The Backstreet Pub

I dug up the post below after popping out for a drink with a few friends last night. It celebrates that most noble of institutions, the local pub. As I enjoyed a pint or two it crossed my mind just how important these places are becoming. Obvious benefits and features aside, they are the new theatres; places to experiment. And we should all drink to that.

I hope you enjoy it. If not, indulge me…

The Rover’s Return

The Old Vic

The Nag’s head

The Winchester

The Grapes

These names immediately conjure up images of snugs, pipe smoke, flinty barmaids, illicit affairs, rites of passage, bar flies and damn tasty beer. The backstreet boozer is a cornerstone of our cultural heritage. In my youth, these frosted-glass palaces were incredibly exotic. Joyful noises would spill out of opaque windows onto the street. We would watch people disappear into a nondescript doorway only to emerge hours later looking distinctly happier, palpably sadder or looking like they had spent their formative years in a wind tunnel. God, how we wanted to pass through that 1.2m by 2.1m doorway to heaven. Our time would come, as my Dad would say.

A rite of passage…

My local backstreet pub was the Albany. You know the type. Every community had one. When you had summoned the courage to pass through the outer doors, the reward was daunting. In a split-second, you had to make an *Alice in Wonderland* like choice between the Saloon or Public Bar. The distinction between the two bars may now be blurred, but in 1985 it was considerable, like a social San Andreas Fault line that separated the working and middle classes. Or *Rough* and *less rough* as it was in the Albany. We chose the *Public* bar.

Gulp.

The conversation did stop. People did turn and look us up and down. The silence lasted an age. Eventually the barman said *Awright, lads, what are you havin’?*. Strangely enough, we hadn’t considered this eventuality. Being the tallest, I ushered forward by the group. *That, please*I said and pointed at an old chap’s duo of drinks. This turned out to be *Light & Bitter*, which is possibly one of the most God-awful drink combos you’ll every encounter. For us, though, it was the nectar of the Gods. Accepted, we took our place among the Gods, or locals as they are often called. We shipped a few units, played a few games of pool and left unscathed – physically, that is, but we were subject to a fair bit of *banter*. A love affair began, dear reader, which lasts to this day.

Every community had one. Legend has it that everyone knows your name here. Some people actually had their own beer glass behind the bar. Sometimes the pub displayed outrageous tardiness when it came to time keeping. Each had a Jukebox, which by law had to feature *American Pie* by Don McLean – we’d always pick this because it was nine minutes long and represented solid value for money. Once accepted, these places became *home-from-home* and a place to treasure.

Every community had one. Note the use of the word *had*. These pubs are disappearing and disappearing fast. Chester still has a few great ones like the Albion Inn, the Royal Oak and Ye Olde Cottage Inn to name but a few. So why not take a walk on the wild side and pop in for a pint. It might be the start of something.

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