Missing Comfort

As any fule kno, I am partial to the occasional visit to a pub.  [pause to let laughter die down]

But  not just any pub.  I have strict rules for places which charge me far too much for the pleasure of indulging myself, because if I am going to be hit with a $7 (or more) tab for a single beer (!!!), the establishment had better offer me more than just a pint.  Here’s a short list of necessities:

Decent beer.  Any bar in the U.S. which doesn’t give me a choice of at least three British-ale equivalents won’t see me after a single awful American beer, and never again as well.  (Curiously, I find Mexico’s Negra Modelo  to be the closest thing to a decent ale, although I do have to pour it from glass to glass a few times to get rid of the appalling and excessive fizz.)  If they serve Fuller’s London Pride or Boddington’s, then we can be friends and they can be assured of a follow-up visit (or two, or three).  And if the beer isn’t up to snuff, they’d damn well better have a decent selection of single-malts or gins, or else it’s to the door I’ll be heading.

No loud music.  I’ve talked before about my hatred for this piece of modernism, whereby the acceptable noise of drunken people having a good time has to be drowned out by music — any kind of music, really, not just the revolting  thumpa-thumpa  of hip-hop — as though the background noise of simple conversation and occasional laughter are somehow incompatible with drinking pleasure.

Loud TV programs.  I can live with this if a.) it’s a “sports” bar or b.) there’s a big game being played (e.g. Bears vs. Packers or Chelsea vs. Arsenal).  But if I walk into a bar and there’s a large-screen TV showing ESPN’s SportsCenter (i.e. people talking about sport instead of playing it), I turn around and walk out.  Don’t even get me started if it’s CNN, Fox News or (gawd help us) Oprah Winfrey (I had to endure that once — client lunch, so I had no control — and it took me days to recover).

A foot-rail at the bar counter.  This may seem a strange one, but it’s a critical part of drinking that’s too often overlooked.  Note this otherwise-excellent setup (in a private house, withal):

But the Arrow Of Accusation points to the missing piece, and the whole pub is ruined by the glaring omission.

It’s a simple thing, really.  I (and many others) actually prefer to drink standing up, and especially around the bar counter, where space is at a premium.  It’s the one time I don’t mind being in a crowd, because I am in the company of people with a common goal, that of getting a good buzz on and enjoying life, and I far prefer a crowded bar to a nearly-empty one, which is depressing.  If one is enjoying the company of a lady, standing close to her bar stool makes the whole activity more intimate, too.  But if you’re going to stand, you must have a rail to rest a foot on, because otherwise you get tired of standing.  (I don’t know why that it, but it’s a fact nevertheless.)  Look at this place:

That picture simply screams out that I’ll be there till closing time, or later (don’t ask; I’m still banned from The Blue Cow which, needless to say, served about five excellent ales — all of which I sampled extensively —  and had a brass foot-rail).

Decent decor.  I hate modernist interior design, as all my Readers know well, but while I prefer the traditional pub style, it doesn’t have to be that.  Here’s the inside of the fantastic Randolph’s Bar at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan:

…and yes of course it has a foot-rail at the counter.  And yes, I have been tossed out of that place too, several times, but always gently as I used to be a frequent guest there (hi, Carlo!).  On each of those occasions, the company was excellent and much disposed towards trying to finish all the Scotch in the place, but the atmosphere and decor did no harm to the attempt, either.

Here’s yet another of my favorite haunts, the Coq d’Or at the Drake Hotel in Chicago (where I do not have a tempestuous history, albeit not for lack of trying):

It’s a little hard to see (bottom left), but yes, there is a foot-rail, and it’s brass.

All this bar talk is making me thirsty.  And now, if you’ll excuse me, my post-birthday hangover needs a little TLC and that gin isn’t going to drink itself.

26 comments

  1. I prefer to do my, now minimal, drinking on the porch or at the fire pit. Plenty of bars made dam good money off my ass for the better part of 2 years and then one day I had an epiphany and realized I can barely tolerate anyone. Added in with the draconian drinking and driving laws, and it was clear my drinking needed to be at home, if at all. (remember when you could drink a beer while driving as long as you didn’t display drunk behavior?) As far as I’m concerned all the drinking establishments could close and it wouldn’t bother me. Notice I didn’t say they should be closed. I personally don’t care.

