Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Home is where your pub is

I like to consider myself a renaissance woman. I am well traveled and well read. I love the joy of a good book, a good meal, a good conversation, and especially a really good pint of ale. As such, I have devoted much time to finding a place to sit and enjoy my vices and I have found that there is no place quite like a pub. I find I can easily while away an afternoon or evening in a pub; reflecting on the day's events, perusing a copy of a great newspaper like the New York Times, or chatting local politics with the patrons. No matter where my travels take me, I always find a pub or bar that feels like home. However, that being said, there are four pubs in this world that hold a special place in my heart and I consider them my home pubs or Local as the Brits call them.

I live and work in the greater Boston area. One of the many city's claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the American Revolution. The birthplace isn't the entire city, it is really a pub located near Haymarket. I know this because the Green Dragon is one of my home pubs and they are quite proud of the fact that Sam Adams, Paul Revere and the rest of the Sons of Liberty planned the Tea Party and other rabble rousin' in their front room. So much so that the story of the Revolution's planning is printed on the bar placemats. The Green Dragon is a warm, friendly place where, when I walk in, I am welcomed by name and can have good conversation, good food, and a pint of my beer of choice, Bass Ale. Like most of the best pubs around the world, the wood is dark, the décor slightly cluttered with local nostalgia, and the bathrooms small. The barstools wobble and my favorite feature of the bar is the hook under the bartop for me to hang-up my purse or backpack. The bar staff is Irish and the food is good basic pub fare. I recommend the Shepherd's Pie and the New England Clam Chowder. One of my favorite things to do at the Green Dragon is to just sit at the bar and reflect on the going ons of our American forefathers. I sit, with a cold pint glass in my hand, and ponder the events of the 1770's and how foreign the idea of Revolution must have seemed to them and the citizens of Boston. I wonder if the people around the world today who are stuggling with the same feelings of oppression from a government who doesn't rule by right/representation feel the same way our founding fathers did when they decided to throw some snowballs at British soldiers on that cold winter day in 1772.

My other home pub in the Boston area is The Old Timer; a little dark "hole in the wall" in a small town outside of Boston, Clinton. The Old Timer is the quintessential small town Irish/American bar. Guinness is the house drink, served complete with a shamrock in the foam. The bar is the front room for the best restaurant in the town, The Old Timer Restaurant. The Old Timer has been a Clinton fixture of over 60 years and you know it the moment you walk into the front door. The McNallys have owned, managed, and worked the bar/restaurant since the day it opened. The walls are decorated with murals of small town life painted by Jim McNally's father in the 1930's; as well as various artifacts of Clinton's sports and civic past. The bar is cluttered with the usual bottles of liquor and glassware, but after you sit down and start sipping your drink or pint of beer you start to notice the faded newsclippings taped to the mirror. Proclamations of past gloried local sports events, political happenings, and the births, deaths, and marriages of the McNallys and long time patrons are all displayed proudly as well as postcards sent by regulars from vacation spots around the world. I sent the McNallys one from my SCUBA vacation in the Isle of Rhodes in Greece and it is sandwiched between a tacky postcard from Atlantic City and another from Beijing, China. It is only after looking at all of these clippings that you start to really understand that the Old Timer is not only the best local watering hole but the heartbeat of Clinton. I love sitting at the bar at the Old Timer where I am known by name and drink. I am not even seated before one of the barkeeps has already started to draw my Bass Ale. I am never offered a menu unless I ask for it because they know I'll order the rueben sandwich with extra fries, and they always remember to bring me a new bottle of ketchup as I use about half a bottle on my fries. On a Saturday night, I can walk in alone and feel surrounded by friends or just sit quietly at the end of the bar and watch a hockey game; while discussing politics and the local gossip with the other regulars.

For awhile, I split my time between Boston and London after my company offered me a joint position in our London offices. As a result, I am now as at home in London as as the Boston and like in Boston, I have two pubs that are my Local when I am in London.

The Albert on Victoria Street in Westminster is where my London friends and I meet for after-work pints or as the starting point for a night of pubs and clubs. It is convenient for us all in regards to the Tube and it is the only pub that regularly serves everyone' s favorite pint or poison. Not to mention, it hasn't gone gastropub on us. The pub is named after Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria and is housed in a magnificent Victorian era building complete with dark wood and etched glass windows. The décor is heavy Victorian, meaning red velvet everywhere. Upstairs, the walls are decorated with pictures of past and present MPs and Prime Ministers. But, the best feature of the Albert isn't an object but a group of men. You see, The Albert is the preferred "hang out" for a group of retired military men known as The Chelsea Pensioners. On any given night, you will find a group of these distinguished gentleman dressed in their red and gold Chelsea Pensioner uniform enjoying a pint or two and regaling anyone who happens to be around with stories of their military service. The stories are best if you stand them a pint or two, but even if you don't, they are a congenial group who enjoy good conversation. If you sit in the Albert long, you had best be able to talk and defend yourself on a variety of subjects, but especially politics. One such visit with MBH found us talking of the "mess in Parliament" with a pair of Londoners who worked for the Minister of Agriculture. The best part of that Parliament discussion was that we had just sat in the Visitors Gallery at the House of Commons that morning and had watched their boss answer questions on everything from farm imports to problems with English honey bees. Our discussion with these blokes digressed into proving exactly how poorly we Americans know our state capitals but a good time and many pints where had by all. We all sat and talked until "Time" was called and afterwards, we weaved our way back to our hotel laughing at the coincidences of the evening.

My other local is the Dog and Duck in Chelsea; conveniently located around the corner from where my flat was or, as my London friends say, "within dragging distance". The Duck, as it is fondly called by the regulars, is just your average London neighborhood pub. It is frequented by businessmen after work and the local folk after 6pm. There is nothing particularly memorable about the surroundings at the Dog and Duck. It is what a typical English local pub should be not what they have become the last year or two with the influx of gastropubs. It has a tin ceiling, wood floor, and tiled walls. They don't serve food; just bags of crisps (potato chips to us in the US). The strangest feature of the interior decoration is a tiled fireplace against one wall that doesn't seem to have been lit in about 50 years but they keep a bucket of coal around, just in case. The tiles have pictures of quaint English village life from the 1700's painted on them. Over the years as tiles have been damaged or gone missing, the broken tiles have been replaced with whatever color, style, etc. of tile that has been available; making the fireplace look like a five year old's pottery project. The bar is the centerpiece of the establishment. One of those really large ornate bars with the veined glass behind the bartop. There are a few beat up tables near the windows and a dartboard on the back wall that you have to pass in front of to get to the loo, especially dangerous around 9pm when the dartgame has been extended by several pints. There is a "telly" above the bar that seems to only get football and cricket games. The BBC4 channel comes in looking like waves. Of course this is the BBC channel that shows "Interview Shows", so on a good afternoon you can watch Parkinson interview Elton John, or hear the tales of some poor chap from Manchester who woke up and found out his wife was also his sister. That goes over really well with the afternoon business crowd. I have spent many an hour at the Dog and Duck, drinking my pint, reading the London Times and two day old New York Times, writing friends back home in the States, and "chatting up" the locals. The barkeep knows I'll have a London Fullers ESB and bag of vinegar crisps. He always asks about my trip "back across the Pond" and then catches me up on the neighborhood gossip and happenings I have missed while away. Proving, home really is where your pub is.