Saturday, January 24, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Pub

English Diarist Samuel Pepys apparently wrote that the pub was England's heart, while the church was its soul. Not being much of a churchgoer, I can't say a lot about the state of religion in England, but I do know a good pub when I see it!

Pubs have been part of the British culture for hundreds of years. Most Brits are used to having a local pub within easy walking distance. We usually call this our "Local." Whenever we walk in, we know there will be someone there who knows us. We can "put the world to rights", drink to celebrate, drink to "drown our sorrows" or just be with friends. We'll meet our neighbors, old school-friends, and a selection of pub-poets, pub-politicians, and people who will help you fix your car, paint a room, or offer to get you anything you want, no questions asked.

When I first moved to the US, my dear Wife B. told me she'd spotted a place called "Polo Pub" on her way to work that might be worth checking out. I think she had visions of English gentry in jodhpurs talking about horses. Actually, the people who owned the Chinese restaurant next door also owned this particular establishment and there was even an open doorway joining the two places. It was not particularly British!

On a walk down to the nearest strip-mall (small arcade of shops), I discovered "VW's." In front, it was a liquor-store (off-license); in the back was a bar. A little rough-and-ready, it did however contain an array of regulars, and the bar-staff were very friendly. I spent quite a few evenings there. I even took my brother when he came over on a rare visit. When they stopped selling the draft beer I enjoyed there, I started going less frequently.

We moved to a different area of town and I discovered two pubs within walking distance. One was quite close but a little unfriendly, the other much friendlier but quite a hike.

Then, a wonderful thing happened - an Irish pub, "O'Halloran's", opened up within easy walking distance. Catherine, a Dubliner, ran the new pub, in what had once been a restaurant. It was a magical place. They had good live music, and the regulars were the kind of intelligent people with whom you could have interesting conversations. The food was tasty too. You could have real fish and chips with malt vinegar, or bangers and mash (sausages with mashed potatoes), for instance, and wash it down with great draught Guinness. There was rarely any trouble there.

Unfortunately, the business began to struggle financially. It's traditional in our area of New Jersey for people to go to the "shore" at the weekend during the warm months, and a quiet summer put the final nail in the coffin. Catherine, very embarrassed by the failure, said little before the closure, although a fine party took place on the last night!

The pub became a "sports bar", and encouraged the very young. I have been there a few times since O'Halloran's closed, but it's not a patch on its predecessor. There is one other place reasonably close by, and a local band I knew from O'Halloran's plays there sometimes, so I pay a visit occasionally. Now there isn't a good bar within walking distance, so these days I am content to stay in with my family on a Friday night, and they are glad that I no longer come staggering back at 3 O'clock in the morning.

Do you have or remember a favorite bar or pub? Leave me a comment and tell me a little about it.


GJJ said...

Try Sláinte in Philadelphia ( It's located catty corner from 30th Street Station. You could hop on Amtrak in New Brunswick and be there in a half-hour!

Graham said...

I really like Philadelphia too. Haven't been there for ages. Good place for walking around. Thanks for the pub tip.