Updated: Jun 4, 2021
With lockdown rules easing, meaning that we can once again sit inside our favourite watering holes, my attention turns to one of my favourite pastimes. Reading alone in a pub.
It may come across as anti-social, aloof even. I don’t care. The sheer simple pleasure of delving into a world of make-believe with a pint of amber nectar, or even the black stuff, is mind-judderingly satisfying. A sense of just so-ness and right fills me each time I open my book or e-reader in the sanctuary of a boozer.
Perhaps in part I welcome the sense of isolation that it brings. By placing a book between me and the rest of the patrons I’m placing an unspoken barrier between us. ‘This is my territory and I do not wish to encroach on yours.’ Those are the terms I set out and expect all to abide by them. At the most I’ll respond to a ‘what are you reading?’ But don’t expect a full synopsis and notes, you’ll get the title, rough idea of the genre and then it’s back to the pages for me. I’m not being rude, I just don’t want to bring someone else into my afternoon.
It’s become a ritual for me. A little bit of ‘me-time’. I can’t just sling my hook into any old chain pub or McBeer palace. Everything has to fit just right for the experience to be at its optimum. The pub can’t be too loud or too bright. Music is ok, but not blaring and banal. Some form of mid-league rock that neither offends nor bores is ideal. A sports bar is out because it’s not a pub, it’s a bar. The traditional Irish pub or classic British boozer are both sound choices to ensconce oneself for a session of libation based page-turning.
Ideally there’ll be a fireplace — coal-fired if possible — to lend the setting that weary-traveller-well-met ambiance of a roadside tavern from many a fantasy tome. In these fossil fuel shy days though, an allowance can be made for the greener tendencies of our hostelries.
The Bar Person should be the right level of attentive; welcoming but not effusive, jovial but knows when to leave well alone. Trust me, that’s a skill not all landlords or ladies have, to be sure! In the best of scenarios a new pint will appear just as the old one is finishing, the sort of clairvoyance that only the finest of publicans demonstrate.
If the establishment does a fine line in snacks then so much the better; a good scotch egg can only serve to amplify the enjoyment of the entire event.
Sadly, in my experience there’s far too few of these book-ready pubs out there. There’s an abundance of micro-breweries serving charcuterie and overpriced cornichons, gin-gardens with alfresco seating and techno soundscapes, and Instagrammable wine-bars with trees in the foyer.
After lockdown and its sequels wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry, there’s a need to turnaround tables quickly and get the punters in the door. A bloke in the corner, nursing his pint and reading, isn’t going to swell anyones coffers to any great extent. I’ll do my part, choosing to support local and independent pubs all the way.
There may be a dearth of bibliophile friendly alehouses, but I know one or two. And with that, I’m off for a pint.
Written by Trev Fleming