An explanation of British pubs, booze and the importance of getting your round in.
So, the crime has been solved, the villains vanquished and the paperwork filled in down at the Yard. Greg invites Sherlock and John down to the pub for a celebratory pint, and John treads firmly enough on Sherlock’s left foot to smother whatever impolite comment he was going to make and says yes on behalf of them both. Let’s follow them into the mysterious realm of the British pub…
Except it’s not that mysterious really, just a typically British hodge-podge mix of tradition and modernity, with a good helping of strange customs and language that seem calculated to confuse the foreign visitor (or someone trying to write a scene set there).
First off – note that Greg has invited them to “the pub”, not a bar. Pub stems from “public house”, and there are several distinct types of pubs you may encounter from the hundreds of years old former tavern full of oak beams and character to modern steel-and-glass buildings, rural pubs that double as holiday accommodation (see The Cross Keys in Hound), “gastropubs” that specialise in food and are half pub half restaurant, Irish-theme pubs, chain pubs run by a major brewery or an “old man pub” run by someone of indeterminate antiquity who hasn’t changed the décor or given the tables more than a cursory wipe with a damp cloth since about 1954. There are over 50,000 pubs in the UK so you can always keep trying them out until you find the perfect one to be your local!
Pubs are run by a licensee typically known as the landlord/landlady (who often lives in the building) and are staffed by barman or barmaids (who aren’t generally keen on being called “wenches”, at least not by strangers). Pubs may be “tied” to a certain brewing company meaning they can only sell the drinks that company produces or gives them permission to stock, or they may be a “freehouse” that trades independently. There are some drinking establishments referred to as bars in the UK – such as wine bars, cocktail bars, “American-style” sports bars or the student bar within a university student’s union – but these are different from pubs, though the line does start to blur in some areas. You can tell if a place is a pub because of factors such as the name and the pub sign. Pubs in the UK have particularly idiosyncratic names – whether as a nod to a particular time in history, or in honour of a local figure or royalty, after animals or even innuendo-ish puns. Common pub names (not chains, just names used by many individual pubs across the country) include the Red Lion, the Royal Oak, the Swan, the New Inn the Ship Inn and so forth – while the Dirty Duck and Dogs Bollocks are more unusual examples. There’s even a pub named The Sherlock Holmes near Charing Cross in London. There is a lengthy and amusing Wikipedia article on the subject for those who are interested. The names are accompanied by the classic wooden pub sign that swings out above the front door, which visually depicts the name either in a direct or indirect way and was once a means by which illiterate customers could recognise what the pub was called.
I just want to briefly drift off course for a moment to explain about the British attitude to pubs. Pubs are more than just a place to go and drink alcohol. For many people their local pub is the centre of their social lives, with the band of “regulars” making up an extended family that they see every night of the week. Three quarters of the adult population visit pubs and a third go at least once a week; the pub can be a home-away-from-home. Particularly in remote rural areas the village pub may be the heart of the local community – it’s a social space to meet people and chat for all generations in the village, and births, weddings and funerals may be marked there. Sadly pubs have been somewhat in decline in the UK; a recent survey showed that 25 were closing each week, and boarded-up pubs are a common sight in most towns and cities. It’s been theorised that this is at least partly due to supermarkets undercutting pubs by selling cheap alcohol for people to drink at home, but the smoking ban has also played a part. Up until July 2007 you could smoke in pubs and many people did, but since the ban smokers have been forced outside when they want a cigarette – not so fun in the rain or the depths of winter. It has been theorised that those smokers who found this too restrictive have just given up going to the pub entirely, hitting revenues. Whatever the reason, many pubs are not widely thriving as businesses, but they are still an important part of British life.
In the Pub
Back on course! Once you (or Sherlock, John and Greg) are inside the pub, if it a traditional older building then you may see two separate areas – the public bar area next to the bar counter with a wooden floor, and then the “saloon” or “lounge” area with a vibrantly-patterned carpet on the floor. This is a holdover from a time when pubs were divided along class lines, with the public bar area being open to the working people while the middle class drinkers kept to the saloon with its more comfortable booths and cushioned chairs. In some pubs there were also extra private areas called “snugs” that were used (in ye olden times) by unaccompanied women and people who didn’t want to be seen drinking in the pub, such as on-duty policemen. In many pubs that serve food the divide may now be kept to the sit-down restaurant area in the old saloon where you can get full meals and the drinking area in the public bar which is limited to “bar snacks”, but more modern pubs may serve both food and drinks across the whole of the establishment.
