An American's reaction to a round of UK pubs
Our recent trip to England, Scotland, and Wales, plus last month’s piece by Matthew Williams is perfect timing for this story.
My craving for craft beers started while stationed in Germany in the late sixties. In Germany, one drinks one’s beer at guest houses. In that era, in addition to the local pilsner, the main choices were Lowenbrau or Becks. Back to the states and it was a 20 year taste drought until Great Lakes Brewery came along in 1988.
It was with great anticipation that we experienced our first pub, Deacon Brodies, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Many thoughts went through our minds, including the change in currency, misapprehensions about the local dialect, the protocol, and of course, what beer to choose. Because this tavern was close to Edinburgh Castle, it was full of tourists and the locals took our “rookie” status in stride. Plus it was more like a restaurant. The actual pub area was downstairs. We sat upstairs with servers to take and bring our order.
Our next pub experience truly educated us on the local customs. Americans are used to being seated and waited upon. Not here. You find your own table, go to the bar, order your beer or food and take the beer back to your table. If food is ordered, you receive a number to place on your table in order for the server to find you. The cycle is repeated if you want more beer or food. You pay as you go or run a tab with the barkeep holding your credit card.
Our most memorable pub experience occurred in Bath, England. We discovered the Coeur De Lion, known as the smallest pub in Bath. It was unique, with the lower half of the front window in stained glass, bench seat in front of the window, three very small round tables and a fourth square table at the side of the bar. Three people could sit at the bar and a fourth could place an order. An outside patio had two tables. A circular stairway led down to the men’s restroom and up to the kitchen and ladies restroom. No numbers were needed here. There was one barkeep and the cook/server. You ordered, sat down with your beer and waited.
We wandered in near 2 p.m. and were lucky to get a table. We were tired of hotel restaurant food from the tour and had our first taste of well done, English burgers. During our wait we had the chance to talk to a local, George Tyler, who was Barbados born and retired Royal Air Force. He settled on this pub because he did not care for the “blokes,” including the owner, at his neighborhood pub. We asked why everyone called each other by last name. His answer: “too many Andys, Bills or Toms.” It was a tap on the shoulder, or nod and the last name, as one was leaving. In parting, I told him we had something in common: My middle name was George. So I bade George a jolly good day.
Because we were on a set tour schedule our pub visits were limited to lunches or early evening. We were unable to experience true night life at a pub among the locals. Other observations included, no flat screen TVs, lots of beer choices with some taps indicating chilled brew (probably for American tourists), discovering the term "shared choices" (one order enough for two), and barkeeps always helpful in describing the best local brand. At one pub, I made a point of asking what was most popular among available beers. I was taken aback by the barkeep's response, “Becks, Fosters and Stella Artois,” as none were local.
We never picked a bad-tasting local bitter. And, for all you scotch lovers, you’ll love this part of the world, too; but that is a story for another day.
Allan Kuntz is a resident of Cleveland Heights.