The Perfect Pub
by Joel Caris
When you're a beer drinker, there's perhaps nothing more important than finding a good pub to frequent. Of course, you may be the kind of beer drinker who purchases the cheapest shit on the market and drinks can after can in the comfort of his or her own home, but I commonly refer to those people as alcoholics. That's a whole other category that really has nothing to do with the simple appreciation of a fine beer. If you simply enjoy the occasional excellent brew—or perhaps not so occasional, for I'm not saying that alcoholics are strictly confined to drinking cheap beer at home—then it's likely you have or are on the lookout for a fine pub within which to indulge your hobby. This week, therefore, I'm looking at what makes for a good pub.
Now, personally, when I'm looking for a good pub, I'm looking for a place in which I can hang out with a friend or two. As such, there are some crucial elements as to what makes the perfect pub. If I'm going to be hanging out with friends there, then one of the things I'm looking for is a place that offers the opportunity for some decent and entertaining conversation. This means that I don't want a place that is too loud. Generally speaking, I don't want live music in my pub. If there is live music, I want it quiet and unobtrusive, and I don't want to be a pariah for carrying on a conversation during the music. In other words, my pub should not have live music, and if it does, it should be as subtle, not-too-loud background music rather than a performance that's expected to be focused on.
On the same note, my conversation shouldn't be drowned out by the conversations of people around me. For instance, there's a pretty cool English pub near me with a good beer selection, but damn if you can have a decent conversation in there on a Friday or Saturday night. It's so damn packed and noisy, that you can hardly hear a person sitting two feet away from you. Now, granted, I want my pub to be popular enough to stay in business, but I don't want it so popular that to enter the place is to give up any sense of personal space or typical hearing ability. Full is fine, packed to the brim is bullshit.
Further, an important factor in any pub is the atmosphere. As far as I'm concerned, the darker the better. I only need enough light to be able to read the menu and find my way to the bathroom—otherwise keep it dim and murky. A pub should be lighted much as my bedroom would be on the day of a nasty hangover. Nothing bright, nothing piercing. I'm not seeing a doctor, I'm not grocery shopping, I'm not getting a goddamn tan. I'm getting a buzz, and I prefer to do that in the murkiest lighting feasible. Granted, decent lighting isn't a deal-breaker as are some of these other requirements, but a darker place is much preferred.
Of course, the most important factor of any good pub is the beer selection. If I can only get Bud, Coors and PBR, or if your idea of a top notch beer is a Fat Tire, then I don't have much use for you, even if you do have perfect atmosphere. Sure, Fat Tire is a decent beer, but I need some darkness. A good pub needs to at least have a couple options in the stout, porter and dark ale categories. I like my pub dark and I like my beer dark, as well, so if you can't offer me something thick, black and delicious, then I'm going to have to move on to the next place. I realize this isn't the majority of the population's cup of tea (or pint of beer, as it were) but it's mine, and I expect a decent pub to at least pay me some lip service with one or two good options on tap. I need something heavy on the malts and not overpowering on the hops. The more options that fit this criteria, the better.
While a good beer selection is absolutely critical, it's also nice to have a decent food selection. Even better is a decent selection of cheap food. Here's the thing though—keep it pub fare. I'm not looking for anything involving pine nuts or foie gras or spinach with lemon juice—I'm looking for something salty and greasy. I want fries and onion rings and mozzarella sticks, bread sticks, pizza, burgers—and I want it damn unhealthy and damn delicious. It better be good and it better not be fancy. If I'm going to be a snob, it's going to be about the beer, not the food. I go to a pub to drink—the food is more a necessity than a desire. Keep it simple, greasy, and delicious, and all will be right in the world.
Meanwhile, I want to get that food in a timely manner. I want my beer in a timely manner, as well, and I sure as hell don't want to be sitting at my table for fifteen or twenty minutes with an empty glass in front of me. What I'm getting at is that I want some decent service. It doesn't have to be perfect, because I realize being a server in a restaurant or bar can suck ass. But here's the deal—I'm considerate, I'm nice, and I'm happy to give you a decent tip. What I fucking hate is going to a pub and not being able to get beer. It's why I'm there, and if I'm left not able to maintain my buzz because no one wants to bring me another drink, I get annoyed. And while I won't yell at you or be an asshole about it, I probably won't be coming back, either. Keep my glass filled and I'll be happy. Leave me staring longingly at the taps at the bar and . . . well, that certainly doesn't fit into my definition of the perfect pub.
Finally, I want a certain authenticity to the pub. This cuts both ways. First of all, I don't want something sleek and soulless. I don't want something too terribly trendy. I don't want a place that has no heart, has no attitude, and has no soul. Here's the thing though—I'm not looking for a shithole, either. I don't want a dive. I don't want a place that's filthy. If the bathroom's dirty, so be it. That's often the reality of a decent pub and I can deal with that, so long as there isn't shit strewn all over the place. But the main room better be in at least halfway decent shape. I don't want cockroaches running around my feet while I'm sitting at my table, I don't want any funky smells other than good old cigarette smoke, and I don't want to be left thinking I'm going to leave the place with a disease.
So that's about what I'm looking for in the perfect pub. I want a place that's dark, has good atmosphere, isn't too loud, is relatively clean, offers decent service, greasy and delicious pub fare, and a good beer selection that includes some dark, malty, not-so-hoppy selections.
What do you look for in an ideal pub or bar?
Joel likes his pubs like he likes his women......
generally I am happy if the beer selection has some kind of brown, amber or black colored selection on tap, is quiet enough so you can talk but don't have to scream, has a good juke box, maybe a pool table, and a game on tv. good cheeseburgers and a hottie behind the bar are also a bonus.
Posted by: Ernie | January 24, 2007 9:12 AM
Dude, you nailed it. Ernie's pool table wouldn't hurt either.
"If I'm going to be a snob, it's going to be about the beer, not the food."
That's funny and true
Posted by: Dan | January 24, 2007 9:56 AM
I actually meant to mention games, but it slipped my mind. They're not crucial for me, but I definitely don't mind a pool table. Even better is a real dart board.
And yes, it should be real. No plastic tipped crap. If I'm going to be playing games while drunk, somebody should be at risk of losing an eye. That's part of the fun.
Posted by: Joel | January 24, 2007 10:41 AM
I'm completely with you on the lighting. My favorite bar was almost completely lit by Mexican prayer candles and a few very low lights.
A pinball machine is a must for me, as well as a decent whiskey and dark beer selection. I may not want a shot of the Tulley and a pint of the brown as soon as I walk in, but it's good to know that the option is there.
Posted by: thefinn | January 24, 2007 11:31 AM
I don't have to be picky about the whiskey selection since I've never been in a place that did not serve Jack Daniels, but a fancy whiskey/scotch/burbon selection is certainly a nice addition though not a full on requirement :)
Posted by: Ernie | January 24, 2007 4:42 PM
Ah yes, whiskey is always good to have. If they have Jameson, that's always a good sign to me. That's pretty common, though. An even better sign is Jameson 12 year.
Posted by: Joel | January 24, 2007 8:42 PM
I'd urge you to, time and expenses permitting, take a trip to the John Bull, Howick Street, Alnwick, Northumberland, England. I think there you may you find what you're looking for.
Posted by: Milly Mossop | February 25, 2007 11:29 AM