A pubcrawl with a point? (part one)
Since coming back to the States from our three-week visit to Scotland in August, where we had our second wedding and first honeymoon, well, the first honeymoon without other people tagging along, (although that isn’t altogether true, a tale for another day) I’ve been pondering the major differences between the two country’s particular styles of watering hole. This unsolicited bout of pointless pondering is the development of an epiphany I had following several sojourns into some of my favourite, and not-so-favourite, pubs and hotels in Scotland.
The first week of our trip was spent catching up with my family and frantically preparing for the big day. The second week we spent cocooned in a wee cottage on North Uist with only a fresh lobster, some locally smoked salmon, and a bottle of 12-year-old Aberlour for rations, it was awful. The third week it was back to Edinburgh to hang out with friends and family and try not to get too frustrated by all the jugglers and plum-voiced teenage actors on the High Street. Needless to say, that throughout this whole adventure I was able to spend a fairly decent amount of time reacquainting myself with the aforementioned public houses, their clientele, and their wares. It was in one such establishment, which happens to boast one of the largest collections of Single Malt Scotch Whisky in the country, if not the Universe (spot the deliberate overstatement) that the epiphany occurred. We were enjoying sampling some of Speyside’s finest with two of our dearest friends and discussing the fact that I much prefer to spend time in pubs in Scotland than in the States. It’s not that I don’t like them, what’s not to like; beer, fried food, music, conversation, and friends. But herein lies my point; I thought that there are fundamental differences in the need for, and use, of these establishments. In Britain, I suppose, pubs and hotels were, and mostly still are, community-oriented places for people to get together and spend time in each other’s company whilst enjoying a responsible libation or two, hence the title, Public House. In the States, however, they seem to me to be set up for the simple exchange of alcohol for money. This is emphasized by the fact that they are called “Bars”, which signifies to me that it’s the bar, the counter where the exchange occurs, that is important and not the people, shelter, or atmosphere of the place itself. Now, don’t all go getting your knickers twisted if you happen to frequent a bar in the States that is more’ pub’ than ‘bar’, or visa versa in the UK, I have seen both and am aware of exceptions and maybe I romanticize Scottish Pubs a bit when I’m not there. However, I still think that there are fundamental differences which either appeal to me or don’t. I believe that it is worth my investigating further, this hypothesis of pub vs. bar and what it is that makes one more attractive to me than the other.
Since our return to California I have continued to muse over this and am currently trying to come up with some kind of scientific testing method. Maybe I’ll just review places that I happen to patronize, or a more liver-intensive experiment may be to systematically visit each “bar”, here in Chico, and wherever else I visit and devise some kind of testing system; atmosphere, service, other patrons, depth of the urine puddle on the bathroom floor, depth of the urine puddle at the bar, presence/absence of music, seating availability, smell, Single Malt Selection, man, the list could be endless. Anyweather, I’m going to come up with some way of testing this hypothesis and suggestions are more than welcome. You will also be pleased to hear that I’ll keep you up to date on any developments, right here. I can’t say they’ll be delivered with any kind of frequency or order, but I’ll try my best to keep it both interesting and intelligible.
I can quickly tick one method off, and one bar can be eliminated from my research. Last Saturday night we went to a little place just around the corner to see a friend’s band play. I didn’t want to cause anyone offence so dutifully helped the publican reduce his stock of Sierra Nevada, therefore inhibiting my senses and usual ability to correctly identify and avoid nutters and other creatures of the night. Nearing the end of the night I was being chatted to by a rather large guy in a dark blue eighties-style shell suit. I don’t know if he was actually pronouncing words in English, or any other language for that matter, but he was definitely engaging me in what appeared to be some form of conversation. As I had unwittingly stood beside this charming character while waiting to be served at the crowded bar I had no option but to listen to his doubtless witty banter. And here lies my mistake, and my first lesson in performing scientific research in, and on, pubs; Do not offer to buy drinks for random people in blue shell-suits, or in any other color of shell-suit for that matter. I’m also quite sure that this is an issue I would come across if this study were being undertaken in Scotland as I have seen my fair share of shell suits there too, only there they are usually accompanied by Burberry scarves and hats and an odor not unlike wet dog and boiled cabbage. On Saturday I learned that I could not only lose quite a lot of money, but I would probably end up with a following of shell-suited arseholes looking for a free pint, not dissimilar to the butcher with a string of sausages being chased down the road by a frenzied pack of dogs. When the barmaid eventually came to take my order, I politely gave a “and whatever he’s having” to the end of my order, as is customary and well within the realms of ordinary pub conduct. Within a heartbeat and without any indication of thanks, he casually told the annoyingly indifferent barmaid, “Pitcher of Bud”. Luckily for me Bud happens to be a fairly cheap option, but it’s the principal. That’s just not cricket, a bloody pitcher!
Lesson learned, research well and truly under way, wish me luck.