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.