Pubs: A Boy Thing?

Great Britain, Observatory

The BFI has released a double DVD set called ‘Roll Out the Barrel: the British pub on film’, a collection of 20 films about British pubs made between 1944 and 1982. From wartime documentaries intended to keep up flagging spirits to independent productions exploring the permissive society of the 1960s, the five-hour collection reveals cultural changes in Britain from the perspective of bar and lounge.

One of the great features of British life is still the boozer, the convivial hostelry that acts as neutral ground for all argument and opinion. Traditionally the pub has a landlord/landlady who remains your host, and can invite you in, bar you or ask you to stay late (a bit like vampires). It’s where coroners once set up their offices, a place beyond the sway of prejudice.

And yet there are invisible lines within pubs, particularly between the classes, for where once the Saloon and the Public bars separated clientele there are now rough and smart pubs depending largely on the area. But it seems there’s another divide. I know a number of professional businesswomen who would not be caught dead in a pub. They prefer cocktail bars or – God help us – bars in hotels.

I have never understood this. They’re the same people who complain that the men they meet are universally undesirable. Of course they are; you meet them in hotels! There are pubs that tend to attract a more creative, interesting crowd and there are pubs I wouldn’t touch with a stick. The point is that you make the choice, whereas hotel bars all seem exactly the same.

I have absolutely no interest in networking, being seen somewhere fashionable or knowing anyone famous – years of working in film put paid to that malarkey. You can have no idea how awful a celebrity can be until you’ve eaten with one. But it seems that many women harbour a fantasy of meeting elegant, eligible, famous men in luxurious surroundings. In reality this means eating stale peanuts served by a sleep-deprived Eastern European in a bar with low semi-circular faux-leather armchairs, against a background of Ibiza chillout hits from 1995, and being given a bill of £125.50. Where’s the glamour in that?

The real difference is that pubs are about characters and conversation, and bars are about the surroundings. Recently I went to a place called Shrimpy’s, which has a waiting list of about two months to get in. It consisted of fashionistas sitting in a rather small, glum faux-fifties room, pricing each others’ clothes.

To be fair, a lady likes to get dressed up. She doesn’t want to wrap herself in Marc Jacobs and stand in the Skinner’s Arms. So there’s your answer. ‘Off you go to the Mandarin Oriental bar, love. I’ll be around the corner at the King’s Head, call me when you’re done.’ Or as Al Murray, Pub Landlord, said, ‘A pint of bitter for me and a fruit-based drink for the little lady.’

7 comments on “Pubs: A Boy Thing?”

  1. NB says:

    The Soho hotel immediately springs to mind !

  2. K. A. Laity says:

    I think it must be the type of women you hang out with; none of my female friends would choose the chi-chi club over a comfortable pub (they couldn’t afford it for one thing). I’m an ale-drinking woman who eschews fruity drinks and wouldn’t touch the (usually insipid) white wine on tap in most pubs. And I hate getting dressed up, too. That said, I do know a number of pubs where women are not welcome. But to conclude that women “don’t like pubs” because of that — well, that puts the question the wrong way round.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    We have some interesting old “pubs”, too. But they are local bars and tend to be focused on a neighborhood or a national group, for x the Irish. Not so interesting, it sounds, as the British pub. Ah well… Cheers.

  4. admin says:

    I think the advent of the gastropub has added appeal for many women, but while most of my women friends will drink in a pub if pushed, given the choice they’d go for a smart bar. But it is probably the type of people I hang out with!

  5. Steve says:

    Back in 1853 when I was in my 20’s and hadn’t yet drunk my fill, I hung out in neighborhood bars a great deal – and so did most of the women I knew. I think from what I can gather that the American neighborhood bar – back then – had a great deal in common with the British Pub. Lots of conversation, varied personalities; it was in fact much more about the people than about the booze or even the food (consisting mostly of pizza, chicken wings and something called “beef on weck” – basically a roast beef sandwich). I can’t say that I exactly miss those days; but they WERE exciting. People actually had their own thoughts and ideas rather than recycled pseudo-thoughts. But, being now old and cynical, I WOULD say that.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Hey, Steve, if you are no longer deeply involved in a scene, you cam still enjoy yourself, but in an anthopological mode. I like the people who are constantly on their mobiles, but who you quickly deduce are not actually talking to anyone, just running a line in a loudish voice: “Will how do I contact the White House lost and found? I know I had to have left my Mac there; yes, after the big meeting with POTUS. Great my name’s ——, I’ll be glad to hold. Yes, Sir. Thank you Sir. Of course I’ll vote a straight ticket. Yes, goodbye.”

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Hotel bars are just a place to get a drink at the end of a day. I’ve been trying to decide if our nearest pub “the Marine View” is becoming a local and I think it is, or was until the provincial government put in such stiff (you’ll pardon the phrase) anti-drunk driving laws that you don’t dare have even one pint and then drive. We’re in the suburbs and have to drive there. Haven’t been for chips and a pint for a long time. I agree about the white wine, too. Alcoholic water, really.

Comments are closed.