Pubs in novels: The Vodi, John Braine, 1959

John Braine’s 1959 novel The Vodi is set in a fictional northern town where every other conversation takes place over a beer, or in a pub.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is the por­tray­al of a large, mod­ern pub – a theme you might remem­ber comes up in anoth­er social real­ist nov­el from the same year, Kei­th Water­house­’s Bil­ly Liar.

Braine’s treat­ment is suc­cinct and direct:

[He] did­n’t like the Lord Rel­ton very much. It was a fake-Tudor road-house with a huge car park; even its name was rather phoney, an attempt to iden­ti­fy it with the vil­lage of Rel­ton to which, geo­graph­i­cal­ly at least, it belonged. But, unlike the Fru­men­ty, unlike even the Ten Dancers or the Blue Lion at Sil­bridge, the Lord Rel­ton belonged nowhere; it would have been just as much at home in any oth­er place in Eng­land. It even smelled liked nowhere; it had a smell he’d nev­er encoun­tered any­where else, undoubt­ed­ly clean, and even anti­sep­tic, but also dis­turbing­ly sen­su­al, like the flesh of a woman who takes all the deodor­ants the adver­tise­ments rec­om­mend.

Pubs in gen­er­al are pre­sent­ed as a kind of erot­ic play­ground, all flir­ta­tious bar­maids and “goers” – frus­trat­ed wives, lone­ly war wid­ows and oth­er women no bet­ter than they should be. It’s no won­der, then, that the (angry) young men in the book prac­ti­cal­ly live there, talk­ing end­less­ly about sex­u­al adven­tures, ambi­tions and the rel­a­tive attrac­tions of the women they know.

A black and white image of a roadhouse type pub.
The Three Tuns at Mir­field, ‘A Famous York­shire Road­house’. SOURCE: A Sec­ond Look at Mir­field.

As for old­er peo­ple, though, Braine also gives notes on the lads’ par­ents’ drink­ing habits. Here’s a bit about the pro­tag­o­nist’s fam­i­ly:

[Dick­’s] father [pre­ferred] the Lib­er­al Club (one pint of mixed, one large Lam­b’s navy rum, every evening at nine-twen­ty pre­cise­ly, except Wednes­day and Sun­day) and his moth­er rarely touched alco­hol at all, much less vis­it­ed a pub.

(‘Mixed’ is a blend of mild-and-bit­ter.)

There’s also a sur­pris­ing amount of drink­ing at home, giv­en the idea some­times con­veyed in com­men­tary that this is a new and dis­turb­ing phe­nom­e­non threat­en­ing pubs.

Dick and his father share bot­tles of Fam­i­ly Ale after they’ve done the week­ly accounts for the shop, and Mr Cov­er­ack, Dick­’s best friend Tom’s Dad, is an expert pour­er of bot­tled Tet­ley’s Bit­ter:

He opened anoth­er bot­tle of beer and filled his glass with his usu­al com­pe­tence; none frothed over and there was exact­ly the right amount of head on it to make it imme­di­ate­ly drink­able. Tom had once com­ment­ed to Dick with some bit­ter­ness on this trait of his father’s. “My Old Man,” he said, “can do any lit­tle thing you can men­tion, from mend­ing a switch to pour­ing a glass of beer, like a pro­fes­sion­al. It’s the big things, the impor­tant things, he mess­es up.”

There is even a brief descrip­tion of a spe­cif­ic beer – quite unusu­al in fic­tion gen­er­al­ly. It’s in a pas­sage set in a pub which is fill­ing up with the evening crowd, devel­op­ing a warm atmos­phere and buzz:

The sun was set­ting now; the faces at the far side of the room glim­mered pale­ly, the faces near­est the fire were dra­mat­i­cal­ly lit in red and black, the bit­ter in the tankard of the old man at the table next to Dick­’s was changed from straw-yel­low to near-amber sown with glit­ter­ing specks of gold; when the girl, bring­ing in Tom’s round, switched on the light there was an ele­ment of annoy­ance in the glances direct­ed for a split-sec­ond towards her; the tran­si­tion from an atmos­phere as cosy as a Vic­to­ri­an bal­lad had been too abrupt and the room seemed, dur­ing that tran­si­tion, drab and mean.

Straw-yel­low is inter­est­ing with the his­to­ry of north­ern beer in mind but this pas­sage is also a reminder of the impor­tance of light in both the mood of a pub and the appear­ance of any giv­en beer.

