The Portcullis, Clifton: peculiarly Belgian

It took a couple of visits for us to get The Portcullis in Clifton: as an English pub, it reads as peculiar, but it’s an excellent Belgian cafe.

It really does feel the kind of neighbourhood place you might find in some suburb of Brussels, or out along the route of the coastal tram from Ostend.

On Saturday evening, we sat at a shelf, facing a canvas print of Prince, against a backdrop of red-rose boudoir wallpaper.

We drank Belgian beers chosen from a printed menu, each served in correctly branded glassware – Chimay, Straffe Hendrik, Orval, De Ranke, with more on offer.

Pink Floyd played softly in the background.

The exterior of the Portcullis.
The Portcullis in 2013 – you want the cosy bottom bar, not the upper one.

‘Dogs on leads welcome’, says a sign on the door, and there were lots of dogs on leads, curled under tables or snarling at each other. One, a puppy,, broke a wine glass (“Bloody hell! Got any blue roll?”) then chewed through its lead and broke free, darting across the floor with a posh man in pursuit.

People knew each other’s names. A regular walked in (with dog) and the pulling of his pint commenced without a word being spoken. The hound received its usual order, too – a biscuit from the jar.

The licensees, Dee and Paul Tanner, were on duty, seeming to enjoy their own pub as much as the drinkers do.

Paul made a circuit offering chocolates from a box bought in Bruges only the day before, but otherwise perched on the end of the bar talking to a friend.

Dee was behind the bar, absolutely on it. Every time we ordered from the Belgian selection she said, quietly, things like, “Oh, that’s a fantastic beer,” and hurried off to find the right glass. Her method is to pour the beer at the bar and present both beer and glass with a logo forward. There’s something very Belgian – proud, a little fussy – in the subtle twist she gives the bottle to get it lined up.

“We like our Belgian beer, my husband and I,” she told us, as if it needed saying.

The Belgian beer isn’t cheap – £7 a bottle is standard – but of course there are good reasons for that. There’s also Leffe on tap at £4 per half-pint and ales from Dawkins and others at around £4.20 a pint.

As a little treat every now and then, an alternative to schlepping to Belgium at huge expense, it doesn’t feel outrageous.

We don’t plan to go often – we want it to stay a bit special, for days when we need picking up – but if you’re in Bristol and craving Belgian atmosphere as much as Belgian beer, it’s worth a detour.

News, nuggets and longreads 15 February 2020: Flagships, Norway, Introversion

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the past week, from pub ticking to archive digging.

First, as we’ve failed to mention in previous weeks for some reason, it’s Flagship February when we’re encouraged to celebrate classics and standards. You can read a whole series of personal essays by notable beer writers at the FF website. If you’re bored of negativity and/or novelty-seeking, here’s your antidote. Check out this from Stan Hieronymus, for example:

Creature Comforts Tropicália represents American IPA evolution. It’s bitterness is softer than the IPAs of the aughts. It is juicy, but not like drinking orange juice and certainly not juicy/hazy. It’s more like biting into a ripe apricot. You almost feel like you need to wipe some juice off your face after you take a long drink. Per its name, Tropicália’s aroma is fresh and tropical, its flavor full of juicy (there’s that word again) fruits — take your pick of mango, banana or melon.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 15 February 2020: Flagships, Norway, Introversion”

Hobnobbing with Guinness, 1963

In June 1963, Guinness welcomed assorted members of the British press to Park Royal and then St James Gate on a three day tour (or bender) in the company of some of Guinness’s most senior executives and, of course, Norris McWhirter.

McWhirter was serving at the time as information officer for Guinness, as well as compiler in chief of the Guinness Book of Records. He led an, erm, interesting life.

Most of the main newspapers of the day were represented on the invite list for the press tour, including The Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Daily Mail.

The official press pack set out the itinerary for the three days, has biographies of key personnel and some distinctly corporate Fun Facts.

