Visit the Heart of England: The pub

Britain has a thriving drinking culture. If you’ve seen the action at its peak on a Saturday night you might even call it raging. Pubs are very much part of British culture (if having over 53,000 didn’t make that clear) No visit to the UK is complete without at least one visit to a pub. You should probably visit several though to get a proper feel for the place…ahem. Samuel Pepys referred to the pub as ‘The heart of England’, which perhaps explains the drinking culture evident in Britain today.

So, what is the difference between a pub and a bar?  The first thing you will probably notice is that pubs usually have a pub sign hanging outside, displaying both the name and an image relating to the name of the pub. This is because when pubs started out many potential boozers were illiterate. Pub names can be great fun with some bordering on the ridiculous. They range from seemingly normal sounding names like ‘The Queen Victoria’ (yes, like the pub on Eastenders) to weird things like ‘The Pig and Whistle’ or ‘The Drunken Duck’ or even ‘The Hung, drawn and quartered’ eek!

The word ‘Pub’ is an abbreviation of ‘public house’ now referred to most commonly as ‘pubs’. As in English generally though, many words exist for the same thing. Pubs can also be known as ‘inns’ ‘taverns’ and somewhat confusingly as ‘locals’. Do not be concerned if someone invites you along to their ‘local’ they simply mean the pub they drink in the most frequently.

Pubs serve beers, wine, spirits, alcopops and non-alcoholic beverages. I wouldn’t expect cocktails in a pub, but never say never. Pubs are often owned by breweries, so the variety of beers and ales on offer may vary but there is usually an abundance of choice. Beware if going to a pub with an indecisive friend! Bar snacks are usually available. Offerings usually include crisps and nuts, but may stretch to pork scratchings, or a pint of prawns if you’re lucky. ‘Pub grub’ as the food is known, traditionally includes pies, hearty sandwiches and ploughman’s lunches. Long have the British been mocked about the quality of their food, but if you are after hearty comfort food then pub grub should meet your needs (especially on a cold winter’s day). So-called ‘Gastropubs’ have started to emerge recently though, where the food is considered to be of a higher than normal standard or perhaps of a different cuisine such as Indian or Thai, but still served in a pub environment.

Pubs are social places and are often the focal point of the community. They welcome the old and the young, even families with very young children are normally welcome these days. The legal drinking age in Britain is still 18 though! Pubs tend to be decorated to be comfortable, cosy and homely. Traditionally pubs were places to drink but some, country pubs especially, are increasingly about food.

It’s not all about drinking though. Some pubs show live sporting events on televisions around the pub and others host regular theme nights, such as comedy, open-mic, karaoke and pub quizzes.

Pub or beer gardens are the gift of the British summer. Since summer tends to be a two-week blink-and-you-missed-it event in the UK, finding a table in the beer garden of a pub is quite a victory. Everyone seems to migrate to these little havens when the sun comes out. Cider enjoys a surge of popularity during the warmer months and Pimms is a must in the beer garden setting. It is the quintessential drink of the English summer.

Pubs come in many forms and I really believe they are something every visitor to the UK should experience for a cheeky pint or a crazy Saturday night. I am confident there is a pub to suit everyone. The fun part is trying them all out. Cheers! 


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