We won’t go through every pint, bot­tle and saloon bar in the book, but take our word for it, there are plen­ty – fur­ther evi­dence that acknowl­edg­ing the pubs exis­tence of pubs was a key fac­tor in giv­ing post-war British fic­tion its sense of star­tling real­ism.

For more on inter-war pubs, road­hous­es and the post-war response to them, check out our book 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.

The mystery of The Golden Lion and The Golden Bee

The Golden Bee is the ‘English pub’ at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, USA, and it has intriguing origins.

We can’t recall how we first heard of it but the part of the offi­cial ori­gin sto­ry that grabbed our atten­tion was this:

You’ll feel trans­port­ed right to jol­ly old Eng­land at the Gold­en Bee, The Broadmoor’s 19th cen­tu­ry British Pub. The pub was actu­al­ly trans­ferred to The Broad­moor pan­el by pan­el, direct­ly from the UK.

So, this isn’t a recre­ation or a sham – it’s a real Eng­lish pub inte­ri­or relo­cat­ed across the Atlantic.

How did this come to hap­pen? And which pub did the fix­tures and fit­tings come from?

There’s some­thing a lit­tle excit­ing about the thought that a Lon­don pub long-demol­ished or con­vert­ed might live on across the ocean, still serv­ing some­thing like its orig­i­nal func­tion.

Our usu­al research avenues didn’t turn up much but for­tu­nate­ly, the Broad­moor, being some­thing of an insti­tu­tion, has an archivist, Jamey Hast­ings, with whom we were able to get in touch. Jamey very kind­ly pro­vid­ed copies of his­toric press and pub­lic­i­ty notices which, while still con­tra­dic­to­ry and con­fus­ing at times, do pro­vide use­ful infor­ma­tion from close to the moment.

This from the Col­orado Springs Gazette for 16 Feb­ru­ary 1964 gives a good sum­ma­ry of the sto­ry and feels as it might be the truth pure­ly because it feels less neat and roman­tic than the typ­i­cal mar­ket­ing blurb:

The fix­tures, the bar and acces­sories are those of an Eng­lish pub built in the 1880s and lat­er brought to this coun­try intact and set up in New York. When the Broad­moor decid­ed to build the Bee, it asked W. and J. Sloane and Co. to find it some authen­tic pub fix­tures.

The firm did more than that. It found an entire pub, cov­ered with dust, in a ware­house in New York… The pub itself had been oper­at­ed at one time in an area near the old Lon­don Ter­race sec­tion of New York, once one of the fash­ion­able res­i­den­tial dis­tricts of the city.

Anoth­er arti­cle, from just after the pub launched in 1961, says more or less the same only it spec­i­fies that the pub inte­ri­or went from Eng­land to New York as far back as the 19th cen­tu­ry.

So far, so good, until we come to a sim­i­lar­ly cred­i­ble sto­ry from Broad­moor Bonan­za for spring 1984, which sug­gests a slight­ly dif­fer­ent chain of events:

Forty years ago, The Gold­en Lion was a pop­u­lar 17th cen­tu­ry pub locat­ed near the Thames Riv­er in Lon­don. It’s not in Lon­don any­more but it’s still pop­u­lar. Now called The Gold­en Bee, it’s one of The Broad­moor’s tru­ly remark­able tra­di­tions… In the mid-1950s, Thay­er Tutt, Hon­orary Chair­man of The Broad­moor, heard about an authen­tic Eng­lish pub for sale from a friend, Sir Guy Bracewell Smith, who was own­er of the Park Lane Hotel in Lon­don. The pub was owned by the Whit­bread House and they want­ed to sell it to an Amer­i­can busi­ness to aid in pub­li­ciz­ing their ale in the Unit­ed States. Through the Broad­moor’s inte­ri­or design firm, W.J. Sloan, and its rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Leslie Dorsey, Mr Tutt arranged to pur­chase the dis­man­tled bar for $20,000.

The sug­ges­tion here, then, is that the pub was old­er by about two hun­dred years, was still intact in Lon­don as late as the post-war peri­od, and was owned by Whit­bread. That’s plen­ty of con­crete infor­ma­tion to latch on to.

So far, though… Noth­ing. We have a pret­ty good run of 1950s edi­tions of The House of Whit­bread, the brewery’s in-house mag­a­zine, and can’t find any men­tion of this sale. It’s not men­tioned in any of the offi­cial his­to­ries to which we have access, either. Nor does A Month­ly Bul­letin seem to cov­er it in any of the issues we’ve got.

