We all know not to judge a book by its cover but is it the same for bars? It depends, of course, on what you’re looking for and one man’s hovel might be another’s castle.
There are some places that will look more inviting than others but it is a matter of taste. I’ll steer away from places with shiny, modern fronts, too much chrome, marble and exposed ducts. Even the decor’s louder than the suited hoorays and heehaws that frequent them.
Doppelganger pubs are not my style, either, y’know, the ones done up as a wild west saloon, a Mexican cantina or, horror of horrors, an Irish pub that’s often as Irish as a flat pint of bitter. As for hipster pubs, well, they do get points for trying hard but those points get subtracted for trying too hard, too.
No, the old fashioned boozer has an unassuming look to it, slightly worn, frayed at the edges but lovingly cared for and quiet and dedicated in the delivery of its product.
The wily Guinness drinker is often the most discerning of pub afficianados. He, or indeed, she, will not be sold on fancy decor, illuminated signs or garden furniture. No, what they want to know is the quality of the pint, how often and how well it’s poured. To determine that they’ll cross any threshold and with a quick sweep of the bar, its full, half drained and empty glasses, they will have taken in all they need to know. And if the pint doesn’t pass that sight test, they’ll never darken that door again.
That said, I broke all those rules the other day when, afflicted by a sudden thirst, I took refuge in a well known city bar famous for its traditional music sessions. It was mid-afternoon, so it wasn’t busy. That was my first mistake. The only person in the bar before me was drinking a bottle of Corona and reading a paper. The barman was working his phone. That wasn’t a good sign.
When he tore himself away from his digital snapchat, I ordered a pint of Guinness. Now a good pint should take as much as 120 seconds for the perfect pour and let’s face it, this chap wasn’t run off his feet and I was certainly not going anywhere in a hurry. Despite that, my pint was delivered with undue haste and slopped (no exaggeration) before me, looking like it had dressed in the dark, was wearing odd socks and hadn’t combed its hair. Indeed, it’s head had a depressed, concave shape. I stared at it with horror, looked at the barman who had already returned to his phone and then turned around, in disgust, without paying for it, let alone drinking it.
Five minutes later, I was sitting in Frank Ryan’s of Queen St and happily, order was restored. The barman, there, poured his pint with dignity, no haste and plenty of respect. And there wasn’t a phone in sight, at least, not while he was looking after business.
The strange thing was, I reflected quietly, in enjoyment of the pint in front of me, was that both pubs, within a short distance of each other and both with reputations as good, traditional houses and a history to match, were as alike as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; one, all show and little substance, the other, righteous and respectful, if a tad shabby, but who’s quibbling?