Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Pubs: Icons of England

September 20, 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.

Categories: 2010 Rachel · Uncategorized
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1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 20th 2010 at 12:00

    You should check out the Hope near Goodge Tube. Tiny little corner pub. One of my faves near the hotel.

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