The local, the boozer, the old watering hole, that bastion of light at the end of a long week that shines bright at 5 o’clock on a dull Friday afternoon and seems to wrap you up in its all-embracing glow; your local round the corner is there come rain or shine sitting stalwart, welcoming you inside.
Usually boasting some obscure name like the Queens Elbow, the public house has been an integral part of communities and the wider society for centuries; generations of the same family occupy the same rickety beer soaked old stool ushering through the next phase, in essence passing on the mantel.
Yet in recent years through a series of economic declines and a growing recession, the hospitality industry has been hit hard, with many pubs, bars and nightclubs pouring their final pint and closing their doors to the public. However, all is not lost; thanks to resurgences in the market the pints are flowing and those flaming sambucas that you are adamant are a good idea – but are an instant regret – are being downed and the trusty packet of dry roasted nuts is being consumed once more and I, for one, am glad – and so should you be.
Why be glad, you ask? Well, let me put down my pint and I’ll explain. Your local pub is something more than that place you go to forget all your problems; have you ever considered what happens in your pub? For you see that the pub is something more than the four walls and the beer; it holds something more.
To really understand the human experience that philosophers, theologians and scientists have been looking for across millennia can, for me, be seen propping up the bar. Noted philosopher and academic Alain de Botton wrote a sublime book, A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary, where he sat and chronicled what he saw and detailed our relationship with notions such as travel and our increasing relationship with and reliance upon technology.
Having worked in hospitality for near on five years now, I have seen some things I will never forget and some things that, even after years’ worth of intensive therapy, I will never be able to forget
Now I don’t, and never would, boast that Mr de Botton missed a trick, but I would simply question where he sat to document his findings because for me the person who has seen human nature in all its glory and epic failures is that guy stood behind the bar, paid a pittance but with a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth: other people’s lives.
Having worked in the hospitality industry for near on five years now, I have seen some things I will never forget and some things that, even after years’ worth of intensive therapy, I will never be able to forget. I’ve been involved in a raft of bars, pubs, nightclubs and a restaurant, and what I’ve come to conclude is that it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference whether it be a hustle and bustle city centre venue or a destination bistro in the middle of nowhere: the effect is still the same up and down the country; all emotion and experience can be seen.
Now I put to you the question, what is a pub? And I imagine you’d answer something along the lines of it being a place where people go to escape, relax and have a good time with friends and family, and I would generally say you’re correct – but let’s delve a little deeper. What really is a pub? Well, the answer to this is something so simple yet complex, a pub is everything. It is a cacophony of people bundled together to pick and choose from what the venue has to offer.
Imagine this: it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the regulars begin to take up their usual stool around the bar after a day’s work , the news is blaring away on one of the TVs, and what tends to happen is, no matter the story, a debate will spark. Now the level of this debate is never too in-depth, but it is still engagement toward politics and current affairs, which many political commentators will have you believe is a dying art-form.
Your local pub is not just a debating chamber, it is also a courtroom with groups of people passing judgements on everything and everyone
Now you may ask what the big deal is. It has long been said that every pub is a parliament and we see it all the time; whatever may be in the news or the hot topic to dominate the headlines is tossed around bar like a hot potato. What is curious, though, is the rather polarised opinions despite living relatively locally to each other.
The plethora of opinion is astounding, whether well informed or just broad generalisations; it is this engagement with the issues that is a breath of fresh air to an amateur politico like myself. To hear people discuss something of greater importance than the state of Manchester United’s defence – which I’m reliably informed is terrible – restores faith in people’s ability to hold a decent conversation.
Similarly, your local pub is not just a debating chamber, it is also a courtroom with groups of people passing judgements on everything and everyone; being judge, jury and executioner is a favourite pastime of the human race. Whether it is a terrorist in the national headlines, a celebrity gone off the rails or simply the next-door neighbour but one who insists on parking across your drive, people will lean against the bar and pontificate till blue in the face.
So we have a parliament and a courthouse, what else is your local boozer? How about a music hall, or a music festival is probably a better description. Consider the thought that one of the single most binding attributes that can forge friendships is a commonality in musical taste; It’s also one of the defining attributes that can be either attractive or repulsive to a customer in a venue. Whether it is a tired jukebox, a TV blaring out the radio, or a local trendy band, it is the music that brings people together.
Take a nightclub, for instance. The whole basis of this industry sector is for people to come out and listen to the music and dance the night away, with DJs a kind of steward through the night and into the very early hours.
I hate football, I really do, and I avoid it wherever possible but, along with hundreds of other bartenders, I have been forced to endure it
What makes the music such an important factor is that, with the now limitless amounts of music, there will be a bar that fits your tastes. Now, we’ve all done it at some point – walked into a venue and instantly realised that you are in no way whatsoever the market that the bar is trying to attract.
For me it was walking into a club where there was giant mosh-pit occurring near to a stage and gentlemen sporting a fine face tattoo, while I was wearing a three piece suit and Kurt Geiger brogues – all I have to say is that I left rather sharpish. The music of your local may be generic or a symphony of specific songs belted? out at 2am after a pint too many; it doesn’t really matter as it is in essence complete strangers brought together to share in a singular moment.
Your local is definitely, without any question, also a sports stadium. The tradition of groups of men meeting down the boozer sinking a few scoops watching the match is somehow cemented into what it is to be a man in the 21st century. Whether it is the Olympics, the local derby or something a little more obscure the human experience has been intrinsically linked to sports, yet it is football that dominates above all others.
I’m going to put my cards on the table. I hate football, I really do, and I avoid it wherever possible but, along with hundreds of other bartenders, I have been forced to endure it on a Saturday afternoon and that midweek game that never seems to end, with the punters living and dying with every pass of the ball screaming at the television. Whilst causing a rivalry within the pub between groups of fans there is a sense of brotherhood, that most sports seem to exemplify but there is something about football fans that it really is visible.
The good natured jibing and the intense conversations between complete strangers about the ability of certain players are astounding. One defining characteristic is that conversations about sport and sport teams is that it is not age specific – I’ve overheard conversations between 18 and 80 year olds, novices and experts. All you need is an opinion and you’re bound to find an ally? who you can pass away the hours with.
Your local watering hole is the backbone of your community, pulling people together, sharing stories and soaking up the richness of life
The special nature of the pub can be seen in a very small way – simply think of all the events in your life you’ve been to that have been held in a pub. I can think of no other venue where you have been to both celebrate and mourn; a place where we have greeted the new and said our fond farewells to the past.
We go to the pub when a baby is born and christened, we go to celebrate a wedding, a birthday, passing an exam or getting that promotion; yet we go to mourn the loss of a loved one or to drown away our sorrows after a hard day in the office. The complete array of human emotion can be seen inside one building, the passing from cradle to grave is intertwined with a pub.
So the next time you’re passing your local, having a meal or simply nursing a pint at the bar the life experiences that have, are, or are yet to take place, are contained within. Spare a thought for the waiter or bartender who has celebrated a win or commiserated a loss with countless groups of people.
I once worked with a chef who believed he’d been a part of more funerals and weddings than anyone could count up to and he took it with the utmost seriousness and with great compassion.
Your local watering hole is the backbone of your community, pulling people together, sharing stories and soaking up the richness of life. So next time, call in, order your poison of choice, and absorb what it has to offer. If you don’t like it then find another; I guarantee there is a place to fit your style