"There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man,
by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn" - Samuel Johnson
Going to the pub, or public house, is possibly the most popular social activity in Britain. Pubs are primarily drinking establishments where adult communities meet to drink alcohol and chat or play pub games such as darts, billiards or pool, and not necessarily just to get drunk! A good pub is often judged by its beer, even though a wide variety of other drinks are on offer.
History of the pub
There was a time when every village had a church and a pub - indeed it is said that the pub was built first in order to give the church builders somewhere to go to relax after a hard day's graft. Pubs date back to the 11th century when they would have been very small establishments selling their own home-brewed ale. Inns went one step up beyond this, offering food and accommodation to travelers, but again the beer would have been brewed on the premises. People were influenced, as many still are, by the quality of the beer when deciding which pub they would go to.
The Victorian era brought about a change in the style of the British pub. The advent of the railway meant that many of the wayside coaching stations gradually went into decline. Pubs in cities became larger, and the industrial revolution changed the nature of brewing, allowing beer to be made on a much larger scale. This made it possible for the large breweries to buy out the smaller independent pubs, forcing them to sell the mass produced beer - the 'tied' pub was born.*
This trend continued into the 20th century
. By the early 1970s Britain was left with a mere handful of breweries, as takeovers
whittled away at the numbers of smaller companies. This had an impact on the character of the pubs under their control (as well as types of beer on offer), and many people drifted away from using pubs at all. Unprofitable pubs were closed down and many villages lost both their pub and their sense of community. It seemed that the only pubs able to survive were themed pubs - the ones frequented by high spending under 25 year-olds, or those which served good food or were 'family friendly'.
Themed pubs are a real ale drinker's worst nightmare! They tend to be large, loud and brash, the beer is bad and no-one knows each other, or so rumour has it. Many themed pubs serve food, and have become more 'restaurant' then 'pub', with children being allowed to accompany adults in large eating areas. (The law forbids children in pubs which only serve drink). This is good for families who wish to socialise with their children outside of the home, but not so good for those adults who are trying to get away from it all. Other themed pubs are full of young adults getting drunk and enjoying loud modern music and flashing lights. These are somewhat impersonal, more 'club' than 'pub', and so long as you don't wish to hold a conversation, they can provide a good night out, allegedly!
Typical Pub Layout
Beware - stereotypes ahead ;)
Small country pubs and 'locals' serving small communties were (and there are still a few about, if you know where to look) often more like someone's living room than anything else. Usually just a single room with a bar, and a few tables and chairs, they provide a place for the locals to share a pint and a yarn. The atmosphere varies depending on the area - in some pubs the locals can make 'outsiders' feel a little unwelcome, whereas others greet you with open arms and a hearty smile!
Larger pubs, more likely to be found in cities, and inns, usually have at least two rooms:
The Public bar is where the working man might meet for a drink and perhaps a game of darts or snooker. The atmosphere is more rough and ready than in the other bars, and the drinks are cheaper. There are tables and hard chairs, but many of the drinkers will be found propped up at the bar. The Lounge bar is the room where, maybe, married couples, women or people wanting a quiet drink go. The furnishings are generally more comfortable and there may be a television or music playing in the background. Not many pubs have a Snug these days, but this is a small room which has a very quiet atmosphere and you tend to think that it's going to be full of old ladies supping their half-pints of milk stout. (Apparently you might also find a stupot with his pint of cider ;) )
Off-sales counters, sometimes called the bottle and jug, were once commonplace in larger pubs - you could go to a private area, away from the main bars, with your jug and buy a couple of pints of beer or a bottle of lemonade, to take home.
As you can see, there are a number of different types of pub, each having its place serving different factions of society. Traditional pubs have struggled against the tide of commercialism, but gradually people are becoming aware that if they are lost, they might be lost forever. Fortunately there is a resurgence of people prepared to make a stand against the near monopoly of the brewers, and independent pubs such as the Brewery Tap in Bristol are making a comeback.
*Tied pubs are pubs which are owned by a single brewery and rented out to a landlord who then has to sell the brewery's own beer. The alternative is the 'free house' which is able to sell beer from any brewery the landlord wishes.