Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

After A Pint, It Doesn’t Matter Where You’re From

September 20th, 2010 · No Comments

While many of my fellow students have lamented in their blogs that they feel least comfortable and most like they have to behave like the British at pubs, I feel completely the opposite.  Yes, there have been some pubs that I’ve wandered into and definitely felt like I was completely out of place but I never felt like it was because I was an American – it was almost always because of my age.  The only time I have ever just left a pub because I felt so uncomfortable was after we went to the Globe and we were by far the youngest patrons to wander into this particular pub.  Besides that one instance, my experience with pubs has been overwhelmingly positive.

I openly admit that what I know about beer and cider could fit in a teacup.  I am most definitely no connoisseur of alcoholic beverages – I know what I think tastes good and what makes me wrinkle my nose and that is about it.  This lack of knowledge has led me to become one of those people who every time they walk up to the bar to order has to ask about every single one of the items on tap.  While I thought this would probably to trying to any bartender’s patience, I have found that so long as its done in a friendly manner pub workers are happy to help me find something that my undistinguished palate will enjoy.  I experienced the pinnacle of helpful bartender at The Court on Tottenham Court Road.  The last time I was there the bartender spent ten minutes with me just figuring out what exactly I would like and even though it was incredibly busy, she did not once look impatient or try to rush me along.  While I am clearly an American and completely uneducated on the finer points of British beverages I was treated with respect and patience and is exactly why The Court has become my favorite pub.

I have visited several pubs that I quite like – the George on Fleet Street, the Marlborough Arms, and the Rising Sun, to name a few, and they all have different positive qualities to recommend themselves to me (the George has Murphy’s, the Marlborough Arms is homey and the evening bartenders are friendly and recognize regulars, and the Rising Sun has a quintessentially British atmosphere).  However, while these are all good pubs with good drinks and friendly service, they are not great.  The difference for me, as an American, is the degree to which I feel continually welcomed.  At many of the pubs there is the sense that as a patron, while I am welcome to come and enjoy myself, I have an obligation to be quiet and to stay at my table and not mingle with the other patrons.  Kate Fox points out that pubs, unlike American bars, are not places to go meet new people, but even the possibility of accidentally interacting with anyone besides who is in my group is terrifying at most of the pubs I have been to.  And this fear is not reserved for me as an outsider – other English people are terrified to interact with their neighbors, even if it is an interaction as small as trying to fit through a small space to get to the counter.  At the Marlborough Arms I have seen patrons walk 15 feet out of their way to avoid asking people to scoot their chairs in 3 inches to get to the bar.  This is what makes The Court so unique.  Maybe it’s the loud American music always blasting from the speakers or the younger crowd that tends to frequent it, but The Court is a place where this “social dis-ease” is eradicated.  I do not have to live in fear of asking someone to scoot in so that I can get by (a lot of the time fellow patrons anticipate my journey by and move out of the way without prompting – a gesture that usually involves a friendly smile and a “cheers”) and where eye contact with someone I don’t know doesn’t make me a pariah.

I find pub culture absolutely fascinating and I am so sad that it took me so long to find a pub where I feel so at home.  My time in London has helped me develop an understanding of what exactly I need to do at a pub and how I ought to behave and I am hopeful that I’ll find a place in Norwich that proves to be just as friendly and light hearted as The Court.

Tags: Pubs · 2010 Amy

Rules of the Court and my favorite pub

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: Pubs · 2010 ChristopherB