Pubs are opening again
As the pubs begin to allow people back to the inside of their premieses, I ponder how I have not been in one for a while.
Have you found that you have some extra time on your hands during this pandemic? They say that learning something new is beneficial — both because it is good for your brain to stretch and work different muscles and because it helps you to pass the time in a different way than just staring at the four walls around you. I remember when the pandemic started, many people were going to take the opportunity to learn a new language. How’s that going for you? I attempted to learn a few things here and there, but it wasn't until January that I properly enrolled in two classes.
The first class was a stand-up comedy class. I know —- weird right? The problem was that I watched The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon in September and I got to thinking that stand-up would be fun. Of course, I didn’t have her wardrobe (1950’s New York chic) but I do have a few fun dresses that I could improvise with. I found an online 11 week course and it started in January. Perfect—- I signed up!
The second class was a ukulele class. I picked up the ukulele in 2015 after taking a taster class during London Learning Week. It is such a fun instrument, and from that 1 hour class, I then took a 4 week course. I learned a few songs, but never practiced much, so the beautiful pink ukulele sat in the corner until this January, when I found a 10 week course online.
Stand Up Comedy and Ukulele —- sounds fun right? If we were not in lockdown, both of these classes could easily be taught in a pub. In fact, the stand-up comedy class instructor talks about how they would always go to a pub after class each week. As for the ukulele class, while we would probably take class in a proper music room, the instructor is always talking about ukulele jams that happen across London in pubs.
But thanks to the pandemic, the pubs were closed and have been for a while. This is a big point of contention with many because pubs are part of life in London, and closing them is really hard on the economy. While I am not a heavy drinker (1 for me!), pubs have really good food — and my readers will know how much I love food! For those that don’t quite know — a pub is a bar that serves food. If you think about a restaurant like TGI Fridays or Bennigans — it’s like the bar area. Some pubs are fantastic, some are really run down. Some pubs focus on craft beer with a very small menu, others are called “gastropubs” and have good chefs to create fantastic food to be washed down with great beer. Some are basic — they have the standard beers on tap and some wine and spirits, but they are nothing special. Others have so much character, you won’t want to go home.
When I first moved to London, I was astonished by how much the pub featured in the daily lives of my colleagues. There was the “let’s go to the pub for lunch” moments when my colleagues would drink one or even two pints in the middle of the day. I was flabbergasted at how they could easily return to work and continue with phone calls and meetings unaffected. While my body seems to get drunk at the first sip of a gin and tonic, they could easily handle their beverages and bang out emails without a hint of difference.
Of course, there were always the “after work pub drinks” that came wit working in the media industry. It was a regular affair. I was keen to go to the gym, take a fun fitness class, and then head home to see my husband and cook dinner. They were keen to order another one. Was I surrounded by alcoholics or was I just a fuddy-duddy no-fun co-worker who was too old for this? Well, I was in their age range, so it couldn’t have been that. Some were older than me, so their pub training was more advanced.
Not being able to drink as much as everyone else lead me to a few resentments — first, there was the cost. While London is known for its high priced beers, I was spending £3 on a tiny can of soda or a pint of soda water with a splash of fake lime juice. After a while, that adds up. Next, there was the fact that pubs never want you to sit down and be comfortable. Well, at least the pubs that my co-workers chose. It always seems like there are six chairs or two sofas, and they are always taken. People stand around inside and outside to drink. Pubs got so crowded, you would have to shout to the person next to you in order to hold a conversation. None of this appealed to me.
It wasn’t until I became a tour guide that I started to appreciate pubs more. When you are a student of history like I am, you dig deeper. Since tour guides often hold meetings at pubs, I once again was forced to partake in pub life. However, I was now in charge of the meeting, so I scheduled it for times and days that were not busy. What was the point of meeting up to study for an exam on churches if we couldn’t hear what the other person was saying? Likewise, tour guiding groups would find pubs where there was a spare floor (older pubs often have numerous floors) that we could use for meetings and gatherings.
It was in these moments — these quiet pub moments — that I started to look around and appreciate the history of these buildings. As I attended more events and investigated more, I found older pubs, quaint pubs, pubs with links to famous people, pubs with quirky architectural features, and pubs with adequate seating! My affinity to pubs was starting to warm. Was I being transformed into a “pub goer”? Not quite….. but I was beginning to appreciate them so much more.
Fast forward to 2015 when I started doing my own version of pub tours. I found a lovely route that incorporated between seven and fourteen pubs. Some we would visit from the outside, some we would take a walk in and look around. A few, we would sit and hold a beer tasting. I held these on Monday nights, when pubs are not as busy, and they were a success. My approach was simple — if you are not a heavy drinker, but you are curious about pub life — this was the tour for you!
Both my stand-up comedy and ukulele teachers reference going back to the pubs. “When you go to a ukulele jam at a pub, you’ll be able to play these chords along with everyone” says my teacher whose moustache and goofy round glasses makes him look like a cartoon carnival worker from the 1890s. “When you do a gig in the pub, you’ll get the laugh” explains my stand-up comedy teacher, who swears that if you keep rewriting your work from 300 words to 30 words and then back to 150, you’ll find the funny. Perhaps the missing element of success for each of these classes is in fact the pub?
While many pubs are starting to reopen, I don’t know when all of the pubs on my tours will be open on a regular basis. This makes it hard to try to schedule when I will restart my pub tour. Meanwhile, I am creating a Pub To Do list — a list of pubs I never got to visit — and hope that they survive the pandemic so that I might one day arrive and order a pint! (and some food — cause I’m a lightweight!)