Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Great British Pub - a visitor's guide

British Pubs Explained

The British Pub is an age old British institution that has stood the test of time and now it's centuries old. Medieval water was not safe to drink on account of all and sundry dispatching their trash, garbage and even excrement into the rivers and streams with all the abandonment of the modern day teenager slinging McDonalds wrappers under their car before they roar away in a souped up VW. Yes, the 'if I can't see it then it doesn't exist' mentality is not a new phenomena. Beer was invented as during the manufacturing process the water would be intensely boiled and, by doing so, kill off all the nasty bugs lurking within so, and you can use this, it was safer to drink beer than it was the water.

It became pretty obvious, very quickly, that two pints of this stuff they call beer made us very chatty and sociable, so it seemed logical to have a venue where upon we could drink said beer, talk, discuss and debate..... Then, after several more beers, we could continue to punch any person that disagreed with our given point of view while talking and debating and drinking. It was decided that this should be a public place, a house, a Public House! HOORAY!! But let us please now shorten this to Pub on account of the British being very, very lazy with language.

These places became very popular, workers would meet after the days toil to 'chew the cud' or, if in Ireland have 'a craic'. As the proliferation of these establishments grew rapidly the need to identify one Pub from the next spawned the Pub name. In the beginning they took the lead from their patrons or surrounding area, such as The Coach and Horses which, as the name suggests was a refuelling station for Horses and their occupants, that hauled people, mail or produce from one town to the next. The Coopers Arms would have been frequented by barrel makers and The Kings Head was a Royal sycophant and so on and so forth. The Red Dragon was by far the most popular name for a pub but landlords, again appreciating their clientele, got clever, for instance a pub near the financial district of London calls itself  'Shaws Booksellers' so when a suspicious boss asked what you did in your lunch break you didn't have to tell too many lies and could leave the boss to assume you were studying. My personal favourite name for a pub called The Dog House. The pub is born!

Every Hamlet, Village, Town and City had a pub or more than one pub. They did great business, admittedly these gaffs were mainly frequented by the working class but Winston Churchill loved the Pub, Prince William was often seen in Catherine's local pub in Bucklebury during their courting years and Madonna even owed a Mayfair drinking hole while married to Guy Ritchie. A Pub gives you and your area identity, you always met your mates in the pub, you probably met your spouse while in the pub, you've been offered dodgy cigarettes and stolen goods in a pub. It all happened in the Pub. The Pub has changed dramatically over the last 20 - 25 years, the death of UK manufacturing has meant that shipyards and coal mines no longer spew out thirsty workers 'when the whistle blows' which has seen a decline in the Pub trade with around 30.000 establishments closing in the past 10 or so years. The survivors have had to adapt and cater to a more family market. Nearly all Pubs now serve food and redefine themselves as Gastro Pubs or even Restaurants and, to be fair, a lot of them do an excellent job though it would be wise to take a large pinch of salt to claims of 'Home Made' and 'Best Fish and Chips'.

You must visit a pub on any visit to the UK and I am here to assist you.


Do not be put off by stories of 'warm, dark beer' - try the beer, agreed, it isn't ice cold like your American lager/blonde glass of gas but it has a thing I am sure you are going to enjoy called flavour. Beer is served not warm but at room temperature, it isn't gassy or fizzy but neither is it flat. You will order a pint (it used to be a half pint for the ladies but girls are not having that these days so get them a pint too). It should be poured with the glass tilted to the pump at around 45 degrees and, when the liquid has 'settled' have no more than an inch of frothy white stuff at the top of your glass then you drink through the froth. Politely ask to have your pint 'topped off' if different, you paid for a pint so you are entitled to a pint.

Don't make that North American mistake of asking to taste the different selection of beers on offer, it is a legitimate request but, trust me, irritates the server no end as well as the guy behind you who, on this rare hot day in England, is 'spitting feathers' (desperate fro a drink). Ask which is the local beer and stick to that; London Pride in London, Newcastle Exhibition in Newcastle and Boddingtons in Manchester - each region will have its own brewery supplying locally produced beer so get on side with the locals and flatter them in joining them.

Ordering food in a pub is simple but perhaps different to what you are used to. Firstly, Pubs normally have an explanation as to what is expected of you on a blackboard sign as you enter the building. For example;
Find a table,
Note the Table number,
Order and pay for food at the bar.

Top Tip - while at the bar, ordering your food, purchase your drinks. These can be enjoyed in the 30 minutes it takes them to get your food to the table. In this scenario tipping is not really done here but it is always good to 'round up' if paying prior to the meal being delivered. In the event that you get table service with payment at the end of the meal then do as you normally do in a restaurant or see my last Blog 'Tipping in the UK'.

Good to know.

Old Tam's Chair. Mainly found, though not exclusively, in country pubs this is the best seat in the house but set aside for the exclusive use of an old, loyal and eccentric customer who always sits there. The locals all know it is Old Tam's chair and even though the old git isn't even in the pub at that particular moment, you cannot sit there just in case he turns up. Better to tell you now diplomatically than have Old Tam bark at you on his arrival.

The Round. In the pub it is customary, when meeting friends and family or indeed any gathering of people, to 'get your round in'. For instance, if there was 5 people in your party then you will purchase 5 drinks, this is known as 'your round' then on completion of these drinks the second person, then third person and so on will WITHOUT PROMPTING get their round in. If you do have to prompt then keep it civilised to start with by saying to the gathering 'whose shout is it?' That should be enough to shame the next one up to the bar. It is a heinous crime to join 'a round' then leave before you have honoured your commitment. It can be seen as a sign of weakness if you declare that you do not want to join 'a round' unless you happen to be struggling financially or the wife is ovulating and you might get called back.

One in the Wood. This is a description for a pint being left for you at the bar. Lets say your friend, Dave, has agreed to meet you in the Red Dragon at 7pm, you are late but, no worries, he orders a pint of Bishops Finger to enjoy while he waits. Then he gets a call from his wife to say that she is ovulating and he has to get home now and he had better be sober. When you eventually reach the pub you ask the landlord (this is before cell phones) 'where did Dave go' and he will pass on Dave's apologise but also hand you a pint, bought and paid for by Dave, with the words 'he left one in the wood for you'.

Last Orders Is called loudly and verbally along with a ringing of a bell to let the whole boozer know that they have one last opportunity to buy a drink, (usually around 10.30pm). Unwritten rule and landlords discretion says you then have between 5-10 minutes to get up to the bar and order before...

Time Gentleman Please is called, to politely ask you to go home. Ladies please do not be offended by the call being to gentleman and not ladies, this is a throwback to when the only customers in a pub were men. Traditionally the only ladies that frequented such dens of iniquity were either prostitutes or collecting for the Salvation Army. None of you are excluded, the landlord/lady would now like all of you, regardless of gender, to 'Drink up' with the question 'no homes to go to?'.