One item we did dig up is in The Tav­erns in the Town by H.E. Popham, from 1937:

In the Ful­ham High Street is The Gold­en Lion, a fifty-year-old house stand­ing on the site of a very ancient tav­ern of the same name. The orig­i­nal build­ing, which dat­ed back to the reign of Hen­ry VII, is said to have been the res­i­dence of Bish­op Bon­ner… On the pulling down of the orig­i­nal Gold­en Lion, the pan­elling was pur­chased by Lord Ellen­bor­ough for the fit­ting up of his res­i­dence, Southam House, near Chel­tenham.

So there was at least one his­toric Gold­en Lion inte­ri­or divorced from its orig­i­nal loca­tion and float­ing around.

At this stage, we’re left with more ques­tions with answers.

Because all the sources are Amer­i­can, and because we sus­pect a cer­tain amount of obfus­ca­tion, it’s cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble the details might have got man­gled – that the orig­i­nal pub wasn’t called The Gold­en Lion, or wasn’t in Lon­don, or wasn’t owned by Whit­bread. Although that last seems the most like­ly to be true.

So… Does any­one have any evi­dence that might unlock this? Not guess­work but ref­er­ences to news­pa­pers, books, mag­a­zines or oth­er papers that might pin this down.

Fur­ther read­ing: Gary Gill­man has been writ­ing exten­sive­ly about the idea of the Eng­lish pub in Amer­i­can cul­ture for some time, as in this post. Do check out his back cat­a­logue.

Pub life: Do you like yer prog?

On a stool at the bar on his own, arranging his beer money in stacks on the runner, the Old Rocker stares at nothing in particular.

The land­lord appears to emp­ty the glass-wash­ing macine and the Rock­er perks up.

Do you like yer prog, then?”

Sor­ry?”

Are you into yer prog?”

He points at the landlord’s T‑shirt. The land­lord looks down. King Crim­son.

Oh, right. Well, no, not par­tic­u­lar­ly.”

The Floyd, obvi­ous­ly.”

Pink Floyd? No. Not par­tic­u­lar­ly. Not after Syd Bar­rett left.”

Gotcha – more of a psych guy.”

Well… No, not real­ly.”

Punk?”

Well…” The land­lord waves a hand, refus­ing to com­mit.

The Old Rock­er shifts in his seat, blink­ing blankly.

So you’re not into prog much at all?”

I like Krautrock.”

The Old Rock­er thinks he’s done it – he’s found an in.

Oh, yeah, man – great stuff! That dri­ving motorik beat. Did you read the MOJO arti­cle a cou­ple of months back–”

Well, no, I don’t real­ly have time to read mag­a­zines. I work thir­teen days out of four­teen, and most evenings. The only music I hear is what’s on in here. And that’s on a loop.”

Dur­ing the silence that hangs after his out­pour­ing, he escapes to the oth­er bar.

The Old Rock­er set­tles down, mov­ing his coins around, eyes fixed on a mem­o­ry of ELP in ‘77.

Pub life: at the craft beer bar

Keg taps.

Do you mind if we sit here? Guys! Guys! There’s room here! What do you want to drink? Uh, there’s like, one hun­dred dif­fer­ent beers. I don’t… I’m not… Do you..? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, man, that sounds good, I might have the same. Same for you too? Same all round? Cool, cool, three gin-and-ton­ics, cool, cool…

* * *

Is it OK if we, er… Oh, ta.

Four pound odd for two-thirds of a bloody pint? You’re hav­ing me on, aren’t you? Two thirds!

And they’ve a list in there of about fifty bloody beers – do you know how many of them are bit­ters? None. Not bloody one.

There’s not even a red ale – noth­ing but pales and IPAs.

And not much under five per cent either, mind you. Ooh, gah, taste that… No, go on, taste it!

Nice!?

Nice?

It’s not bloody grum­ble mut­ter nice grum­ble slurp…

* * *

Hel­lo.

I’m a princess.

Bye!

* * *

Is this OK for you, Dad? Not too cold? It’s OK, is it? If Mum goes… And I’ll sit… Are you sure it’s not too cold? Because we can swap seats if…? No? You’re sure?

Fine, OK, so, who’s hav­ing… Sor­ry, Dad?

Yes, that’s why I asked.