There is also a distinct focus on labour relations, highlighting that “all brewery personnel up to Foreman level are Union members” and setting out the sick pay policy in some detail. Was the idea, at least in part, to reassure investors that Guinness was not vulnerable to industrial action, as some other businesses, such as the UK branch of Ford, had begun to seem at the time?

Once the party had been flown to Dublin, things got even more highfalutin, with a dinner including the Taoiseach, the Governor of the Bank of Ireland and the President of the Dublin stock exchange.

The following day’s tour of the Dublin brewery included a “private interview” with the President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera.

Once all the obligatory hobnobbing concluded, our intrepid journalists had the option to stay on for a third day of shopping, touring and visiting the Navan races.

We don’t have any context for this document, so we don’t know if this was an annual affair or a one off and if so, what the reasons were for it.

We do know, thanks to an internal document of expected questions and answers, that they were expecting a wide range of questions on just about everything from production and sales to employment practices.

There were particular sections on Draught Guinness, Harp lager and continuous brewing, which were all new areas for Guinness, as well as questions relating to their acquisition of the Nuttall Confectionery Group in 1961. (A tour of Callard & Bowser was included in the Park Royal leg of the trip).

Below is a sample of the questions and prepared answers. The last one, be prepared, might seem slightly startling.

Is Guinness Really Good for you?
Yes, we have many thousands of testimonies from the medical professional as the value of Guinness.

How much do you spend [on advertising?
About one third of a penny per bottle overall.

Is Dublin stout brewed for Britain the same as Park Royal Stout?
Yes.

Do you contemplate another brew?
No.

A quick note: they’d just launched Harp Lager so this was about whether they planned to expand the range any further and launch, say, a mango IPA.

How can you expect to do well with beer now that wine and spirit drinking is a “done” thing?
It is true that wine sales are going up quickly but only a comparatively small amount is drunk by a particular section of the population.

What about failure of Common Market Negotiation?
This has not changed our picture. Our main trade within the European Common Market is with Belgium and France where Guinness has always been regarded as a speciality drink commanding a higher price than regular beers.

Why did you build a brewery in Nigeria?
Because it is more economical to brew and bottle locally than to import in bottle as we were doing previously. It is our biggest single overseas market.

Was it wise politically?
We have no reason to think otherwise.

You can read more about the Guinness brewery in Nigeria here.

It has been said that Harp lager sales have been disappointing – is this so?
All lager sales have been disappointing for the past year or two, but Harp distribution was right up to our estimates and sales were not far short.

Is this venture wise – you are now in direct competition with other brewers?
Our Harp lager venture has not in any way prejudiced our happy relations with other brewers.

Why are you selling SS Guinness? Has cross-channel trade declined?
Because it is 32 years old. Our cross-channel trade has NOT declined.

Does Guinness own a computer?
No.

If not, why not?
With our present volume of work, it is more economical to hire time than to own a computer.

Do you employ coloured people at Park Royal?
Yes, from time to time.

What was behind that final question? Were they expecting to be told off for employing black staff, or congratulated for it? That very brief, blunt answer seems designed to avoid the topic.

This is another item from the vast collection of Guinness documents Fiona shared with us last year. We’re slowly working through, digesting and sharing.

You can’t judge a pub on one visit

One of the reasons we are doing #EveryPubInBristol is because we did #EveryPubInPenzance and discovered that we couldn’t always judge a pub from the way it looked.

We like to think we know pubs reasonably well and there were five pubs in Penzance that just never appealed based on the way they presented.

We decided to go to them all before we left and we found that one was much better than we’d expected and was added into our regular route; three were actually fine; and only one was genuinely bad. And because of our general interest in the history and culture of pubs, almost everywhere had something for us to observe or learn from, good or bad.

