It’s a place that is familiar to many or most of us, but it’s a place that we rarely examine sociologically. Recently over the course of a weekend I frequented five pubs (on six separate occasions), and each time for a different reason. The first pub was to eat in and read some notes, the second to attend an academic roundtable [discussion], the third to socialise with new colleagues, the fourth to settle a hotel bill, and the fifth was spent with my wifey whom I hadn’t seen in two nights.
In Irish society few other places offer such diversity in social activity as that of the pub, with the exception of a church or community hall. The influence and interconnectedness of the pub doesn’t end at its physical boundary. Pub life spills outward into the communities in which they are placed. Pub life flows onto the streets of towns and villages as patrons negotiate their way to their next haunt, or find an eatery, get a taxi or walk home.
The first pub I frequented was a gastro-pub ‘The Pickled Beetroot’; it was a classy establishment that offered a sophisticated atmosphere and complementary food menu. Whilst there I witnessed a range of different social interactions and activities, I watched people eat and drink, some alone and some in groups. I observed a couple doing a crossword, and another celebrating their engagement with family and friends. I watched staff as they debated over a beer slogan on a blackboard - it read ‘life’s too short to drink crap beer’. They debated as to whether it was worded too harshly! With my food and pints of ‘the good stuff’ consumed, timed dictated I was elsewhere.
The second pub I attended over the weekend was ‘The Librarians Ear’ a multi-storey pub that presented its own ecosystem. The ground floor was a dark place with typical pub life activity occurring. As I ascended the stairs on the second floor I witnessed a flock of women celebrating a hen party and sharing in the last supper of the bride to be. They were donned in feather boas, beads, butterfly wings and furry headbands with flashing lights. It was a dazzling spectacle that I hurriedly sprinted past. The third floor of the Librarians Ear, my destination, was a room full of academics discussing the ‘porosity of the university’. It was the best round table discussion I have every attended, however, I will disclose the two pints of Guinness I enjoyed whilst there may have biased my opinion. I think I would happily attend more round table discussions if they were situated in such convivial locations.
The third pub venue ‘The Irish Curse’ was a quintessential Irish pub, crowded, loud and teeming with mighty craic. I shared this space with colleagues on two separate occasions over the weekend, the first occasion with a large group and the second with one other newbie PhD student. The pub was on split-levels with traditional snug areas. Being in The Irish Curse really made me think about personal space. The bubble of physical space we keep between ourselves and others that offers protection, comfort and reassurance. However in The Irish Curse personal space was non-existent, and yet it seemed to bother no one. This is an interesting example of how social norms are different depending on the social space. In a pub it’s ok to be shoulder-to-shoulder or back-to-back (or in the extreme, bum-to-bum) with a stranger because of the alternative social rules that exist in a pub. However, on my second visit to this pub the lack of personal space was too invasive and my colleague and I chose to enjoy our pints outside observing the social interactions bustling around us. A stranger approached while we supped our pints and asked for ‘a light’. My colleague handed him a memory key, which the stranger tried his best to light his cigarette with. When he realised he laughed with us.
The fourth pub the ‘Nursing Home Dance Hall’ was a fleeting visit. It was the pub in the ‘hotel’ in which I was lodging. The hotel room had a very definite nursing home vibe but the pub was pleasant enough. It was well furnished, clean and inviting. It appeared to be a watering hole for locals from the surrounding housing estates, as the patrons seemed familiar with each other and the bar staff. The Nursing Home Dance Hall offered those interested in a jive a perfect venue to show case their talents, and a few patrons were in the process of loosening up. I felt very out of place here and was quick to escape before a more senior lady eyed me for a dance!
My final pub visit was to ‘The Moose Head’ with my wife, after being away for the weekend. This is one of our local establishments, that boasts to be one of the best pubs in the world to visit. It certainly doesn’t disappoint, although its Guinness is average! While I ordered at the bar, I enjoyed listening to the banter between some men. They were slagging each other and the barmaid. The main jesting was centred on the fact that one of the men was a vegetarian … the punch line being he had a ‘PhD in meat’!
Irish pub life is varied and complex. The diversity of social interaction that takes place in these spaces is fascinating and multifaceted. Pub life on the occasions I witnessed over the weekend was filled with talk, banter and mighty craic. I beheld interactions that were meaningful as well as playful, intimate as well as public. But there is a darker side of pub life. An afterlife that for today I am not focusing on. However, I glimpsed this afterlife when I visited a well-known Irish fast food chain, on the way back to my hotel from The Irish Curse. Whilst there I observed what might be described as a zombie feast. Its patrons were mostly drunk and clumsily ate their burgers and chips. Eyeballs rolling, conversation was limited and consisted of ‘nom nom nom’ sounds. The fast food joint was like the pub after-life, a purgatory that you visited in the transition between pub and home. I decided to take my fast food and make a fast exit … before the zombies tried to get me!
© Clay Darcy, March 2014.