  2. Kim,
    Your fondness for The Classical is never more evident than in this posting. I too can easily see myself in any number of suchly decorated establishments, but I digress. This is truly an insight into your psyche … and there is this statement …
    > All this bar talk is making me thirsty. <
    I had me a Sam Smith oatmeal stout yesterday as part of my evening meal. That was nice.

  3. You can’t get decent British beer here because our refrigerators work. It was a revelation to me that the stuff actually tasted better warm though in general, I like my beer cold. I suppose you could let it sit out for a couple of hours.

    1. Ditto on the revelation. I’d always thought ice cold beer on a hot summer day was best.
      The two best tasting beers I’ve had:
      Rogue Red Ale straight out of the cooler, I recoiled at the taste. I left the mug on the kitchen counter and returned later to discover it was delicious.
      The other was a Budweiser from St. Louis, cool but not cold. The toasted rice flavor was also delicious.

      1. Rice is only good for 2 things, Sake, and…..ok, one thing, then. Whoever decided to put it in beer should be flogged. When discussing beer, Budweiser doesn’t fit the definition.

  4. On the subject of bar decor: There was a place near where I used to work in Manhattan that was a bar/seafood place (including a raw bar) that was decorated to look like an old-school bait/fishing shop, fishing gear and tackle boxes attached to the walls, even an old outboard motor on the shelf behind the bar. It came off as rather cluttered (in a nice way), but when you took a close look everything was spotlessly clean, not a trace of dust or grimes, they obviously took good care of the place. Many’s the time I went there after work for a few pints and a catfish po’boy.

    Contrast to a VERY famous place near another place I worked, where at least one well-known writer of the bygone era was known to frequent. Sitting at a table with my then-girlfriend having lunch, look up at the light fixture attached to the wall next to the booth, and see absolutely BLACK cobwebs that looked like they’d been there since the Johnson administration. Andrew, not Lyndon. Never ate there again, that’s not ambiance, that’s filth.

    As far as beer, the first good beer I ever tried was John Courage. Followed quickly by Bass (I like it, but if I have more than a couple it doesn’t agree with my stomach) and Guinness (set a bar record one evening at an old hang-out, 15 pints). I had Boddintons a couple times, but I suspect the keg was old because it didn’t taste right. I’ve also had other British beers in a bottle, like Old Speckled Hen and Samuel Smith.

    There are some very good micro-brew beers, and I like a lot of the Sam Adams varieties (especially because they keep the fruit/spice flavors subtle and allow the taste of the beer thru). My absolute favorite beer is Arrogant Bastard by Stone Brewing company, wonderful stuff but POTENT, you WILL get shitfaced if you’re not careful.

  5. Memories of real bars and I might add real bar tenders, I have had drinks at the Drake Hotel in Chicago and during the 1970’s I used to attend events at the Conrad Hilton across the street North of the Drake Hotel. I was usually there for three or four days and there were professional bar tenders who, after a couple of drinks would remember what I was drinking, working like demons to keep up with a large gathering at the end of the day, they would scan across, catch my eye, kind of point a finger and when I nodded have another Scotch and water in front of me. After the first day each year it was always a glance and nod and the drink on the bar in front of me. Having been used to young bar tenders who seemed to avoid eye contact when it came time to order another drink it was amazing to see those large, beefy looking professionals in action.

    1. Nein. I’m of German extraction and used to think that until I started to travel. Czechia really opened my eyes. Uhersky Brod is the best beer I’ve ever tasted. British beers have much to recommend them. There may be small brewery German beers I haven’t tasted that are still world class but too much German beer is mega-brewery stuff designed to be palatable everywhere in the world and it has lost it’s soul.

      Over here in Western Canada and down several hundred kilometers into Montana I am completely taken aback by the very high quality of beers produced by local microbreweries operated by small companies of beer crazy young men. Far better than anything I’ve had in either Europe or the UK.

      Of the scheisse they boil up in Bayern, we will not speak.

      1. Central European beer brewing is part of the same beer traditions as German beer, many of them are quite good so no complaint there from me.

