A pint with a dash of history

Gagandeep Arora

Social life in England revolves mostly around pubs, beer and football. Traditionally, Britons like to go to a pub after work, more so during the weekends. It is difficult to tell whether they enjoy the booze more or the intense conversation they engage in with their fellas.

Pub culture is an integral part of British life, says Rick Jones, a professional tour guide based in London. “Weekends feel different here. Even outsiders can sense it. You will find hectic activity around pubs and bars. Even if these are packed to capacity, English don’t mind standing in the streets in front of pubs, having drinks and talking endlessly. This is the way they socialise,” he says.

The British pub culture dates back to as far as 16th century. In London, you are never too far from a traditional pub, with intriguing interiors, interesting layouts, impressive artefacts and historical items on walls and tons of individuality. Some even date back to the time of Roman occupation in England, when taverns flourished where people would drink and socialise. Later, Anglo-Saxons had ale houses, which served a similar purpose.

Most of the traditional pubs in the countryside were once home to a bustling trading port, frequented by thieves, dockers, sailors and pirates. The dockers and pirates may be long gone, but the places they ate and drank in, and their stories are still very much alive. And no matter how far you have travelled the length and breadth of the country, you will not find two pubs alike. Some are famous by virtue of historical significance. Others are popular because of the people who drank there.

One such place is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street, an atmospheric old tavern dating back to 16th century. You can feel history with its low-lit vaulted cellars and wood paneling. For those with a literary turn of mind, this place is of significant interest as diarist Samuel Pepys regularly drank here. In his later years, scholarly Samuel Johnson aka Dr Johnson spent a lot of time at the bar. Even Charles Dickens frequented this place. He even mentioned the pub in A Tale of Two Cities.

While still on a literary theme, The George Inn on the Borough High Street holds immense heritage importance. Many famous writers are said to have been regulars, including bard William Shakespeare.

The Lamb and Flag at Covent Garden has an interesting story to tell. Back in 1679, in the tiny alleyway outside the pub, poet John Dryden was assaulted by thugs hired by notorious poet John Wilmot. Other such places which are centuries old and still buzzing include The Dove, Mr Fogg’s Tavern, The French House, the list goes on.

London is also packed with pubs and bars where music stalwarts kickstarted their career. The Dublin Castle pub in Camden has hosted The Killers, Blur and Amy Winehouse, both as performers and customers.

In Earl’s Court, the Troubadour is a historic music venue where Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix both played, while in Islington The Hope & Anchor pub has hosted bands such as U2, The Police and The Stranglers, while they were cutting their teeth in the music industry. Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers restaurant in Kensington offers a treat to Rolling Stones’ fans.

Drinking is a big thing here, says Deepesh Sethi, general manager of Radisson Blu Edwardian, Bloomsbury Street. “Traditional pubs have survived the test of time. They are in fact thriving.”

Vishal Bhatia, country manager (India), www.visitbritain.com/in, says travellers mostly look towards England for its iconic destinations and green countryside. “The country is much more than that. It is steeped in history. There’s nothing like visiting historical pubs along the docks of old London town. Even if you don’t drink, head to one of these watering holes and you are in for a treat.”