You may see some rather unusual things in a British pub, including teenagers throwing darks, gangs of people crowded into a skittle alley (a precursor to ten-pin bowlring) or some old men chuckling away in the corner playing dominoes or cribbage. No, you haven’t got lost and ended up in some sort of youth club or day centre! To start with, children and teenagers are allowed in most pubs if they are accompanied by adults. Lots of pubs market themselves as family areas and serve children’s meals and have ball pits or play parks outside so parents can have a drink or two with friends while the kids are busy playing. Older teenagers may be perfectly legally drinking a pint at the bar – the drinking age is 18 in the UK, though many younger teenagers manage to buy the odd drink even younger than that. They’re more likely to get away with buying booze from a shop and drinking it in the park or at home than in a pub though, since ID checking is widespread and fines for illegally supplying alcohol to minors are high. But even adults enjoy what are known as “pub games” – activities such as skittles and darts where there may be “pub leagues” that challenge other local teams, maybe a snooker or pool table, and more informal tabletop activities like shove ha’penny, card games and board games. All but the most “trendy” and modern pubs should at least have a dartboard somewhere and a pack of cards behind the bar for you to borrow, and many pubs run pub quizzes once a week where teams compete for cash prizes or money behind the bar. This all ties in with the pub being a social space for companionship and recreation rather than just drinking.
If you want to leave the skittles and darts to one side for now then you are free to seat yourselves at any tables or booths you choose, though if a pub is busy you may have to play a calculated waiting game to get a good table (also in some mostly-locals-only make sure you’re not sitting in the seats that are unspokenly reserved for VIP regulars). At this point, if you are expecting waiter service then you may be thirsty for quite some time – you go up and order drinks for yourself at the bar, then carry them back with you.
Getting a round in
But wait! Don’t all get up! If everyone in the pub goes up to order an individual drink all at once then you will wait forever to get served, so British drinkers often use a “round” system where one person takes orders for everyone and buys a round of drinks. This means less people standing at the bar and the barman/barmaid can do larger orders rather than dozens of single ones, plus if the rounds are timed right people shouldn’t be left with empty glasses for too long and the drinks should be regularly topped up. When those drinks are nearly finished then someone else will get up and get the next round, and so on, until the pattern repeats itself. But really the main reason behind round buying is the reciprocal exchanging of drinks between friends, with the gift of drinks being bought and accepted between the group. This should not be a mathematically exact system and you should not agonise over it; any sign of being particularly focussed on the cost of the drinks and how the rounds are playing out signals you as a miser or a generally ill-mannered. Or foreign (we might forgive you the first time in that case).
It may all seem quite odd and potentially unfair. If there are four people and only three rounds are bought over the course of a drinking session, the fourth person has been bought three free drinks and has not paid out for anything. If that pattern continues week in week out then something would be wrong, but in practice that person should just make sure that next week they get up and volunteer to get a round in early in the evening, without making too much of a big deal of it. Over a period of time (and assuming the people you are drinking with are your friends, you’ll probably be drinking with them again) it should all roughly balance out between each member of the group. If it doesn’t and you make no efforts to correct the situation then you are not playing fair, and then either consciously or subconsciously you will be noticed and singled-out as being a tight-fisted bastard. Comments will be made and if you don’t start paying your way then your invitations to the pub will probably start to taper off.
