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The Great London Pub

October 3, 2010

I’m walking down the lonely streets of London, half past 8:00. I shudder slightly, pulling my jacket tighter as a fine mist of rain floats gently down. My accompaniments and I don’t say much.  It’s one of those nights where silence, like the cold, pervades us and our energy is better spent staying warm.  And then it’s there.  In the distance a glow through paneled windows calls us forth as do the muffled voices from within.  The bounty of falling petunias and impatiens in the window boxes welcome us whilst a creaking wooden sign above the door proudly bears a name.  We have entered the London pub.

The pub, a term derived from “public house” during the Victorian era, has been around for thousands of years since the days that the Romans ruled England. And naturally, throughout the pub’s entire history, there was drinking.  Ale was safe to drink when water wasn’t and provided stress relief after long days of working.  The weary traveler was later offered lodging too, along with the nourishment.  The alehouse was the place for the common man to relax, warm up, eat, drink and socialize.  And, with London’s less than desirable weather and a large population of hardworking people, the pub holds the same purposes today. 

artwork by Andrew Yeung

Walking into any pub, whether it’s one with a history dated to the 1500s or a recent addition to the neighborhood, renders a complete change in atmosphere.  Compared to the drizzly outdoors, it emanates warmth from the yellow toned lights on the ceiling, the rich wood-paneled walls, and in some nicer establishments, the overstuffed squishy chairs in front of a fire.  The air is hot from the body heat of the people and thick with the yeasty smell of alcohol.  Cheerful chatter and laughter radiate all around, whether from the young couple in the corner, the pack of mates shouting over football, or the group of people dining, still in their work clothes.  The menu is filled with heavy and satisfying delights, the essential pub grub: nuts, cheese, and olives to start and sausage, mashed potatoes, roasts with peas, or fried fish with chips for the meal.  Some nicer pubs and a current fad, the gastropubs focus more on the dining experience and carry much higher quality fare, but in all pubs. the dishes revolve around the same general theme.  And the bar, the constant center of attention, is swarmed with those waiting for their brew.
Now do I necessarily enjoy the pub to its fullest extent? Well…how shall I put this?  To me, who generally doesn’t participate in the main activity of the pub, it can come off as a tad dull at times. But I could not fully accomplish the goals of this blog without paying tribute and proper respect to one of London’s most iconic features at least once.  Don’t get me wrong, I really do appreciate the pub for what it is, and its very rich history as a place of entertainment and provider of food and drink during all of London’s existence.  I do enjoy the more low-key places for a relaxing drink and appetizer with friends at night.   And I am, of course, very interested in seeking out the superior pub food. But a word of warning, you will not be getting the typical, crazy pub stories you may expect from a college student set loose in London; my accounts of the pub will contain a more gastronomic approach.  But this is London food culture from my perspective, so you’ll just have to deal with that.

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