Last in the pub series
What can I say about British pubs? Well, they are home! From your generic Wetherspoons with its 1970s carpet and flowery plates, to your local that has been in the family for generations, British pubs are irreplaceable.
Many pubs have similar features, from the warmth of the sofas to the wooden floor of the back function room, most pubs have characteristics just like the people who drink in them. There are many categories of pubs, from the generic mold of a Wetherspoons, or many other chain pubs, to the individually owned public houses. There is a pub for everybody and some pubs for just a few people.
Pubs have a variety of different features but core characteristics are key, and one of these is the ability to buy a nice cold large pint. The lager is probably the most important aspect, other than the people of the pub. The ability to sit on a wet afternoon with a group of friends, sinking pints whilst talking rubbish is what it’s all about. It’s therapy from the outside miserable world.
Rise of the chain pub
Let’s start with one of my local pubs in Swindon, The Savoy. It’s an old cinema that has been converted in the middle of the derelict town centre, into one of the finest underrated drinking establishments in Swindon. Many people slag it off because it has a bad reputation for serving beer all day, however most of the trouble is during the night.
This was my first venture into Wetherspoons, and welcome one it was. Where else can you buy a round of drinks and shots for less than £20? The thing about Wetherspoons is you know what you are getting, it’s safe. That’s why on many a night out, between the ages of 18 and 26, I would often start off or finish up at the Savoy pub.
As you walking the heavy doors at the Savoy, past the smoking area with a multitude of different characters in it, you are met with the grand staircase, decorated with old movie posters and pictures, and the giant room full of bookshelves and badly upholstered seats. If you are worse for wear then you may find it difficult to navigate the stairs, as the carpet is one mono tone brown shade. As you walk down the stairs you are greeted with a large bar that extends the whole length of the pub, and you can take your drink from one of the overwhelmed bar staff. If it’s a Saturday night you can look around the room to see if you know anybody, if not then you can buy yourself another shot.
This is probably going to be the biggest decision of the night, do you go left or right. If you are looking at doors then the left-hand side is the non-smoking area and the right hand side is the dirty, grotty old smoking area. You haven’t been able to smoke in there for 10 years but it’s how I remember it, and the cool kids with multicoloured hair and bad dress sense still sit there. Probably the same ones from 10 years ago.
Once you’ve sat down you might want to look at the menu, however on a Monday I would never look at the menu, as when I started coming here it was £1.50 for a pint of lager. Although, if it was any other day of the week you might be in luck and there might be a type food club on such as, Curry club, Sunday club, Chicken club or Steak club. The great thing about this is, for less than £10 you can have an alcoholic drink and a standard set meal. No hidden cost and extras if you want them. Okay, it’s not going to be Michelin star level food but it’s a lot better than an overpriced McDonald’s.
Till this day, many people who I know from my drinkinghood still go there on Christmas Eve night. It’s a graveyard of girls that rejected you and people you’ve argued with when you were drunk, but they normally are welcome you with an awkward hello.
I have seen many things in this pub over the years, people stood on dark wood chipped tables, spinning their penis like a helicopter. People playing slaps getting knocked out, people screaming at each other and downing bottles of wine for losing at the arcade machine. Many of my friends have had to down Wray and nephew whiskey as part of a dare, I managed to chicken out of this on my stag do.
As you can tell, in this place you could see anything. On a few occasions people are asked “how did you get banned from Savoy?”
Eventually they are allowed back, it’s probably more forgiving than the Church upstairs.
The last of the traditional pubs
Another category and the most beloved category of any British town, village or city has to be its traditional British pub.
There is honestly one for every situation that you can think of. Somebody has died? Wake in the pub. Got to pick up drugs? Wait in the pub. Quiet night? A few in the pub. Going to start the night off? Get the first ones in at the pub. Birthday? Pub. Announcement? Pub. Christmas reunion? Pub. Flight delayed? Pub. On holiday in Malaga? Pub.
Yet, there are some times that it should be illegal to not to go to the pub. One of these is a country walk in a village, that you possibly can’t afford to live in. We have all done it, gone out on a Sunday with the Mrs or family and gone for a nice walk, but after about 30 minutes of walking or not being able to park the car, you end up in a country pub. These are rather obscure places, as they only ever see customers at the weekends or when the local festivals are on. In the week it’s couples having liaisons and locals.
They normally have something that resembles the local area, such as photos or strange metal placards reminding the locals of the time before the generic shops on the High Street. Pubs really are one of the last standing things in the small villages. Even small villages nowadays have a Tesco, generic banks, a phone shop and no post office. Maybe a shit hair salon though. Yet, the pub is the last bastion against the globalised 21st-century.
These pubs are generally in very picturesque places and normally have luscious green pub gardens, with a derelict children’s play area, remember to watch your children on this, as they are more likely to hurt themselves, due to the 40-year-old drunk guy rather than the instability of the play equipment. These pubs are trying to keep up with modern times and often have good reviews on websites and normally have a very good chef, because if there’s one thing they can guarantee people will come back for, it’s good food.
Finally, I would like to mention the pub that everybody has, the local. These are pubs that are generally visited by people after work to get away from their wives and children, or they may be groups of workmates meeting up just so we don’t have to go home yet.
The great thing about these pubs is it doesn’t matter who owns it, but nowadays it’s normally a local businessman or a local brewery. They have friendly regular staff and there is normally some bright characters that actually make the pub, for it is not the furnishings, the crap jukebox or the pint prices that make the pub, it’s the people in it.
My local pub, in Swindon, is called the Southbrook. I have been going there on and off for years, from drinking Coke and eating Walker’s crisps in the pub garden to crawling home on my 18th birthday because I drank too much Southern comfort.
As you enter the thin corridor, there are thick wooden beams above your head holding up this old farmhouse that has probably seen more drunks than a retired police officer. After you’ve battled your way through the smells of the smoking area and the toilets, you are poised with the choice to go left or right again. This is where the men’s bar and the family bar used to be. You go right if you want one of the enormous plates of home cooked delicious food, or you can go left to the real bar.
In here you will find little space to walk but a welcoming place to have a drink. With wooden pews that look like they belong in a church to the dark red brick walls, this is a traditional pub. It has extended back room with creaky wooden floors and an overused pool table, I have spent a lot of time at putting the world to rights here, whilst trying to chalk up my pool cue, pretending that it would make a difference to the game.
After a few visits the locals will warm up to you and you can join in the banter and debate after the quiz night. A local brewery has recently taken over this pub and is trying to keep it alive, they are doing a good job of this, but they had a big name to live up to.
The food remains home-cooked and you get more than you pay for, and the beer remains tasty yet cheap. This is one of the pubs that I can happily relax in and I feel like I’m sitting in my own living room. The new owners are trying new things to try to retain and increase customers, it seems to be working to an extent, but they must find it difficult with the rise of hipster cafes and concept pubs.
Pubs encompass the best and the worst of the British character. They can be warm and welcoming or nasty and racist, but it is not the pub that can dictate this, it’s the customers. So if you are lucky enough to come across a gem of a pub, keep it, hold it and cherish it and help keep the pub going. For pubs are like living beings, so keep them alive.