Yes, I know, that’s why I…

Right, fine, every­body up, we’re going inside. Because Dad’s cold. Dad’s cold. No, I was­n’t talk­ing to you, I was telling Mum that you’re cold. No, she’s not cold…

* * *

Are you going to talk to me or just look at your phone? Because if you’re just going to look at your phone I’ll have to start bring­ing a book with me.

News, nuggets and longreads for 27 July 2019: Majorca, Manchester, meniscus

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from London brewers in Dublin to Irish pubs in Majorca.

First, some news – recent­ly released sta­tis­tics on pub clo­sures seem to sug­gest that the rate at which they’re dis­ap­pear­ing has slowed:

There were 42,450 pubs at the begin­ning of 2018 but 914 few­er by the end of the year, a rate of 76 net clo­sures a month. But 235 van­ished dur­ing the first half of this year, or near­ly 40 a month, accord­ing to gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics… The com­mer­cial real estate con­sul­tan­cy Altus Group, which com­piled the data, said gov­ern­ment mea­sures designed to staunch the flow of pub clo­sures appeared to be hav­ing some effect.


The Brown Cow pub.
SOURCE: Man­ches­ter’s Estate Pubs

It’s always excit­ing to see that there’s been a new post by Stephen Mar­land at Man­ches­ter’s Estate Pubs and this week we got two:

There’s the usu­al poignan­cy and the usu­al mix of pho­tog­ra­phy, near poet­ry and his­to­ry, now with added spice from notes by the late Alan Win­field.


Beer foam

At The Pur­suit of Abbey­ness Mar­tin Stew­ard has been reflect­ing on the mag­i­cal prop­er­ties of beer foam:

There is some­thing in cask-ale cul­ture that has long looked with dis­taste upon an abun­dance of bub­bles. In this world, quite at odds with that of the bot­tle-con­di­tion­ing Bel­gians, fizz is for­eign. The bar­tender who can pump a pint of Bit­ter to the menis­cus-strain­ing lip of a ses­sion glass achieves the appro­ba­tion of the pen­ny-pinch­ing pub-goer… These old geezers were the ur-Ice­men… Do I com­mit an injus­tice against them? Is this an aes­thet­ic choice, rather than one of econ­o­my? Or per­haps an ide­o­log­i­cal one—a man­i­festo state­ment on the seri­ous­ness of cask ale?


Alcudia
SOURCE: Lady Sinks the Booze

Kirsty is back! An account of crawl­ing around Irish and Eng­lish pubs in Spain might not imme­di­ate­ly seem as if it’s going to be essen­tial read­ing but her writ­ing could make notes on a trip to Tesco enter­tain­ing:

Like every­one has a favourite ring on the cook­er, every­one has a favourite cor­ner of the bar, and mine is front right for both. I think I had a John Smiths, I can’t remem­ber, but it cer­tain­ly wouldn’t be any­thing either craft or Span­ish. I was on hol­i­day from more than work, I declared myself on hol­i­day from beer geek­ery… When we returned to O’Malley’s the fol­low­ing day, our host actu­al­ly greet­ed us. “How’s life Richi?” asked Dar­ren with a cheery demeanor. Richi shrugged. “You want the real answer or the bull­shit cus­tomer answer?” We asked for the real answer. “I hate my life, I hate my job, I wish I was on hol­i­day like you, now what do you want?”


Partizan menu at Guinness
SOURCE: The Beer Nut

We had­n’t heard about the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Eng­lish craft brew­ery Par­ti­zan and Guin­ness until the Beer Nut post­ed a typ­i­cal­ly sharp review of the beers:

It was odd see­ing some inter­net oppro­bri­um being met­ed out to Lon­don brew­er Par­ti­zan when they announced they had cre­at­ed a col­lab­o­ra­tion series of beers with the Guin­ness Open Gate Brew­ery. Craft die-hards tak­ing a pop at the macros and any­one too close to them is not unusu­al, but I did­n’t see any­one hav­ing a go at anoth­er Lon­don­er, 40FT, when it did some­thing sim­i­lar. Par­ti­zan seems to be held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard… Three col­lab­o­ra­tion brews were cre­at­ed, two at Open Gate and one at Par­ti­zan. The theme of the series was Ital­ian-style aper­i­tifs.

Final­ly, here’s a use­ful sign­post:

For more read­ing check out Stan Hierony­mus’s round-up from Mon­day and Alan McLeod’s from Thurs­day.