There are times that rounds don’t work so well – one of those is when one or more parties in the group are not drinking alcoholic drinks. If someone is on orange juice or tap water then it is not generally considered fair to expect them to fork out for six expensive pints of beer in exchange for their cheaper (or free) soft drink, though in some social groups round buying is considered so fundamental that the non-drinker would still have to participate regardless of the disproportionate cost involved. Difficulties may also arise if some members of the group are drinking much faster or slower than others – individuals may end up opting out of a round so they don’t have to “keep up” with the rate that others are drinking (though this may also be frowned upon in a group with a “macho” drinking culture). Similarly if one person is on the cheapest beer in the pub and someone else wants the expensive top-shelf scotch it can result in tensions between the group; much like ordering fillet steak and lobster at a restaurant where you’re splitting the bill, picking out particularly expensive drinks in a round when someone else is buying isn’t really on.
Couples can be another thorny issue – whether a couple should individually participate in the round or be considered a joint entity that share round-buying responsibilities seems to vary depending on factors such as age. Indeed many men of older generations or with traditional views may not be willing to accept women buying them drinks – even as part of a round. For example if Mrs Hudson were to accompany John and Greg to the pub then I could see them refusing to accept her buying them drinks as part of a round out of a sense of traditional politeness; whereas maybe if it were Molly she would probably insist on buying her round since she is of a generation where the independence of women being able to buy their own drinks is considered important. This is much the same as on dates – men with old-fashioned views tend to try to insist on buying all drinks for both parties, while those of a younger or more equal-minded disposition accept that many women like to be seen to pay their own way.
Anyway, the intricacies of round etiquette can be debated in the pub for hours, but the key point is that it is supposed to be a way of joining together, sharing hospitality and buying your friends a drink then being “treated” in return. If you are arguing over the 50p difference that so-and-so spent last week and nearly coming to blows over it all, then you are doing it wrong. I imagine that Sherlock probably rolls his eyes a lot at the unspoken social niceties behind tipping.
So once you, or Greg, or whoever is at the bar and ready to order, this is where the British predilection for neat orderly queues seems to break down as everyone just arranges themselves haphazardly along the bar. If it is very busy then you may even be standing two or three people deep, and the whole thing looks chaotic. But while it may not be quite like waiting in a line for a bus, everyone is actually paying close attention to the order in which each person has arrived and the barman/maid will try to serve people in that order. It is considered most impolite to queue-jump by waving your hand around or shouting your order before it is your turn; you should just loiter in an apparently unconcerned (but attentive) manner until you are asked what you would like. If it is very busy and the barman/maid can’t keep an exact note of each person then you can make calculated eye contact with them when it is approaching your turn, or you can gesture subtly with your glass or money to say “hello, I’m next!” but you should still try to not be too brash with it. If the barman/maid comes up to you when you know that the person next to you should have been first, it is polite to indicate this and let them make their order before you.
So, after all that, what’ll you have?
If you’re drinking beer or cider (more on that later) then unless you specifically ask for something that is sold in a bottle it comes as a pint or a half pint, “on tap”. The beer would be draught beer from a keg or a cask-conditioned ale. You ask the barman/maid for “a pint of X, please” or “a half of X, please”. In some social groups halves may be considered a “girly” option for men, or women drinking full pints may be considered “laddish”; it’s a bit of a non-metric minefield but as it’s the 21st century really just order whatever you like. When you order you can either be specific about a brand or named beer, or just ask for a pint of lager or bitter and they will give you whatever the default of that type of beer happens to be in their establishment. Few pubs have ye olde tankard style mugs – standard no-handle pint glasses are the norm, often branded with a particular type of beer or brewing company on the glass. Some niche beers may have a particular glass of a different shape, for example a goblet style glass that you get with Leffe (a Belgian beer), but that is a bit on the posh side for some pubs where pretty or unusual glasses may go “walkies” too often for the pub to stock them (student pubs are particularly bad for this, most student kitchens have about 30 stolen pint glasses in their cupboards).