However, 252 pubs into our Bristol mission, we’ve started to question whether one visit is really enough for some pubs. So much of what makes up an experience in a pub is transitory – the staff who were on, the other punters during your visit – before you even get into what the beer tastes like, changes to the decor, and so on.

When pubs get refurbished and new managers take over, we do try to make an effort to revisit as this kind of thing can drastically change a place. But other changes might be more subtle – perhaps we visited during the day when there’s a calm older crowd and missed the fact it has a DJ and dancing on a Saturday night. Perhaps we visited on a particularly rainy or sunny day when the usual crowd stayed at home or went to the park. Perhaps the bartender who made us feel so welcome left for another job a week later and the place just isn’t as friendly now.

We think this is why it’s easier to judge places that have an identifiable guv’nor or guv’nors – that their personality, for good or worse, sets a fairly consistent tone for the place. And you can tell a lot by the regulars that they gather around them and the behaviours that are and aren’t allowed.

In contrast, the hardest places to form a view on are often managed houses, where staff and management turn over constantly. It’s hard enough to imprint a personality over what the pubco or brewery has decided is the in look this season (usually several years out of date) even when you do have a steady team.

There’s a pub between our house and the centre of town which constantly switches between being a decent pub with acceptable food and drink to a complete kitchen and cellar nightmare. We end up visiting every six months to see what phase it’s in. To be fair, we probably wouldn’t bother at all if it wasn’t on our way home.

This of course is where a good local CAMRA branch comes in useful, particularly if members are attuned to factors beyond beer quality – it’s great to get local intelligence on which pubs have changed hands recently and a hint as two whether the change is for the better, or the worse.

We suppose, in a roundabout way, what we’re saying is that pubs are like living things. That’s great news if you like exploring pubs because over the course of five years, 250 pubs might equate to 1,000 pubs, in terms of the experience of visiting them.

And another thought: perhaps this is why pubs that don’t change – that can resist it for, say, 20 years or more – feel so special.

News, nuggets and longreads 8 February 2020: opening hours, pricing, the Phil

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week from historic pubs to hazy IPA.

First, a bit of news: Laura Hadland has been announced as the author of a new official history of CAMRA. We know they’re keen for this to be an objective, challenging account that acknowledges downs as well as ups and can’t wait to see what she comes up with. She’s after insight and memories from people involved in the Campaign and, indeed, those very much not involved in the campaign, so do follow her on Twitter @Morrighani and drop her a line if you’ve got something to contribute.


Philharmonic Dining Rooms

This week saw the release of the now annual announcement from Historic England of which pubs have been listed, or had their list status upgraded. The headliner this year is The Philharmonic in Liverpool which has been upgraded to Grade I, “making it the first purpose-built Victorian pub in England to be given the highest level of designation for a historic building”:

Regarded as a ‘cathedral among pubs’ for its opulence, the Philharmonic was one of the most spectacular pubs to be completed at the end of the 19th century, known as the ‘golden age’ of pub building. It now joins the top 2.5% of protected historic buildings in England such as Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth House and Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ in gaining the highest listed status.

We visited when we were researching 20th Century Pub and were blown away. We keep sending friends there and getting messages that say, in so many words, “Wow”. So, yes, this makes sense to us.


Closed sign on shop.

Mark Johnson is annoyed at retail outlets that don’t open when he’s ready to spend money. This is part of a wider debate about the hours the staff and owners of beer businesses work that kicked off on Beer Twitter over Christmas:

Like high street shops opening to utilise the Boxing Day sale rush, I couldn’t understand why small businesses wouldn’t want to take advantage of this busiest time of year. But of course, suggesting such radical thought makes me selfish and “uncaring of worker’s mental wellbeing.” Aye. Okay… Which is why I take slow sips from my cup of tea when those same pubs/bars that were shut late December start the year with the wonderful TRYANUARY spiel. Support your local business. Support the Beer Industry. A pub isn’t just for Christmas. No, true, but you weren’t open at flipping Christmas time were you when I was there to support you so what do I possibly owe you now?


