Zoe Howard can’t imagine living in a community that doesn’t have a pub.
“It’s the heart of things, isn’t it?” said the barmaid at the Grand Parade, an ocean-side resort in Tynemouth, Newcastle, U.K.
“You have your favorite. And it’s where you go after work, to see your friends when you’re not wanting to be alone.”
When Zoe heard there’s a place in the United States – yes, Belmont – that doesn’t have a neighborhood bar, she thought that was very sad for the community’s residents.
Where do they catch up on news that’s both personal and political; where else do they find the kind of solace that being in a place familiar and filled with people they know provides, she wondered.
Zoe’s attachment to having a pub she can walk into at any time – alone or with friends – was echoed by other British residents who Belmont Patch met up with in the past two weeks.
They enjoy the comradery of seeing their friends, meeting new ones, relaxing after work or even on lunch hour, watching sports with others as much as having a drink.
There’s also a feeling about being in a pub that some don’t experience in other settings.
Maria Ward, who lives in north Oxford, said there’s an excitement that comes alongside having a drink in a traditional pub that can’t be found anywhere else.
“There’s a slight edge and a feeling that anything goes,” she said. “Sometimes people will be out of control. The reality is that rarely happens but it might.”
That’s quite different from going to a restaurant or even a “gastro” pub that serves meals, Maria believes, where one knows there will be food and exactly how things will proceed.
“When it’s just a pub, you find the feeling of a community with like-minded people,” she said. “And there’s something very appealing about being in a place where people’s defenses come down.”
Maria, who is a therapist, moved a few years ago with her family to what she describes as a lovely house with enough room to provide both her sons with their own rooms.
But she deeply misses a neighborhood pub. So she empathizes with people in a community who don’t have a special place, no matter how it looks, to be amongst friends with whom to have a drink, chat or just be alone – perhaps reading the newspaper – but somewhere where others congregate as well.
There are a few pubs in the part of Oxford where Maria lives but they’re too far away to consider her local one.
In fact, she and her husband have discussed the deciding factor for any home they may move to one day and it’s that it be near a pub.
“I miss it,” she said. “My favorite things about a local pub are seeing people you might know, that excitement about being in a place specifically to have a drink and the relaxed atmosphere. It’s like being in your front room – almost an extension of home – but a bit different.”
Lunch and drinks
Maria’s husband, Michael, is a solicitor for an Oxford law firm and goes to a pub with work colleagues that’s within a short walking distance from their office, usually once or twice a week for lunch.
It’s a way to relax during the workday, Michael said. It’s also a place, now that there are fewer opportunities in our busy and increasingly frenetic lives, to congregate socially with friends.
“It’s somewhere to unwind after work, watch sports and make new friends while having a nice drink,” he said.
One of his colleagues, Liam Desmond, often joins Michael during weekly lunches at the pub near their office.
Liam, who is a partner with the law firm, said the pub plays many different roles.
“It makes the work day more bearable,” he joked.
Not only is a good place to bond with friends, Liam said in all seriousness, but it’s also a place to bring a family and unwind with them.
His wife, Jen, thinks pubs provide a 'hub' especially in small communities.
“In the old days people used to meet everyone at church,” she said. “Nowadays pubs can provide a central meeting point for socializing in villages and small towns."
That's not to say this applies to every pub, Jen pointed out. Over the last 15-20 years more and more drinking pubs have become gastro pubs.
"Food is now a pub’s biggest source of income and people will travel further if the reputation for food is good,” she said. “It still revolves around socializing, either with family or friends, but in these circumstances you won't really know the people on the table next to you unlike a local village pub that will rely heavily on its income from the local community.”
If she moved to a small village, the first point of contact Jen said she and Liam would go to and get an idea of the area and to get to know people would be the pub.
“The question is: If you don't have a local pub, what then becomes the main focus/hub for the community to meet and socialize?” Jen wondered.
She and Liam have two young children: six-year-old Ben and Poppy who will turn five in October.
Poppy declined to be interviewed for this article but Ben thought it very sad that people in Belmont don’t have a pub to go to on week days or weekends. “They wouldn’t have very nice food or very nice drinks,” he said. In particular, Ben said he would miss pudding – his favorite part of the pub.
But it’s possible that when Ben and Poppy grow up, pub life in England may not be as prevalent as it is right now. Michael and Liam said drinking during the day is slowly becoming frowned upon in their country. Perhaps the puritanical influence of America is making its way across the pond, they postulated. Or maybe, as Michael pointed out, British people are realizing that a day can pass without a drink.
For now, though, it’s still an important and comforting part of life in the United Kingdom to walk into one’s local pub where, like the fictional “Cheers” that was so popular with American television viewers, everyone knows your name.