Notes on the British pub

I love a good country pub. My husband and I will drive for ages on a two-lane road that looks suspiciously one-way, the hedges scraping off the paint from our car, with me unable to breathe as it passes within mere inches of another, and another, and another at 60 miles per hour.

Then we’ll finally see the wooden sign: The Red Lion, or The Queen’s Head, or The Wheatsheaf. My feet touch ground and I’ll thank God I survived. We’ll walk into a cottage-like building, the fireplace lit with a dog by the hearth, wafts of frying onions trailing out of the kitchen. It’s like entering a friend’s house except the food isn’t free.

Pubs have been at the heart of British life for over a thousand years. Strangely, monasteries helped pubs along in their popularity, as monks brewed their own beer and sold it to travellers. Now, Friday after-work drinks, chats-up gone wrong, strangers suddenly soul-knitted over Goal!, the collapse onto a worn sofa after a tiring day out, the Sunday roast… these things encapsulate life in and around the public house.

I find pub names quite interesting. Although there’s more to a pub than its name – a good thing, considering some of the names I’ve seen – it must be chosen carefully, as it can either convert people into customers or move them on. I’ve always wondered, is there a story behind pub names, or do proprietors just pick two words that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, the more unrelated the better? The Hairy Lemon, really?

I laughed the first time I saw a Slug and Lettuce and reminded myself never to order a salad there. I now laugh at the thought of going to a pub and ordering salad.

Of all the pub names I’ve come across, here are my favourites:

The Honest Lawyer
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
The Goat and Tricycle
The Elusive Camel
My Father’s Moustache
The Bull and Spectacles
The Leg of Mutton and Cauliflower
The Mad Bishop and Bear
The Frog and Nightgown
The Jolly Taxpayer

Pubs aren’t as prevalent in the U.S. There, you meet friends at the café, the bar, the nightclub, the coffee shop, the diner, but none of them have that cosy pub feel. A café can create all the rustic ambience it wants – it can boast, I grew the wheat and grounded it into flour to make this bread, or I made these cakes with honey from the beehive next to the patch of wheat, but cafés in general are only open for breakfast and lunch. Here, pubs light up the frigid nights with their warmth and hearty food. They let you linger. You can’t sit in an American restaurant for hours debating which football team is best because the waiters will fix you with a death glare – understandable, as tips flesh out their $2 per hour wage. Pubs are a conglomerate of the best parts of different establishments: they have the bar’s lack of time restraint, the restaurant’s menu and the coffee shop’s sofas.

Here are a few more things I’ve learned about pubs since my transatlantic migration:

  • A half pint of Coke costs anything from £1.50 to £7, depending on how far the pub is up its own rear end.
  • Pubs remove guide dogs’ sense of privilege, as all dogs are welcome.
  • Pubs = free toilets. They don’t discriminate against non-customers.
  • There are some drinks you just don’t order as half-pints.
  • Pub tables, although often sticky, are great set-ups for Bananagrams.
  • Don’t stand up in front of the TV during The Big Match and ask if we can “turn this rubbish off”.

There is no place quite like the British public house. Although economic hardship has seen the shutdown of many pubs across the UK, I can’t foresee them dying out altogether, unless social media continues to cripple face-to-face communication because we have over a thousand on Facebook.

So may we continue to spend real time with friends and loved ones, and celebrate Fridays, and Sundays, and every so often, buy that overpriced Coke. Let pubs live on, even the ones with weird names… most of all the ones with weird names.

Shannon Evans

About Shannon Evans

Shannon Evans, originally from Florida, moved to London in December 2011. Her idea of a perfect Friday evening involves a book and a cup of tea, and her favourite book of all time is Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.

Shannon Evans, originally from Florida, moved to London in December 2011. Her idea of a perfect Friday evening involves a book and a cup of tea, and her favourite book of all time is Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.

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