Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Going Pubbin'

August 24, 2009 · 2 Comments

Google is leading me astray. I have only been in London for five days, but I have seen more pubs than I could ever fathom existed in such a small area. I mean, London isn’t small by any stretch of the imagination, but come on. There is a pub on every corner! Pubs are across the street from pubs. This is like Starbucks in New York City, except a lot better.

I remember the first day in this city I asked Professor Qualls what the ratio of pubs to people is, and his response was, simply, “very high.” Since I am a child of the internet age, naturally I asked good ole Google how many pubs exist in London. The answers I have found range from the laughably inaccurate 38 to the ludicrously enormous 7000. So I remain in doubt as to how many public drinking establishments really exist here.

Then again, what exactly defines a pub? Is a café that serves beer and/or liquor requisite? Or does it have to have wood paneling, at least six kinds of ale on tap, a loyal set of customers, and a coat of arms out front? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a “public house” is an establishment that serves alcohol to be consumed on site (or out front, if the weather is nice). So technically, the ever-prestigious Museum of  London is a pub. So is the Docklands. Heck, the furniture store on Tottenham probably sells booze.

So what’s the point of all this? Compare this abundance of pubs to America. It is rare to find bar after bar after bar across from a bar caddy corner to a bar in any place I’ve ever been, big cities included. Having done minimal research, it is safe to say that the reason can be summed up in one word: culture. It is extremely common to frequently spend long evenings with friends over a pint or two or seven in the local _______ Arms down the street from your flat. Social class has nothing to do with it. Granted, many people tend to stick to their own kind when going out (again, I’ve only been here five days, so feel free to shoot me down), but such a huge sampling of the city frequents pubs. It is safe to say this based on the grounds that there are just so many places to go. How else could they stay in business? I have no idea how competition plays into things, but any economics majors in search of an interesting thesis topic, look no further than British pubs.

The relatively nice bar I bartended at a few years back attracted people in a lower economic echelon. Despite the bar’s high prices, the main clientele was comprised of truck drivers, granite workers, and other blue collar folk. It is egregious to say that poor people go to bars more than the rich, but compared to London, this is the way it seems to be. I am certain that the class blindness of pub culture will become even more apparent the more time I spend out drinking with locals and learning the ins and outs of London culture.

Interior of a typical British pub from http://static.laterooms.com/hotelphotos/laterooms/89745/gallery/masons-arms-york_030320091553041117.jpg

Interior of a typical British pub from http://static.laterooms.com/hotelphotos/laterooms/89745/gallery/masons-arms-york_030320091553041117.jpg

Categories: Andrew B · Pubs

2 responses so far ↓

  •   fitzgerald // Aug 24th 2009 at 16:12

    The comparison between American bars and British pubs is an excellent example. British pubs truly have a much different atmosphere than bars in the US. Pubs have a much more social atmosphere; it would be hard to find a bar in America where you could just casually say something to anyone and have that lead to a very long conversation. I must have talked to this one British man for 30 minutes about our respective countries and culture in the Marlborough. On top of this, two of his mates joined the conversation and the one bought me a round. Pubs truly a place to meet interesting people and have lively discussion. This is not the case in bars in the US.

  •   abarron76 // Aug 24th 2009 at 16:17

    Those three guys? Yeah I met them in the bathroom. Talk to a guy in the bathroom of an American bar and you get your ass (or should I say arse) kicked.

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