Better-informed people than me have written vast tomes on the subject of beer and ales in the UK and I am no expert (though I like a nice real ale) so I will not try to rival them for breadth and depth of knowledge on the subject. This is an outline sketch that should highlight the main points to be aware of. Firstly, types of beer you may encounter range from the commercial mass-produced big-brand lagers such as Carling, Stella Artois, Carlsberg, Fosters to the small, independently produced “real ales”. The big brands are obviously the best place to start! Lager seems to be the default beer for many particularly younger male drinkers – it tends to be pale in colour, fizzy (it is carbonated as it is dispensed) and slightly sweet, and is served cold. It has something of a poor reputation in the sense that gangs of drunken young men may be called “lager-louts”, but around 70% of the beer consumed in the UK is of this type. The other main category of beer is bitter – which as the name suggests, tends to have more of a tangy flavour to it, and is an ale made with hops that ranges from pale gold to amber in colour. I’d fancy that Greg was probably drinking a bitter at the pub in Hound rather than a fizzy lager. Well-known names include Boddingtons and John Smith’s, but there are many regional varieties. Then there are also stouts, dark and creamy, with Guinness being known around the world - by the looks of it John might have been drinking a half of Guinness or some other dark beer when Sherlock was talking to Fletcher outside the pub. That is a very broad picture since there are also milds, wheat beers, porters, pale ales, barley wines and many other types of beer, but all pubs would have at the minimum a couple of lagers, bitters and most likely Guinness on tap. Many pubs also stock a few types of bottled beer such as Becks, Corona (which is usually served with a gratuitous lime wedge in the neck) or Peroni.
Moving away from the mass market are real ales, which is a term used for “live” beer that is conditioned in the cask, rather than being finished, conditioned and sterilised back at the brewery like a keg beer. You can get real ales ranging from golden pale ales to amber bitters to the thickest, darkest porters; it is an umbrella term for all beers produced in this traditional way. There are over 2,500 different types of real ale produced in the UK – Camra (the campaign for real ale group) are the go-to experts on the subject. There used to be quite a beard-and-jumpers nerdy image to real ale, but with the advance of “foodie” interests and localism there has been quite a real ale resurgence, and many pubs have a permanent real ale or two on tap from a local brewery and then feature rotating “guest ales” to allow people to sample new beers. I joined the university “Real Ale and Cider Society” as a 20 year old female student, and while beards and jumpers were evident amongst some of the other members I was by no means the only girl there! If a pub can’t have a real ale on tap then it may keep some in bottles. These shouldn’t be in a fridge – ales are not generally kept cold like lager, just slightly chilled. Casks would be the temperature of where they are kept – down in the cellar of the pub. If an ale is served at fridge temperature then it is too cold for the drinker to get the full benefit of the complex flavours. However it shouldn’t be actively “warm” either, because no one wants to drink anything at hot-summer-day room temperature. Cellar temperature is generally considered to be about 12-14 degrees centigrade (53-57 Fahrenheit).
Cider is something else you may care for a pint of. Now I am led to believe that cider is a term used for apple juice in the US, and that to get something boozy you have to specify that you want “hard cider”. Well here all cider is boozy, so be careful what you buy in the supermarkets to give to small children! Cider is fermented apple juice, and has quite distinct social connotations depending on the type you drink. There is traditional cider, which is a beverage associated with rural areas – particular the South West of England (where I am from) – where it may be called scrumpy. It would have been made by farmers on-site, cloudy and unfiltered, and drunk locally varying enormously from village to village – proper cider can be very sweet or very dry, or can just strip paint from passing cars as you drink it. Some smaller producers continue this tradition with some pretty rough stuff! Then there are the larger producers that have attached themselves to this image, but have brought it to the mass-market with brands such as Magners and Bulmers. They have marketed cider to a younger, trendy crowd with adverts involving sun-kissed apple groves, music festivals and serving it in a glass with ice. Again, serving things that cold only suggests that you don’t really want people to taste the rather bland product you’ve produced. They also make some “flavoured ciders” such as blackcurrant cider or red berries cider, or even toffee apple cider, which are pretty much uniformly sweet and chemically tasting but appeal to some younger drinkers. I can’t say I particularly approve, but it has certainly worked for their balance sheets. Other big brands that have been around for years include Strongbow, Blackthorn and Woodpecker – all producing a fairly standard commercial cider, without the same music festival vibes as the newer brands. Finally, not available in pubs but dwelling in the corner shops and off licences of the UK are what is termed “white ciders”. These have names such as White Lightning, Diamond White and Frosty Jack, and are cheap, fizzy, sweet, high alcohol (7.5%) ciders. They are bought pretty much exclusively by alcoholics, tramps and underage teenagers who want something cheap, palatable and high in alcohol to drink the park. Steer clear.
