A Landlady Complains

Illustration: moody London pub.

What a nice pub, I say. Authentic, cosy and characterful, full of little quirks. ‘Ha!’ says the landlady, bitterly. ‘It’s a dump.’

The sloping bar top is hilarious: if you put your glass anywhere but on a drip mat it drifts towards the precipice. A customer makes a dive to save his lager, catching it just in time, and everyone laughs, except the landlady.

‘We lose a few pints that way,’ she says. ‘We’ve asked time and time again for it to be fixed but, no, they don’t care about us — we’re only tenants. If this was a managed house they’d be all over it, but not us.’ She prods the floor behind the bar with her toe, steps with theatrical care over a gap in the floor I can’t see. ‘This is all rotten. They want us to spend our own money on it. Well, you can forget that.’

Continue reading “A Landlady Complains”

QUICK ONE: ‘The Windsor Bars’, Birmingham

A morris minor in a city street.
Adapted from ‘1968-1971 Morris Minor’ by Leon Ferri, via Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Here’s a puzzle for you: which Birmingham pub was Ian Nairn actually writing about in his description of ‘The Windsor Bars’ in the Listener in 1960?

In Temple Row, near St Philip’s Churchyard, is a pub of some character called The Windsor Bars. At the far end are the usual offices, and of these the Gents is Birmingham’s least-known piece of architecture… What [the gents toilet] is is a beautifully detailed piece of Art Nouveau. Who did it and why I cannot imagine, but for the witty and elegant solution of literally the most mundane of architectural problems it would be hard to beat. The pub is part of Rackham’s site and is bound to come down within ten years.

Here’s the twist, though: in his 1967 postscript, added when the essay was collected with others in a book called Nairn’s Towns, he confessed that he had no idea where he’d got the name The Windsor Bars — ‘an aberration of mine’ — and confirmed that the pub he had in mind had indeed gone, or possibly had only ever existed ‘in a drunken dream’.

So, does anyone who knows Birmingham and the history of its pubs have any suggestions as to which establishment he might actually have been thinking of?

There’s no particular reason we want to know, it’s just irritating that Nairn let this loose end lie.

HELP: Real Ale Pubs of the 1970s

For our current Big Project we’re trying to get in touch with people who remember drinking in real ale pubs of the 1970s.

We’ll unpack that term a bit: before about 1975, there were pubs that sold cask-conditioned beer, AKA ‘traditional draught’, but it was usually whatever was local and the choice might consist of one, two or three different beers.

After CAMRA got everyone stirred up some pubs began to tailor their offer to appeal to Campaign members by offering four, six, eight, or even eighteen different beers from the far ends of the country.

If you read Brew Britannia you’ll remember that we covered all of this in Chapter Five, ‘More an Exhibition Than a Pub’, but now we’d like some fresh testimony for a different take.

The Hole in the Wall in 1981.
Detail from ‘Hole in the wall at Waterloo 1981’ by Tim@SW008 from Flickr under Creative Commons.

What were these pubs like to drink in? If you were used to mild and bitter from the local brewery in your home town how did it feel to suddenly see beers from several counties away?

If you worked in or owned one of these pubs, what was that like, and were you aware of being part of what the press called ‘the real ale craze’?

Based on scouring old editions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide here’s a list which might help jog memories:

  • The Anglesea Arms, South Kensington, London
  • The Barley Mow, St Albans (covered at length in Brew Britannia)
  • The Bat & Ball, Farnham, Surrey
  • The Brahms & Liszt, Leeds (ditto)
  • The Bricklayers, City of London
  • The Duck, Hagley Road, Birmingham
  • The Hole in the Wall, Waterloo, London
  • The Naval Volunteer, Bristol
  • The Sun, Bloomsbury, London (now The Perseverance)
  • The Victoria Bar, Marylebone Station, London
  • The Victory, Waterloo Station, London
  • The White Horse, Hertford

But other nominations are welcome, as long as they’re from this early phase, from 1975 up until about 1980-81.

Please do share this with any pals you think might be able to help, on Facebook or wherever.

If you’ve got stories or memories to share comment below if you like but email is probably best: contact@boakandbailey.com

Defining a ‘Classic Pub’

We recently exchanged a few Tweets with pub blogger Martin Taylor (AKA @NHS_Martin) about his term ‘classic pub’ — what does it mean? Does such a thing exist?

