“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by people, by which so much happiness is produced by a good tavern or inn.” Samuel Johnson
Something happens when you’re in the company of many people having a good time.
Whether it’s some sort of emotional osmosis or a kind of ether that saturates the air between humans, enjoyment is infectious. Of course, add in a measure of beer or wine and this phenomenon is amplified. Some of my greatest pleasures of this kind have occurred in pubs. Two instances stand out.
In the summer of 1972 I was courting my future wife, Sue in London, England. She was working in a 9 to 5 job and I was vacationing. To bide my time while she worked I visited some of the famous historical sites, strolled in the expansive inner-city parks and often found myself in some charming old pubs. One day I walked into one of these establishments, called the Swan, and it was almost full. It was just after one o’clock on a business day…seemingly no one was at the office! I pushed my way up to the bar and ordered a pint of lime and lager, a perfect drink on what was a stinking hot day. Half way into my second pint I inadvertently nudged the fellows arm standing beside me. Before I knew it we were engaged in a lively discussion about travel, university and family. Then I was introduced to his two friends. Now things became quite animated. They bought me a third pint. Time passed. The next time I looked at my watch it was 5:30 pm! Sue had left work 30 minutes earlier. I quickly passed on my farewells and left the Swan in a sort of other-worldly state of mind. Sue was bemused at my tardiness, and laughed at my retelling of my afternoon spent at the Swan and descriptions of my newfound friends. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, this day was also the beginning of a life-long love of pubs.
My second story comes from a Saturday afternoon in Peterborough, Ontario in 1995. I was sitting alone in a pub (which I partly owned at the time) reading the weekend edition of Toronto’s Globe & Mail newspaper. A group of personable young people came in and sat at the table next to me. They ordered a few jugs of beer and settled in. I immediately detected a strong Slavic dialect and so I couldn’t resist asking them where they were from. It turned out that they were a traveling group of Russian theatre students visiting and putting on experimental plays at university campuses across Canada. Soon the women began to sing and they invited me to their table where I learned more about of their story. After a few beers, one of the women started softly singing a charming little song. Soon one of the fellows joined in. The song changed and suddenly the whole group started to sing a soulful, almost hymn-like song in four-part harmony. It reminded me of one of my favourite songs - The Internationale, which I first heard watching (and listening) the film “Reds” – which despite the provocative lyrics, the melody and the complex harmonies really moved me. Now, right in the middle of these young Russians I was swimming in similarly layered harmonies and lovely melodies. I was transfixed, and so was everyone else in the pub (which was now full). People turned their chairs toward the students. The next few hours, were intoxicating in more ways than one. I’d never seen so many smiles on so many faces in a group of people. What an afternoon! I regretted saying goodbye as they left the room. The beauty of that afternoon has never left me and as a result I made a promise to myself to always include live music in my businesses.
Today I’m still in the pub business and I bring in musicians on a regular basis. I rarely miss a performance and often see many smiles in the audience. I mostly stand at the bar as it’s where I often meet interesting folks. It’s nice to know why you do some things.
It’s also rewarding to know that what you’re doing is relevant. Centuries ago it was often said that there were three important meeting places in society – (1) the church, (2) the market place and, of course, the pub (or café). And their order of priority was probably in that order in medieval Europe and in most countries around the Mediterranean. How times have changed! Today I’d argue it is the pub (or café) that fulfills that function best in modern society.
Markets have made a nice comeback in recent years and are steadily gaining in popularity. Sadly, churches sit half empty and recruiting clergy is a difficult task. C’est la vie.
Raise a glass to good friends and family next time you visit a pub. It’s a fine tradition. I’ll meet you there! Cheers!