Side note: perry is a drink made from fermented pear juice and tends to be lumped in with cider to the point that is sometimes called “pear cider”, but it is less commonly available than the apple variety. Like cider you have your traditional small producers who create some amazingly varied perries, and then a more mass-market approach with Brothers, Gaymers and Bulmers all making what they call pear ciders, and again needlessly “flavouring” them with blackcurrant and other fruits. A lighter, sparkling form of perry is sold as something of a lower alcohol wine-alternative, with brands includng Babycham and Lambrini; both associated with female drinkers and looked at as quite a “down-market” drink.
Wine, spirits, soft drinks and beyond
I am incredibly far from being a wine expert so I will just skip the topic entirely beyond saying that you can buy it in a pub as a small glass, a large glass or a bottle. And that it comes in red, white and pink (rosé). Which are all nice, in my distinctly uncultured opinion. Spirits and cocktails are much the same across the world, so I won’t linger on those beyond saying that everywhere will do you common drinks such as a spirit and a mixer, but most pubs will do a limited range of “fancy” cocktails – a proper cocktail bar is the place to go for a decent selection of carefully crafted complex mixed drinks. Spirits-wise I would love to spend a long, lingering section of this essay discussing Mycroft’s possible Scotch habits, but frankly I only take whisky on a medicinal basis with honey and lemon so I am clearly woefully under qualified to venture there. Needless to say that the sort of Scotch he probably favours would not be found behind most pub bars; he would need to go somewhere quite exclusive or stick to the Diogenes. Just note that Scotch whisky is spelt without an e as contrasted with Irish and American whiskies.
In terms of other pub drinks there was a distinct alcopop craze in the UK a few years back with so-called “hard lemonade” leading on to a million and one different variations on day-glo, sweet beverages, and various media outcries over companies targeting children with youth-friendly alcohol. They are certainly an easier gateway for young drinkers (who want something fruity that doesn’t really taste of alcohol) than the traditional shared bottle of cheap cider in the park! The big alcopop brands that remain include Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezers and WKD (name-checked in Hound) which comes in a rather shocking blue colour and is allegedly “mixed fruit flavour” but frankly tastes like toilet cleaner. Few people over the age of 21 (or even 18 to be honest) voluntarily drink alcopops.
There are some further particular ways you can order a non-standard drink at a bar. A shandy is where beer is combined with lemonade to create a lower alcohol drink; at its weakest it is barely alcoholic and may be served to children, but when it is stronger (say up to 2% so about half-strength) it is restricted in the same way as other alcoholic drinks. It may be the choice of someone who is driving or pregnant so has to watch what they drink but who doesn’t want to avoid alcohol entirely. Conversely there is another drink called a “lager top” that is almost a full pint of beer that just has an inch or so of lemonade floating on the top, which seems fairly pointless but is evidently to some people’s taste! There is also the “half and half” which combines two beers of different types; this sort of drink is subject to a lot of regional variations and local names, but it may be a half of bitter and a half of mild, or a pale ale and Guinness. With some beers it may be called a black and tan due to the mixture of colours and layering effect, but this is a controversial name in parts of the UK due to associations with British-Irish history. “Snakebite” is the particular name given to a drink made by combining half a pint of lager with half a pint of cider. It is rumoured that mixing your drinks in this way makes you drunk faster, or that it particularly affects some people and makes them aggressive or manic, to the point that serving snakebite is banned in some pubs. Snakebite and black is the same drink with added blackcurrant cordial which makes it red, and thus traditionally attractive to Goths and novelty-seeking students. Plus since it is sweeter, again it appeals to the younger drinker. The result can often be pink vomit. Lovely.
