The British and Irish Pub have been exported around the world to great acclaim. There is barely a significant city in the world without a replica traditional Pub (and to be sure those without one are, generally speaking, housed in countries where alcohol is banned). It is hardly surprising that a country that imposed both a real and a cultural empire over large parts of the planet managed to export its central social institution with such success. The British Empire has long drawn back its borders, yet the ‘Pub’ continues to symbolise British-ness, and Irish-ness (and, in these changing times, Scottish-ness and Welsh-ness) the world over.
It must be noted that for all the pubs there are in Britain, Europe and the rest of the world, quality varies greatly, with some being a must-see, while others should be steered well clear of. There is a wide variety of pubs that can be loosely grouped under several headings. What denotes a great pub is often down to the individual. The main thing is to identify the kind of pub you would like to spend a while in and find a decent example. Here are a few categories to get you reminiscing and thinking about the future:
Australian Bars – have a strong Antipodean theme and are great if you like: Aussie Rules Football; Rugby Union; Rugby League; Chart music; Lager (cold lager mind!); grilled meat as a main food ingredient and loads of Australians. Admittedly, all of these things can be great, but if you’re looking for somewhere to try authentic beer and put your feet up, look elsewhere!
Chain Pubs – can often be deceptively good if you are looking for great décor and a cheap pint, with passable food. Wetherspoons has carved a reputation from selling cheap standard food and drink in often pleasant surroundings (as they, invariably, move into old pub premises, or convert other characterful buildings). However, they do not have a music or entertainment licence, and rarely sell quality real ale. They are also partly responsible for putting genuine old high street pubs out of business, or on the breadline.
Club/Pub – the late night opening Pub/Club, that has arisen on a wide scale due to new licensing laws, is not definable as anything in particular: Many very good pubs that serve great beer and food now have their licences extended, whilst many others merely want to cash in and encourage the sale of cheap beer, bad music and worse vibes!
Gastro Pub – the Gastro Pub along with the Real Ale Pub, and a great many surviving Traditional Pubs is a saviour of good food, dining and great beer. The first of these, ‘The Eagle’, established in 1991, started (as it continued) by offering decent portions of well-sourced food, cooked by quality chefs, with a ready supply of genuine ‘real ale’ on hand.
Irish Pubs – these vary greatly and are generally built around the concept of ‘Irish-ness’ in its broadest sense. Look for those that are frequented by Irish clientele (denoting authenticity) and who know how to pour a perfect Guinness. Try and avoid Irish theme pubs, and remember… the best genuine Irish pubs are, naturally, in Ireland! Other than that, an Irish pub will tend to be named after the current proprietor, or licensee (such as ‘O’Murphy’s’ or O’Donnel’s) and will not have a pub sign.
Traditional Pub – be careful here! Any pub that advertises itself as ‘traditional’ may be a cheap fake; be wary of mock ‘real’ fires, plastic beams and tacky props. A genuinely traditional pub is easily enough spotted. If it looks like a film set, don’t bother – there are a great many genuine traditional pubs with histories spanning hundreds of years. Often these pubs will serve good food and real ale, whilst providing the perfect atmosphere to unwind, especially in the winter months when a genuine log-fire and a cosy atmosphere will be greatly appreciated.
Real Ale Pubs – a Real Ale Pub will have a strong ‘Real Ale’ theme and often be traditional in many other senses. These pubs have sprung up around campaigns such as the Campaign for Real Ale and are a great place to find a good pint.
Whilst all of the above pubs have their selling points, the discerning beer drinker will generally want a pub with the following essentials: a friendly atmosphere; knowledgeable barstaff; good food; a good history and traditional features. A good jukebox can also be a great help, as can some relaxing pub games, such as chess, chequers, ‘jenga’ and pool (see related article: ‘Pub Games’).