2 pounds) and two: it serves Samuel Smith’s which is nearly impossible to find. Much like The Court, the Bricklayers Arms is not the place to go if you want a full dinner. It is also not the place to go if you want something besides ale since the selection is more limited than other pubs and isn’t really worth the price otherwise.
To connect my experience in London with George Orwell’s essay “The Moon Under Water” I appreciate that Orwell has his own criteria of what makes a good pub. Although I do not particularly agree with him in every case I like that he knows exactly what he’s looking for. Although I have some idea of what I like in a pub I will need to do much more exploring to find what exactly my tastes are. As Orwell so elegantly puts it: “I know pubs where the beer is good but you can’t get meals, others where you can get meals but are noisy and crowded, and others which are quiet but where the beer is generally sour.” This explains why there are so many pubs and why they all stay in business. I suppose like a man or woman there is a perfect pub out there for everyone too. Here in London we are all on a constant journey to find our own “Moon Under Water”.
Tags: Henry · Pubs