I’ve spent a little more time soaking up Pub Life and even did a little research on pub-review web sites. You knew there had to be several of these sites, right? My favorite site is one about local Reading pubs written by a couple of young guys whose ratings are generally worthless but hilarious. Unlike most restaurant reviewers who are meticulous about their facts, these two often get so toasted that they can’t remember what brews or how many pints they’ve had. Achieving this state alone, in their reviews, equates to having had a good time, which means the pub merits a good rating.
There are corporate pubs, parts of well-run national chains, which are OK in their way, and there are more traditional pubs: small and homey, with upholstered chairs, a fire in the fireplace, that kind of ambiance, easily allowing you to believe that the publican (operator) and his family do actually live upstairs. Last evening I was in The Red Lion down the street and the owner’s young daughter (maybe 8-10 years old) was dashing around, in and out behind the bar, clearly at home. The whole atmosphere at a place like this is much more relaxed than at a US bar. Relatively recent no-smoking laws have gone into place, so pubs are now smoke-free.
Some pubs just serve drinks and do not serve food at all (reminds me of a few dives I used to frequent in Georgetown during my college days). This sounds to me like a recipe for what the Brits call “anti-social behavior”. Others sell tasty pub food that goes down well with your pint. Some serve lagers with names you’ll know such as Coors, Corona, and Stella Artois (did you recognize that last name, by the way? Stella turns out to be the third largest selling beverage in the UK – right behind Coke and bottled water). Some pubs also sell ales, also known as traditional ales or Real Ale. These are the less fizzy brews, served just slightly chilled (not warm or at room temp, as you may have heard), that are “pumped” up from the basement using a long-handled tap. These are also the ones with the nifty names, such as Tanglefoot, Bread of Heaven, and Dirty Tackle, that I like so much. A pint is $3-5 depending on time of day and the brew.
It seems that real ales are in retreat in the brew market and so some folks have banded together to create CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) which boasts 85,000 members. They’ve enlisted pubs across the country to run real ale festivals and to promote the traditional brews. You can check out their web site here: http://www.camra.org.uk
Pubs do also serve beverages other than beer, including wine (often from taps), soft drinks, lemonade, alcoholic ciders, and mixed drinks. When you order a “mixed” drink, such as bourbon and water, the barman actually puts your shot into a tall glass and, at the bar, you add water from a pitcher to suit your taste. Remember, all of the ordering is done at the bar in pubs, even if you’re sitting at a table across the room, and it’s strictly self-serve.
Stay tuned: more fascinating, semi-sloshed pub observations to come later.