Finally, if you are not drinking booze then you can find a good range of soft drinks to order instead. Typically these would include the normal fizzy drinks such as cola and lemonade, cordials such as lime and blackcurrant you can mix with lemonade or soda water, juices – at the very least orange, but maybe apple juice, cranberry juice and pineapple juice (this often depends on what type of cocktail range the pub offers) and then purpose-designed branded soft drinks, with J20 being the typical offering. This is a ready-mixed fruit juice soft drink in a bottle that comes in flavours such as orange and passion fruit or apple and mango. They tend to be very sweet. If you don’t want to make it obvious that you aren’t drinking alcohol (for whatever reason) then a J20 is not the way to go; however a glass of soda water and lime looks like a gin and tonic, and a glass of cola could be taken for a rum and coke. Being Britain, you can probably get a cup of tea (or coffee) in most pubs as well.
All that pondering what to order is hard work, and you or Greg might need a fortifying snack. All pubs should have some sort of food on offer, even if it is just a few packets of crisps (that’s chips to you, US folk) as John was after in Hound to help soak up the booze. While you sometimes find little dishes of peanuts or some other salty snack freely available at the bar, this isn’t a universal practice – in most pubs you have to buy snacks if you want them.
A few foodie-inclined pubs may do posh bar snacks like pieces of bruschetta with tomato and basil, or some sort of charcuterie from their own pig that they butcher and cure themselves in the pub garden. That is all a bit fancy. The more common pub snacks tend to hang from sheets of cardboard behind the bar: little suspended packets of pork scratchings (deep fried salted pig skin, apparently called pork rinds in the US or just pig snacks according to Sean of the Dead (and off-topic The Winchester is a very good example of a local pub in all its British glory)), peanuts, other nuts and crisps. There are particular types of such snacks that strongly associated with pubs and only sold on those sheets of cardboard, including the Smiths brand “savoury selection” that consists of scampi fries, bacon fries (both actually crisps) and the curiously named “cheese moments” (which I can’t even begin to explain, but they’re nice). Jars of ghostly pickled eggs are, in my opinion, just decorative, but if they are to your taste then dive in!
Many such snacks are eaten by adults while drinking in the pub, and they should really be shared by tearing open the packet and letting other people help themselves to a few of your crisps/nuts/what-have-you. There is also quite a tradition that when children are taken to the pub and you want them out of your hair while you chat with friends you keep them occupied by buying them a lemonade and a packet of crisps to go and eat quietly somewhere else.
More substantial bar snacks may be on offer in some pubs that do food – you may find a full menu in the restaurant area and then a “bar menu” where you can obtain things like sandwiches, burgers, chips and so on to eat in the bar area. If you are really lucky they may have a toasted sandwich maker and can do you a cheese and ham toastie – the perfect thing after a few pints (another Sean of the Dead reference here, but their mention of “a Breville out back” is talking about a common type of toasted sandwich maker).
Just a word as you or Greg reach into your pocket to pay – tipping is a bit of an awkward topic in the UK, since we get all funny and embarrassed when talking about money and don’t like to do anything straightforwardly. Tipping in restaurants is a very established thing and no-one thinks twice about leaving cash on the table for their waiter, but tipping in bars is different. Sometimes there will be a tip jar in evidence, and then it is fine, but otherwise you do not usually tip a barman/maid in cash directly. They would probably accept it if you said to keep the change (unless the pub has rules about such things for their staff) and be perfectly happy if you offered them a pound coin or two as thanks for an order, but it is considered to be a bit of a crass way about expressing your thanks. The “appropriate” way to tip a barman/maid is to convolutedly say “and one for yourself?” or something along those lines when they bring you your drinks, and they then add the cost of a reasonably cheap drink to your bill. Whether the barman/maid then actually takes a drink themselves varies – some pubs don’t let their staff drink alcohol while working, and if it is busy they can’t physically drink all the thank-you drinks they are offered so it is really just an indirect cash tip they can collect later, but if a regular buys a drink for the landlord or the usual barmaid then it is a friendly gesture and it would be expected that the drink is actually consumed.
So you or Greg have carried your pints back to the table and John is tutting as Sherlock works his way through several packets of cheese and onion crisps now the case is over and he’s discovered he’s suddenly famished. They can settle in for a pleasant end to the evening, and I’ve got just a few more points that didn’t fit in anywhere else but were either relevant, interesting or just random.
