opinion pubs

What is a ‘Local’?

Eavesdropping on Twitter again we spotted the above question which got us thinking. Here’s what we came up with.

1. It is, er, local. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the very closest to your house but it should certainly be in the same parish, and frequented by your neighbours.

2. It might not be the best pub on paper, or have the best beer, but it will be decent. You might not recommend it to other beer geeks, at least not without lots of footnotes, but you are fond of it. Getting to that stage might even have taken a bit of effort on your part, as it did for us with the Farmer’s Arms in Penzance.

3. It is convenient. If you can suggest to your co-habitee(s) ‘Quick one at the Queen’s?’ and they reply ‘Yeah, why not’, then it’s a local. No pre-planning required, no calendar checking, and you can probably leave the shepherd’s pie going in the oven while you nip round before dinner. (Oh, there you go — it has ‘nippability’.)

You might live somewhere and never identify a local. If all the pubs in the area are truly rotten, or you’re very fussy, and however hard you try you never develop a soft spot, then that’s unfortunate but probably not unusual. You’ll no doubt find a pub you like somewhere else in town but it won’t be your local even if you become a regular (those two words seem paired somehow). But what you should call it, we can’t say.

14 replies on “What is a ‘Local’?”

Does a local have to be close to your house? Or can it be somewhere near to somewhere you regularly frequent? Can the pub between your work and the train station you use to go home 5 days a week count as your local?

Don’t reckon so. That’s a different thing for which our culture apparently has no name. Sorry. (Call it what you like, obviously — we’re not the police.)

I think you have to actually be a regular there, too. Where we live we’re ridiculously well-supplied with pubs & bars – there are nine within half a mile’s walk – but there are only three I’d class as ‘nippable’, just because suggesting any of the others would start a discussion, and then the moment would have gone. (The X? Which one’s that? Oh, I know the one. Isn’t it a bit..? “Yeah, I know what you mean. But it’s fine most days. It was just an idea, we don’t have to go there necessarily…”)

I can’t identify with the part about the pub being “frequented by your neighbours”, though – I’ve got no idea where my neighbours drink, or even if they drink. There are two pubs where I regularly see people I know, but I don’t know where those people live; mostly I know them through the pub. Perhaps this is an urban thing (we barely talk to either of our next-door neighbours).

I did consider the Harp in Chandos Place my local when I lived in London (Hendon – so nowhere near). Don’t go there as much now (Jan of this year!) but I’d still like to call it a local. If I can’t, perhaps I could call it a focal?

Distance/convenience is seriously important. My nearest potential “local” is almost 1 mile away, and despite it having a decent range of beer, occasional live music and excellent bar snacks, it’s just not quite close enough to pop to for a quick pint before dinner, and as such I don’t go frequently enough.

Call me undedicated, but a 17 minute walk to the pub vs. 3 minutes to Waitrose for a decent range of beers… I’m embarrassed at myself.

Yes, I’d say a local has to be reasonably local. If you have to pass plenty of other pubs to reach the one you frequent most often then it would probably be better described as your “regular haunt”.

A local is the pub that, from your home, is the default answer to the question “Shall we go to the pub?”

How about if it used to be your nearest pub (and it’s less than half a mile away), but another four have subsequently opened between you and it?

(Feeling slightly guilty at living in such a target-rich environment now, particularly after reading Velky Al’s comment. It’s a fairly recent thing – I remember a columnist in the local paper saying that you couldn’t do a pub crawl in our area unless you had a car-driving friend or a stout pony. These days the only difficulty would be pacing yourself.)

Sadly I really don’t have a local, in the nippability sense of the idea (love that as a term though). The nearest drinking hole to my house is about 15 miles away, excluding winery and cidery tap rooms. While by comparison I do live ‘in the sticks’, there are probably a good 300-400 houses within a 5 mile radius of my house, and I could not imagine such a densely populated part of pretty much every European country I have been to not having a local pub. Thank goodness for homebrew and my kegerator.

Pursuant to what others allude to; there is a distinct difference between the terms ‘local’ and ‘a regular’, although they are sympathetically linked.