Cash Money Pound Signs.

As Dave S wearily sighs, “it looks like the ‘expensive beer’ discourse is back.” He’s responding to this by Tony Naylor but takes, as ever, a measured stance:

I quite like fancy, expensive beers, and I know that many of the things that I like in fancy beers – mixed fermentation, barrel aging, high gravity, expensive hops – add to the cost of the beer… I also like cheap, good beer. I like the fact that beer is an everyday drink, something that large swathes of the population can share and bond over as a routine matter… A lot of the current discussion is about choosing one of these to the exclusion of the other, but like a lot of people, I don’t see any reason that we can’t have both.


A quote from the article.
SOURCE: Good Beer Hunting/Cooper Foszcz.

For Good Beer HuntingLuke Robertson has dug into what it’s really like to be working at a brewery when it gets taken over by a multinational:

Lachlan Barter is a state sales manager for Green Beacon Brewing Co. in Brisbane, Australia. In 2019, it was announced that Green Beacon would be sold to Asahi, but stories of a prospective sale had dragged on for years. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, what was going to happen—and everyone wanted his confirmation.

“It was a rumor for almost two years. You hear rumors—some have weight in them, some don’t have weight in them,” Barter says. “More and more people started bringing it up. Really random people as well. At the time [of the sale], it was a sigh of relief. No more rumors. I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”


Detail from a vintage India Pale Ale beer label.

 

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has been grappling with how to classify IPAs for a new edition of his book The Beer Bible. What his thinking aloud reveals is how different things are now compared to a decade ago:

It’s impossible to create categories of mutually-exclusive IPAs because a double IPA, for example, may be hazy or not, but this is my best first draft:

  • West Coast IPAs. Basically as close to the standard IPA as we have.
  • New England (or Hazy) IPAs
  • Flavored IPAs. (Will include white, fruit, and milkshake IPAs)
  • Strong IPAs
  • Session IPAs and Pale Ales
  • Brett and Sour IPAs
  • Specialty IPAs (will include black, red, Belgian, and brut IPAs)

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this picture which really brings home how big interwar pubs were compared to those they replaced:


If you’re hungry, or should we say thirsty, for more good beer reading, check out Alan’s round-up from Thursday and Carey’s from yesterday.

Pickled Egg, Blade Bone, Swedish Crowns: London pub names in the 19th century

George Dodd’s The Food of London is something of an overlooked gem published in 1856. Among many other passages worthy of attention in their own right, there’s a fantastic rundown of the naming of London pubs.

It’s great for three reasons:

  • Where other writers might have skimmed the surface, Dodd provides a detailed list of London pub names with a count of how many there are of each type.
  • It highlights some genuinely bizarre names that we’d have thought were made up if we’d encountered them in fiction.
  • There’s a certain wit and poetry in his writing that makes a list amusing.

First, though, there’s a bit about the sheer volume of pubs in London at this time, in the wake of the 1830 Licensing Act:

In relation to the metropolis only, the number of public-houses is of course enormous — intended, as they are, to supply malt-liquor to two million and a half of drinkers. In London, the licensed victuallers are probably about 4500; while the beer-sellers are somewhat over half this number — very likely 7000 altogether, equal to one in about every 45 houses, or one to 350 inhabitants.

If you’re interested, the full text provides further detail of the numbers of pubs, and pubs per household, for various districts, such as Norton Folgate.

The number of pubs is what drives the variety of names Dodd records – if you’ve only got one pub in the village, The Red Lion will do. If there are ten pubs on the street, you’d better start thinking about a ‘distinctive brand’ that will provide ‘differentiation’.

Because, as we say above, the writing has wit and rhythm, we’ve presented the pub passage presented complete, below, with paragraph breaks and small edits for ease of reading.

Our advice: read it aloud to really catch the poetry of it.