Costs: the average cost of a pint of bitter in the UK is apparently around £3, but prices vary considerably. Generally London is going to be particularly expensive, rural areas may be cheaper than cities (but then again the greater competition in cities leaders to competitively cheaper pricing) and the North of the country is cheaper than the South. You won’t find many small glasses of wine or spirits and a mixer for less than £3 either, while “premium” bottled drinks can soon reach an eye-watering £5 or even more for a single drink. Soft drinks are a bit cheaper – maybe £2 or so for a pint of cola – and tap water should be given out free on request.
Last orders: pubs are governed by licensing hours, and at different times these have been quite restrictive. Until recently pubs had to close at 11pm, or more specifically they couldn’t serve alcohol beyond this time. A bell would be rung just beforehand and the barman/maid would call out “last orders”, indicating that this was the last chance to get in a request for a drink. “Time, ladies and gentlemen” then indicates that the bar is closed for further orders. You would then have a period of “drinking up time” to finish this last drink before the pub would be closed. If the landlord and regulars wanted to drink beyond 11pm then a “lock-in” might be arranged, where the front door would be locked and the pub was ostensibly closed but drinks would still be served to those who wanted them, often including members of the local constabulary who were supposed to enforce the licensing laws! Now landlords can apply to their local councils to vary their hours and may choose to stay open for an extra few hours on Friday and Saturday nights, or as a one-off for a party.
Drinking outside: we might not have quite the climate for the sitting-outside café culture of some of our warmer European neighbours, but many pubs do have “beer gardens” or at least a few benches set out outside where you can sit and drink in nice weather. If it is ever even slightly warm and sunny then the beer gardens of Britain fill up with people soaking up the sun and having a few drinks with their friends. All the smokers who haven’t been put-off by the ban on smoking indoors also congregate just outside the pub when they want a smoke, often with the non-smoking members of the group accompanying them so they don’t have to interrupt their chat. Some pubs set up little shelters or gazebos for their smoking regulars with gas patio heaters in the winter.
Beermats: in most pubs there will be beermats on the bar and on the tables. These are slim cardboard coasters that soak up any split beer, so don’t tend to last that long and get thrown away when they start to fall apart. They are printed with promotional messages either advertising beers or brewers, or other campaigns such as anti-drink driving, messages about sexual health, from political groups and so on. Some people collect beermats and have many thousands of different examples (there’s even a British Beermat Collecting Society) and they often get used in tricks when people are trying out “bar magic” after a few pints.
Pub dogs: all good pubs will have a “pub dog”. This may be a dog that lives in the pub with the landlord, or a dog that belongs to a regular who is in the pub so much that it pretty much lives there anyway. The best sort of pub dogs are little scruffy terriers, but larger breeds of a sleepy disposition who are laid out snoring under a chair most of the time are an acceptable alternative. Pub dogs are usually “characters” and may be prone to stealing food from plates or tripping up the unwary when they’re trying to carry four pints of beer back to their table, but are much-loved by regulars who slip them treats and may give them saucers of beer.
Pub crawls: these are social excursions traditionally undertaken by students, groups of friends or team-mates (such as rugby teams) where the participants go from pub to pub along a set route, staying a while and drinking in each one. Due to the difficulties of getting between pubs, this normally has to take place in a city or largeish town with sufficient pubs within walking distance of each to make a worthwhile trip. The crawl might be themed, for example in London people try to complete a Monopoly pub crawl but with 26 pubs in the route few would make it the whole way round in one day! Sometimes there are themes or activities taking place at the same time – for example with pub golf where participants dress up in golfing outfits and have to consume particular drinks in certain ways. Stag and hen nights are often associated with pub crawls completed in fancy dress, and the whole event can end in what could be charitably termed drunken carnage.
Pub nostalgia: if you want a dose of pub nostalgia then George Orwell wrote a famous essay in 1946 about his ideal pub, The Moon Under Water. It would feature Victorian architecture, good beer and food, motherly barmaids who knew your name and a quiet atmosphere to talk in. He was writing well before the advent of Sky Sports TV, computerised jukeboxes, wifi and noisy slot machines hit many pubs. I can’t imagine he would have approved…