There is the abstract idea of the perfect or ideal pub, explored most famously in George Orwell’s rather over-quoted 1946 essay ‘The Moon Under Water’, and at length in a book it inspired, The Search for the Perfect Pub by Paul Moody and Robin Turner, published in 2011. Moody and Turner conclude that perfect pubs are those that possess

individuality, wit and wisdom… which fly the flag for independence in the face of corporate domination and the onset of a homogenised ‘clone town’ Britain: the ones which feed the community yet give back in double measures, at happy hour prices.

We reckon that in this context, perfect and classic are synonymous — both imply a quality that bears reflection, that goes beyond mere function, and to which the drinker has a reaction deep in the soul.

The thing is, Orwell tried to draw up a set of rules — no music, cheap food, pink mugs, and so on — but that’s a flawed approach because it just invites a different kind of homogeneity, and homogeneity (as Moody and Turner suggest) is the enemy of character, which is what causes a pub to latch on to your heart.

Inside the Hunter's Inn, Devon
Inside the Hunter’s Inn, Devon.

On the whole, we prefer pubs with lots of dark corners, but there are pubs which have that but that we don’t like at all, and pubs with bright open spaces, chrome and stripped wood that (against the odds, perhaps) we love. We’ve fallen for pubs with food, and pubs without; pubs with jukeboxes, and those as silent as monasteries; crowded pub, quiet pubs; Olde Inns, new builds; round the corner from our house, or on holiday; full of friendly locals, or big-city-aloof. And so on.

Where this conversation so often goes wrong is in the idea that only pubs that match the observers’ particular preferences (which might take a decade of therapy to understand) are Proper Pubs — TRUE pubs. But pubs have been all sorts of things mixed up and inter-mingled since they faded into existence over the course of a few centuries — wine, beer, gin, food, music, art, theatre, children, bareboards, plush furnishings, cut glass, spit and sawdust — you name it. They’re all part of what is and has been The Pub.

Window of the Star Inn.

And when we talk to people for whom a post-war prefab was the Local, their memories are as fond as yours might be of a favourite Victorian corner pub or distant craft beer bar.

Ultimately, for us, the only defining feature of a pub is that we can walk in off the street without making an appointment and drink a beer or two without eating. (And, we suppose, without being made to feel guilty for not eating either.) Beyond that, what defines the meaning of Pub is its diversity, and what makes for a classic pub is that it gets to you, that you remember it and (optional?) that you find yourself longing to go back.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 July 2016: Root Beer, Lisbon, Pub Habits

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related writing from the past seven days that’s tickled our fancy or piqued our interest, from a hard look at hard root beer to the meaning of the pub.

Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John wanted to write tasting notes on hard (i.e. alcoholic) root beer but noticed that lots of other beer folk seemed to be struggling with the same task because they lacked the frame of reference for describing the flavours. So, before he got to the boozy variant, he got to know the soft stuff:

The last time I had one of these was when I got a Papa Burger at the Eglinton Station food court and at the time it seemed watery and may be in fountain service. There is a vaguely barky presence on the finish, a marshmallowy aftertaste here and an herbal kind of presence on the burp. I would describe the flavour as sweet, but balanced and relatively mild. It’s sort of a weird idea. What do you want with your drive in burger? A vanilla, mint and root bark soda, please, and throw a marshmallow at it.

(Related: Next time you have a Coca Cola look out for the lime note — hard to miss once you know it’s there.)

Duque craft beer in the sun.
SOURCE: Rebecca Pate.

London-based beer blogger Rebecca Pate has been to Lisbon where she observed the signs of a nascent craft beer scene:

Up until 2014, it was nearly impossible to source craft beer in Portugal. The first taproom and bottle shop to open its doors was Cerveteca Lisboa in Lisbon and the city’s first microbrewery, Duque Brewpub, opened in February this year. Duque boasts 10 taps where Portuguese breweries are represented- including offerings from their on-site microbrewery, Cerveja Aroeira, and an expansive selection of bottles.  

(See also: Craftonia.) Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 July 2016: Root Beer, Lisbon, Pub Habits”