The public-houses of London are as motley an assemblage as can well be imagined — so far as signs are concerned. We find among them about 70 royal dukes – Cambridge, Clarence, Cumberland, Gloucester, Sussex, and York; a few royal duchesses; 60 or 70 Georges and George the Fourths; Victorias and Royal Alberts in great abundance; 80 Crowns and 20 Crown and Anchors; 70 King’s Arms and 90 King’s Heads; 20 Queen’s Arms and 50 Queen’s Hèads.

Next comes a menagerie of extraordinary animals – 30 Green Men, with or without Stills, Bells, and French Horns; 120 Lions – red, white, blue, or black; 25 Black Horses, and 45 White; 70 White Harts; 55 Swans, black or white as the case may be – and so forth.

Then we have a series of couplets – 55 Coach and Horses; 25 Horse and Grooms; 55 Rose and Crowns; and numerous Ships, combined in an extraordinary way with Blue Balls, Blue Coat Boys, Punchbowls,‘Rising Suns, Shears and Shovels.

The system of numeration has been carried out by the licensed victuallers more fully than they themselves, perhaps, are aware; for we shall find One Tun, Two Bells, Three Suns, Four Swans, Five Pipes, Six Cans, Seven Stars, Eight Bells, Nine Elms, Ten Bells, and Twelve Bells: let any enterprising publican hit upon Eleven something – Cricketers, Virgins, or what not – and the duodecimal system will be complete. Some numbers are great favourites, especially number three, which develops itself in all the varieties of Three Brewers and Three Colts; three each of Compasses, Cranes, Cups, Doves, Elms, Foxes, Goats, Hats, Herrings, Horseshoes and Johns; Three Jolly Bakers, Three Jolly Butchers, and Three Jolly Gardeners; Three Kings, Three Loggerheads and Three Lords (three loggerheads between three kings and three lords might appear sarcastic, were not the order of the alphabet alone responsible); three Mariners, Merry Boys, Neats’ Tongues, Nuns, Pigeons, Spies, Sugar-loaves, Stags, Suns, Swedish Crowns and Wheat Sheaves.

A wonderful display of tapsters’ ingenuity occurs in such signs as Blade Bone, Coffee-pot, Essex Serpent, Knave of Clubs, Lilliput Hall, Naked Boy and Woolpack, Old Centurion, Pickled Egg, Prospect of Whitby, Tippling Philosopher, Widow’s Son, Valiant Trooper, Sun in Splendour, Running Footman, Experienced Fowler, Good Man, Kentish Wag and World Turned Upside Down.

Phew!

Can you believe there was ever really a pub called The Pickled Egg? Or The Three Spies? Or the bloody Blade Bone!?

Well, there was a Blade Bone trading in Bethnal Green as recently as 2000, demolished in 2016, according to WhatPub.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was popular with skinheads in the 1970s.

If you tried to name a pub that now, we suspect the licencing authorities would attempt to discourage it.

But we’d be quite excited to drink at The Tippling Philosopher if anyone fancies reviving that.

Main image: Cowcross Street c.1870 via the Survey of London.

Why Belgium is the perfect playground for a beginner beer geek

If you’ve decided that you’re going to get into beer, the chances are you will go through a Belgian phase. You may, in fact, never come out of it.

Look at these obsessives, for example, who go to Belgium multiple times every year and find endless fascination in the country’s beer.

We’ve identified five factors that we think make Belgian beers to appealing to ‘beginner’ beer geeks – people at stages three to five – beyond the obvious fact that Belgium is home to many of the world’s greatest beers.

1. Variety

When you first encounter Belgian beer, there’s an impression of boundless choice. Even the most basic bars have lengthy beer lists, usually with enough options to offer something different throughout a weekend city break. The beers on offer range from brain-dissolvingly sour to syrup sweet, and often come with tantalising, almost romantic descriptions.