        German beer is best consumed at at cafe on the sidewalk of some German town and ordering whatever the local brewery is. Walk a few more blocks and will likely be a different brewery served. Hard to do if you are not there.

        Mass market is mass market, but I would rather have Warsteiner or Dortmunder or Spaten dopplebock (etc…) than any mass market American, Brit or Canadian beer.

        Micro brewers are hit it miss, but mostly miss in my experience. They like the IPAs because they are hard to screw up, but the just are not good.

  6. Kim, you’re a great deal more tolerant than I; when I walk through the door I look for televisions and if I see more than two or three I do a 180 and go elsewhere. TVs are a litmus test for ambiance – they kill it because, for reasons I do not understand, humans are inordinately attracted to colorful moving images (is there an exercise establishment in the country not festooned with flat screens?).

    I’ll accept a screen or two behind the bar, never in a dining area, but on a separate note, there needs to be some attention devoted to the technicals of closed captioning; good closed captioning allows keeping the TV sound off, but when the captions interfere with the images it’s worthless and results in the sound being turned up, and extraneous noise is death to a highly social bar environment.

    1. Hear, hear! Televisions are the scourge of bars and restaurants. It’s bad enough that most people are looking at their phones (another brightly colored LED screen), even though I hate them if I’m in a bar or restaurant with TVs I find it almost impossible to not look at them (and the effort of trying not to look at them is, itself, an annoying distraction that makes it difficult to enjoy the experience.)

      I’m surprised nobody has yet thought to advertise that their establishment is “screen free” as I’m sure I’m not the only one who hates having those blinking, flashing lights constantly hovering over our field of view.

      Holy crap, we can’t go anywhere these days without bright LED screens in our faces. I got a new truck in 2018 and as much as I like it, there’s the damn TV screen right in the middle of the dashboard.

      1. Yes, minor quibble but it’s NegrA Modelo, not “Negro.” You know, Spanish and those Masculine/feminine adjectives. 😉

        And I have to agree with you on the beer, BTW. If I had to pick just one beer for the rest of my life it would be Negra Modelo, and I don’t even particularly like dark beers.

        Corona seems to have become the one-size-fits-all Mexican beer but as far as I’m concerned it’s just Budweiser from the other side of the Rio Grande. Give me a Negra Modelo (or its lager cousin, Modelo Especial) any day of the week.

  7. I’m especially with you on the subject of loud artificial sound in a bar. The roar of a crowd of people having a good time is wonderful, the shrieking of boomboxes, no.

    Another of my indicators of a proper pub is having a few local newspapers on hand.

  8. Any old pub will serve you a half-decent beer; the test of a good pub is the ciders they have on tap. Something better than Strongbow, please!

    I do not like my pubs loud. The low murmur of earnest coversation is best, IMHO.

    1. Agree on the noise as well. It’s funny how as I get older I get less tolerant of loud noise. I have some permanent hearing loss due to 23 years in the military (though also just as likely due to listening to loud music, riding a motorcycle without earplugs and hunting without hearing protection too.) You would think that having hearing loss would make me more tolerant of noise but it’s just the opposite.

      Wife got a Honda CR-V a few years back. Nice car but the interior noise grates on me. I remember being in my 20’s and 30’s and rolling my eyes every time some old-timer praised their Caddy or Oldsmobile for being so quiet, but as I get into those Oldsmobile-years myself, I now get it.

  9. A group of us used to get together Friday evenings at a local sports type bar. Usually managed to get the back room. This is when the Palm Pilot was new and one of our group had one with a universal TV remote app.

    Staff never did figure out how the TV in the room kept getting turned down to no volume when it was up out of reach and their remote was behind the bar.

    1. I remember a few years ago, I saw a device advertised called a “Universal Turn-off Remote”. It was the size of a thumb drive and could be carried on your key ring. It was for turning off those damnably obnoxious televisions that are everywhere nowadays. When you aimed it at a TV and pressed the single button, it went through all of the turn-off codes for every TV known at the time.

      There have been many times I wished I had one of those, but no, I didn’t order one because I thought it was too pricey.

