The Great British Pub

(VOVworld) - Renowned worldwide, the great British pub is not just a place to drink beer, wine, cider, or even something a little bit stronger, it is a unique social centre, very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities throughout the length and breadth of the country. In today’s Cultural Rendezvous, Joshua Zukas joins us to talk about the great British pub which actually started life as a great Italian wine bar.

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Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham. Built into the same rocks that Nottingham Castle sits upon, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is said to have been established in 1189, though the current building is probably 17th century. 
Photo: David Leadbitter/Alamy

A: So pub culture in Britain I think is really, really interesting. And actually one of my favorite things about going back to the UK is enjoying pub culture. So in the UK we don't really have a strong café culture and we don’t have a strong bar culture but we have a very strong pub culture, which is in between somebody’s home and a public bar. So the name pub comes from the public house. It’s a very old tradition, hundreds of years old. It comes when people had to make beer at home and they would open up their living room and make it public to invite people to come in to the living room and buy beer. And that’s how the culture developed. And even now, it's quite distinct.

Q: Is it very different from bar? Or the two things are just the same in Britain?

A: When you buy licenses, you buy a license for a pub and license for a bar, it’s completely different. You sell different things, you have different opening hours and you pay different taxes because the pubs have a unique position within British social culture. So that’s where it came from and since then pub’s developed. Now in modern day life you also have different pubs selling kinds of thing. Many pubs are still old like the ones you find in most towns and they’ve been pubs for hundreds of year. That’s quite normal. But now they started to diversify a little bit: so you have pubs that are offering wine, and you have pubs that are offering really good food. Also what’s interesting that it’s become very modern in some ways like it’s quite normal now to find pubs that offer Vietnamese food for example, or Thai food. So they would invite a Vietnamese or Thai chef to the pub and while you are having your beer you can have some nem or bun cha or whatever.

Q: I’d love to have bun cha in a pub in central London someday!!! Tell me more about the difference between pubs and bars, for example, their opening and closing time?

A: That’s also a very interesting point. It’s a public house, it’s not designed for you to go and get drunk and stay out all night.  So pubs used to have a very strict closing time at 11pm. At 11pm, you’re supposed to go home so that you can go to work the next day. The way the pub is designed is not just for you to go on Friday or Saturday night, it’s not just for the weekend. It’s for any day. You can go to the pub any day of the week. I think originally they have this time restriction because you can go any day of the week. It means that people can go home and go to work the next morning to work. So that’s what I mean about opening at different hours. If you go to the bar, they will serve you as long as you like. If they have license for a bar, they can open until 2 or 3 or 4am, whatever. But that’s for going and getting drunk and maybe dancing. Pub is quite different; you don’t go to a pub for those reasons. You go to the pub to sit down and have a quiet conversation.  Most pubs are more quiet, like some body’s house.

Q: Anything else that distinguishes bars and pubs?

A: I would say that, besides the opening hours and function, the difference is the atmosphere. When you are in the pub and when you are in the bar is the completely different atmosphere. Pub has this atmosphere of history. You can feel that: the chairs that you’re sitting on would be antiques for example, that’s quite normal. Inside the pub, the place you go and order your drinks might be old and made of wood.  And then there are old pictures on the wall, that’s quite normal. Maybe that’s the fireplace. The pub’s atmosphere is cozy whereas in the bar, the atmosphere is not cozy. That’s the major difference. Yes, even today, pubs are old and antique. The music is also different. In a lot of pubs, the big difference with music is the volume. So in the bar, the music might be really loud to encourage people to have fun, drink a lot and make you dance. In the pub they might be have no music. Or they do have music but it’s very quiet, for a cozy comfortable atmosphere. 

Q: So you mean classic music is the only choice for pubs?

A: Sometimes they have something like that. It depends on the pub. Like I said you have different types of pub that sell different things. Some will be focusing on drinking. Some are for young people so they may play more music like popular music, though it’s not too loud. Some pubs are for older people so they play older music. Some pubs are sport pubs so you can go there to watch football or rugby or cricket. The other thing that I mentioned is some pubs are food pubs so you go there to eat. Some pubs are actually offering very, very good food. And it's often good values as well; it's often cheaper than things at the restaurant.

Q: So can we say that British people even prefer pub than restaurant?

A: It depends. I think to hang out people definitely prefer pubs. To eat, it depends. I think one of the nice things about pubs is they are everywhere. They exist absolutely everywhere. The town is not a town unless it has a pub. The village is not a village unless it has a pub. So even my tiny village it has a pub. Traditionally there are three or four things every village has: every village has a church, every village has a town hall, every village has a post office and every village should have a pub. And then if a village does not have a pub, it’s not a village.

Thank you so much! And that was Josh Zukas on VOV24/7’s Cultural Rendezvous. Join us next time for more interesting cultures from around the world.

Some Britain's oldest pubs in pictures:

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Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans, Hertfordshire. This unusual, octagonal-shaped pub (it was once a pigeon house) claims to date all the way back to 973, though historians are sniffy about its claim to be Britain's oldest - the earliest license date we have for it is from the 18th century. Photo: Stu /Alamy

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Ye Olde Man & Scythe, Bolton, Lancashire. A pub has proudly stood on this spot since at least 1251, though the vaulted cellars are all that remains of the original building. Photo: David Probett/Alamy

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Adam & Eve, Norwich, Norfolk. This pretty pub's story begins in the 13th century, when records show that it was a monastic brewhouse, frequented by thirsty workmen building the cathedral.
Photo: NIgel Ferguson/Alamy

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The Clachan Inn, Drymen, Scotland. Supposedly the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland (1734), The Clachan has a rich history.
Photo: Washington Imaging/Alamy

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The Bingley Arms, Leeds, Yorkshire. There is a long-held local belief that beer was brewed in this building in 953AD, but that its history may go back even further. It was once known as The Priests' Inn, as it was a popular place for monks to rest on the way to St Mary's Abbey in York. Photo: Gary Doak/Alamy