Local means local, within your locality. Theoretically you can have a local but not go to it, therefore you are not ‘a regular’. If you are ‘a regular’ in your local then you are ‘a local’ in your local.

One can be ‘a regular’ in a pub that is not within your locality. Many people frequent the pubs in our village, often coming out of Leeds, hence the pub is not their local. However they frequently drink in there and are well known and accepted by the locals, and hence are ‘regulars’.

Does all that make sense?

I think what Richard says above is as near as dammit as he agrees to some blurring around the edges. I would though consider the THT as my local though as that’s where I have been drinking for the last 20 odd years, though usually these days, only at the weekend. I know almost everyone that drinks there at least by sight and most by name. Everyone around here knows that’s where I am most associated with and since the THT has only a tiny farming community as true locals, all of the rest of us have the mile up the lane to deal with no matter how we get to the point where the mile starts. So are we regulars? Yes like as not. Are we locals and is this our local? Not in many ways. It is complicated.

I too see little of merit in the “neighbour” thing and while my nearest real ale pub is one I regularly go too and have been doing for years, not a soul behind the bar calls me by name, though many know exactly who I am. Is that my local? Maybe.

Rural pubs have different catchment areas, particularly once you go beyond the classic “village”. Where I grew up, the only pubs were about 2 miles from home. There was no doubt which was our “local”, as in the centre of “our” community – it was probably the grottiest of the lot, but that was the one used by the people we went to church with, where we’d go after carol singing etc. Even if us youngsters generally took the view that we’d rather go into town, not least because there would be girls in town but not at the pub. But although the community is strong it’s a style of pub that is struggling, with few chimneypots nearby it which means drink-driving enforcement is a factor, and generally there’s less money around in proper farming areas.

However there are still proper village pubs certainly in white-collar areas where if you see someone out and about during the day, “See you later?” is a specific enquiry meaning “Will you be in the Red Lion tonight between 6-8pm?”. That’s a Local, it’s pub as community centre “where everybody knows your name” which goes way beyond a strict geographical definition of a local, which as has been said could be somewhere you don’t actually go.

It may be hard for some people to understand, but it’s certainly possible for people to have that kind of relationship with a pub near work. Certainly in the City, where an ex used to work. There was a pub where she could be guaranteed a drink on the bar in the time it took her to walk from the door, and she often went in there for a quick one after work in order to let the rush hour subside a bit, aside from taking people in there for work meetings. Then there was a pub near home that was local but where we never quite made the transition to a full Local – we’d go in there maybe once a week, we were known to the staff but never quite plugged in with other customers. Partly because we were at that boring intense just-shacked-up stage of our relationship, partly it was just the kind of place – it went full gastro shortly afterwards. And to be honest when you both have horrible commutes, all we really wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with a bottle of wine. But the pub in town was her Local in all but proximity to home.

Proximity does make a difference, though. I’m reminded of the French concept of the “Cinq à sept” – the time to visit one’s mistress before going home to the wife. The British have a similar relationship with drinking establishments.

One thought on this – it’s interesting that “local” can also be used without any reference to whose local it is: beer guides will sometimes describe a place as “a pleasant back-street local” or whatever, making “local” a general category of pub as opposed to “the local” being a specific pub for a specific person.

I’ve bought,lived in and sold around 20 homes in my life and every single one of them from my first flat has always had to pass the local test – there has to be a good pub within walking distance.
On several occasions I’ve actually rejected perfectly good properties simply because they didn’t pass the test – the ability to say to the missus I’m just popping out for a fast quart before dinner.
The closest I’ve bought a house is a thatched cottage 20 seconds away from the only pub in a Hampshire village.
The furthest is my current house – 20 minutes walk up a steep hill – but it’s worth it because the pub is a belter.Wood-pannelled,no TV or muzak,convivial if occasionally impassioned debate,a corking local craft beer and creamy pints of stout.
I’ve even,after years of pestering,persuaded the landlord to get Hula Hoops in behind the bar.
Sadly we’re on the move again in the next year or two as we downsize and move back to Blighty to be nearer the kids.
But I’m really look forward to scoping out what will probably be my last local although there’s an addendum to the old local test – if it’s got Doom Bar it’s a definite no-no.

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