  10. On Decor:
    Notice that the really nice bar-stools have a rung between the legs precisely at foot-rail level – An accommodation for when you sidle up to someone interesting sitting at the bar, and you can comfortably stand and converse for whatever length of time is indicated.
    BTW Kim, my apologies for not wishing you a Happy Birthday yesterday, and I hope your day went well, and you have many more.

  11. I too prefer your taste in bars, Kim, but it’s mostly because in places like that, I am not as likely to get into a bar fight with some obnoxious drunk with a chip on his shoulder.

  12. I can’t conceive of a reason to drink in what passes for a pub within 100 miles of where I live. Drunk GenXers on expense accounts or DC staffers on the public dole, too loud TVs and over-tatted and over-pierced mixologists who charge you $18 for a well bourbon and water. Hard pass.

    I have the good fortune to spend a month or so in Carmathan, Wales each summer at my BIL’s “Summer Home” (it is also his winter, spring and fall home), located a short walk from a very adequate Brain’s Public House. Their cask bitter is pleasant enough and they generally keep the noise level down. Regrettably, they are forced to appeal to a younger crowd with trivia nights and that sort of claptrap, but we’re usually done for the night before that starts.

    As soon as the two bonus sons manage to graduate college and move on, their rather spacious TV lounge will be magically converted to a home pub along the lines of your second picture above, sans TV of course.

  13. Public Bar
    (Miles Wootton)

    Early one evening
    Just as the pubs were opening
    A traveler was walking down
    A cold and windy street
    He saw a door ajar
    He stepped in a public bar
    Said, “Landlord, I would like a drink
    And something good to eat.

    I fancy some crusty bread
    And roast beef of old England
    Some fresh butter from the churn
    A pickled onion too
    And if you think you could
    Draw some bitter from the wood
    I’d be quite content to quaff
    A gentle pint or two

    I’ll sit down by your pine log fire
    And ponder on the infinite
    The quiet of your hostelry
    Shall seep into my heart
    And if a regular
    Should come into the bar
    Maybe I’ll entice him in
    A contest of the dart.”

    “Come in,” says the landlord, “I’ve got
    Pre-packed beef paste sandwiches
    And instant frozen sausages
    Which I purchase by the ton
    So if you fancy it
    I could defrost a bit
    And serve it up with ketchup
    On a supermarket bun

    I’ll pour you a plastic pot
    Of quaint old English ready-brew
    As advertised on telly
    By a famous rugby scrum
    No dirty wooden barrels here
    We only keep hygienic beer
    Safely sterilized inside
    This aluminium drum

    So sit down by the pine log fire
    I’ll switch the logs on presently
    Maybe you would like to try
    My brand new fruit machine
    Three cherries in a row
    Will set your heart aglow
    My jukebox plays some rock and roll
    That will really set the scene.”

    So the traveler sat down beside
    The polystyrene inglenook
    Plastic beads were swaying
    To an electronic sound
    He started to bite and chew
    He took a sip of ready-brew
    He gave a ghastly gurgle
    And fell dead upon the ground

    “O dear, ” says the landlord
    As he switched the color telly on
    “Another fatal accident
    The third this week, I fear
    If they cannot hold their own
    Why can’t they stay at home
    I must say that we get some funny
    Customers in here”

    copyright Miles Wootton

  14. In Eugene Oregon, a few days ago during the last day at the gym prior to the latest closure per dictate by Oregon unelected governess Kate ‘Moonbeam’ Brown, a bunch of us gym regulars agreed to meet at Houndstooth pub for Taco Tuesday.

    I pulled into the parking-lot, saw a half-dozen television sets, and pulled out.
    A pub is for talking with companions.
    The last time I owned a television set was sometime last century.
    I have zero-zero-zero interest in televisionprogramming.
    For me, joining with friends is essential.

    *****

    I visit elderly shut-ins.
    Thursday afternoon — the gym was shuttered by dictate — the bunch of us, non-masked FYVM, watched FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS on televisionprogramming at the home of an acquaintance.

    According to the semi-documentary, a tiny seaside village gained fame through their choir.
    The town center is a crowded pub.
    No music, no televisionprogramming, just talking and singing… and letting folks know you care.

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