2. Familiarity

Most Belgian bars will offer a set of reliable classics – the Westmalles, Chimays, Duvel, and so on. So, while there is a lot of choice, it’s not like drinking in a modern UK taproom where the beers change constantly, week by week, like fugitives trying to evade detection. In Belgium, it’s easy to identify favourites and go back to them as often as you like, as you get to understand your own preferences.

3. Consistency

Most Belgian beers are served from the bottle, and most of these breweries have been bottling for a very long time, so when you drink Westmalle Tripel it will taste more or less the same wherever you drink it, unlike with draught beer (and especially cask) where so much depends on the venue. Caveats apply: we have noticed consistency issues with Abt 12, for example, which put us off drinking it for a while.

4. Ritual

On the ground in Belgium, at least, there are the matching glasses, the perfect pours and the general reverence for the product that seems to apply even in non-beer-geek places. Every glass of beer is the most important in the world at the moment it’s served. And if you like reading, there’s plenty to read, from the history of the distinctive yeast to the tales of individual breweries.

5. Quirkiness

Pink elephants! Trolls! Peculiar glassware! It was made for the Instagram age. It’s just fun.

* * *

Are there downsides?

Well, perhaps the generally higher strength of Belgian beer might be offputting to the average British person.

It certainly took us quite a while to adjust to a sensible Belgian drinking pace.

And actually, the alcohol burn can seem overwhelming at first, like the whisky wall we wrote about in last month’s newsletter. We remember considering Chimay White undrinkable the first time we tried it because all we could taste was ethanol. Of course we love it now.

For some, the Belgian scene might also seem a little conservative. There are new breweries and styles emerging – certainly enough to quench our curiosity whenever we visit – but we guess it is difficult for new players to enter the market.

On the whole, though, Belgian beer strikes just the right balance between novelty and solidity. It’s vast but knowable. Often complex but rarely ridiculous. Very weird but absolutely everyday.

Everything we wrote in January 2020

We did not have a dry January. (Not that we’re criticising those who did.) We went to quite a few new pubs and even made it as far as Stockport for a weekend away.

In terms of blogging, that produced 12 posts in total – about standard for us these days.

We started the month with notes on a crawl around the pubs of Filton on the outskirts of Bristol, from chains to council-owned oddities:

The Ratepayer’s Arms is… an odd place. If you look towards the bar, it feels much like any other social club with plenty of charming clutter, pickled eggs, rolls and drinkers clustered round the bar. Look the other way, though, and it’s all blank walls and municipal fixtures and fittings… Still, the welcome was notably warm, nobody paid us the slightest attention – just how we like it – and we enjoyed the buzz of local gossip and, inevitably, bitter criticism of the quality of Boeing aircraft these days.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote in January 2020”

News, nuggets and longreads 1 February 2020: Babies, Bitter, Bushfires

Here’s everything the struck as interesting or amusing in writing about beer and pubs in the past two weeks, including Disney cruises and Kingston upon Hull boozers.

First, some bits of news.

  1. Peter Martin, head brewer at the Driftwood Spars in St Agnes, Cornwall, has sadly died. We never spoke to Pete although we saw him at work, sat near him and passed him coming and going from many Cornish pubs during our time living there.
  2. The Government has announced a business rates cut for pubs. The new pubs relief will kick in from April 2020 and reduce bills by £1,000.

A baby.

For Pellicle, Jemma Beedie writes well on a well-worn topic: children in pubs. Her point is not that people should tolerate children in pubs but that letting children into adult spaces is what turns them into functional adults:

My first experience of the pub was during childhood, as it was for so many of us. Waiting for parents to finish their drinks, bribed with packets of crisps, we learnt that the world didn’t revolve around us. We learnt how to be in public… There are some people who will complain if children are in their vicinity, outraged that parents would dare bring their offspring to a pub, a restaurant, or on a plane. I wonder about them. Did their parents keep them at home, locked in a nursery? Or were they, like the rest of us, also taken to public spaces where they learnt how to behave?

This topic always prompts responses. This time, we took particular note of a piece by Alistair Reece of Fuggled:

The problem here, in my unhumble opinion, is that we are focusing far too narrowly on children in pubs. Kids that misbehave in pubs are in all likelihood the kind of children who misbehave in other public spaces such as on the high street and in the shops. In reality the issue here is one of parenting, of which the child’s behaviour in public is a symptom not the disease itself. Parents that take their kids to a public space and then let them run wild to the detriment of others using the space are the problem.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 1 February 2020: Babies, Bitter, Bushfires”

A Frenchman visits a gin palace, 1873

In early 1873, English newspapermen were amused to discover that the French critic and novelist Alphonse Karr had been writing about London gin palaces for Le Figaro.

Karr is these days best known for epigrams such as “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ll confess we’d never heard of him at all until we came across a mention of him in an article in the British Newspaper Archive.

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of online digital archives, it’s fairly easy to read a version of Karr’s original text as collected in an 1876 anthology of his writing.

Here’s our attempt at tidying up Google’s automatic translation:

Let’s talk about cabarets and cafes.

This must be dealt with from three points of view, one of which is completely modern and contemporary.

The first point is drunkenness, its hideousness, its dangers; the second, the thefts, the tricks and the poisonings practiced by certain merchants; the third, the application of cabaret and coffee to street politics – or rather to agitation, to the spread of false or exaggerated ideas, to the poisoning of minds.

It seems that to see drunkenness in all its horrible stupidity, in England you have to visit the shops, the palaces, dedicated to it – gin shops, or gin palaces.

A flood of ragged beings move incessantly towards the temple, on the door of which shine, on large copper plates, the words gin, beer, spirits – that is to say, forgetfulness, absence stupor.

A room a hundred feet long, all furnished on one side with huge barrels painted in various colors, with portraits of the queen in between.

In front of the barrels, a long counter or bar and many waiters constantly busy pouring. In the crowd, there are as many women as men and women are often, in fact, in the majority.

We approach the bar, money in hand with a sort of dumb reverence, as if we were going to receive communion; in a low voice, gin or spirits are asked for; the glass, not filled until the waiter has received the money, is accepted in silence and with an icy seriousness; then we will sit on a long bench leaning against the wall in front of the barrels; here we remain motionless, silent, in a sort of ecstasy and contemplation of the barrels; a little later we rummage in our pockets and count our money; we return to the bar, we drink and we return to the bench, from where we return to the bar; and always thus as long as there is money.

Everyone knows how rigorously the sabbath is observed in England – any distraction is strictly prohibited; the only exception is the gin shop. It is enough that they should look closed, but you only have to push the door to enter. The State and Church seem to believe that there would be danger in leaving one day per week free of that awful misery – one day when people don’t forget and fall asleep like brutes.

The British take on his story was perhaps understandably arch: this daft foreigner didn’t understand how pubs worked and, worse, was some sort of temperance advocate. Here’s how it was reported in a syndicated story that appeared in numerous newspapers on and around 9 January 1873:

Not a word for the neat-handed Phyllises behind the counter. This is hardly courteous on the part French litterateurs, who are fond of ogling them when they do come here… M. Alphonse Karr a very remarkable man; one time, it we remember right, he even aspired to the dignity of citoyen, but has ever been animated with a strong dislike of perfidious islanders. It is very clear that he has never heard the Licensing Act.

Those barmaids again!

We wonder if any more confident French speakers than us might be able to dig out more accounts of English pubs and drinking culture. For example, this advice looks intriguing:

L’intérieur de ces établissements si nombreux présente quelque intérêt en ce qu’il explique la société anglaise. Il y a d’abord la salle du comptoir (bar-room), sorte de terrain neutre sur lequel des hommes et des femmes debout se rencontrent pour étancher leur soif aux flots d’ambre liquide…