Passport to the Pub:
A guide to British pub etiquette
2 Choosing Your Pub
Now that you know the basics, you can be confident about going into any pub in Britain. Your only problem is the sheer number and variety of pubs to choose from.
Rule number one: There is no such thing as a typical British pub
If you ask a native to show you a typical British pub, he or she might well take you to the nearest ‘pretty-postcard-traditional’ pub - one that looks like the pubs in the glossy tourist brochures - because we think this will match your expectations. It may well be a very pleasant, friendly pub, and, if you are lucky, it might not be full of other tourists. It may be a fine example of a truly British pub, but it will not be the whole truth.
The truth is that the typical British pub does not exist, or, if you prefer, that there are at least 61,000 typical British pubs. There are over 61,000 pubs in Britain. They are all different. They are all typical. This should not be a problem for the tourist. This is good news. It means that whatever your tastes and preferences, however fussy or eccentric you may be, you can find a pub to suit you.
Rule number two: If you know where to look, and what to look for, you can find your ideal pub.
Do not expect different types of pub to be conveniently labelled - we identify them through subtle clues in the decor, the appearance and behaviour of customers, the style of service, the music, the types of drinks and pub-games on display.
Here are a few common types of pub, with tips on where to find them, how to identify them and what to expect.
Research findings: Most of the tourists we interviewed were keen to find a ‘typical British pub’. American tourists were particularly obsessed with this question of authenticity, wanting to be constantly reassured that the pub they were in, the beer, the food - and even the barman - were ‘typically British’. Bar staff, generally a tolerant breed, found these persistent enquiries amusing, sometimes even endearing. Being anxious to please the customer, they almost invariably answered "oh yes, very typical".
Natives will often refer to a particular pub as "my local". This is not necessarily the pub nearest to their home, but rather their favourite among a choice of pubs within their community.
Where to look
Any primarily residential area - whether town-centre, suburb or village (the housing-estate pub is a special, highly distinctive type of local which is covered separately below). You will not find many locals on the main tourist track. Wander away from the big tourist attractions and main shopping centres, towards the back-streets and suburbs - places where people actually live. Here you will find the local pubs on street corners, or sometimes in the middle of a row of ordinary houses.
Research findings: The majority of tourists we interviewed were unaware of the variety and choice of pub types and styles available. In particular, young tourists visiting ‘tourist-traditional’ pubs said they would prefer a livelier atmosphere, but were not aware of the existence of ‘circuit’ pubs, ‘student’ pubs and other lively, youth-oriented pubs. Also, many parents with young children did not know about the children’s facilities and entertainment available at the larger ‘family’ pubs. Many tourists of all ages were keen to venture off the tourist-track and visit ‘ordinary’ pubs, but had no idea of where to look, what to look for, or how to behave when they got there!
When to visit
Evenings and weekends. If the pub is in a purely residential area, it may be rather ‘dead’ and empty during the working day, only coming to life in the evening and at weekends. If you want a comfortable chat with the publican or bar staff, go along a bit earlier in the day, when they will be less busy serving other customers.
What to look for
Although some locals are as ancient and historically interesting as the more famous pubs on the tourist-track, they tend not to advertise their history so blatantly. You are unlikely to see any ‘Ye Olde 17th-Century Inn’ signs in the ordinary residential streets and suburbs. Even some very picturesque village locals are remarkably modest about their heritage status. The facade of a local will usually be simple and unpretentious - just the pub-sign and the name on the front of the building. At most, there may be a few signs in the windows to inform you that food, games or satellite TV sports are available. You may see the occasional poster, banner or board advertising forthcoming or regular events such as live music or a pub quiz.
Tourist Mistake: A village publican running a particularly pleasant pub called The Red Lion was told by an American tourist that his pub was "much nicer than the other pubs I have visited in the ‘Red Lion’ chain". Please do not mistake common pub-names for branded chains. You will find a White Horse, a Red Lion, a King’s Arms, a Rose & Crown etc. in almost every town. These are not chains: they are individual, unconnected pubs which happen to have very popular names.
Size and layout
Locals come in all shapes and sizes. The average town-centre local is likely to be quite small, although it may well have the traditional two-room layout, with a ‘public bar’ and a ‘lounge bar’. Suburban locals are generally much more spacious, and ‘estate’ locals (see below) can be enormous.
Again, there is wide variation. But if you have only visited the historic pubs in your tourist guidebook - with carefully-tended fireplaces, beams, horse-brasses and artfully-lit ‘period’ features - you might initially find the decor of the average local somewhat disappointing. You will see ordinary chairs and tables, a nondescript patterned carpet, prosaic curtains and a mish-mash of pictures, prints and objects scattered about the walls and shelves by way of decoration.
These decorative items will sometimes be related to the name of the pub - you may find ships in bottles and seascape paintings in The Navy Arms, hunting prints in The Horse and Hounds, cricket paraphernalia and sepia photos of long-dead cricket players in The Cricketers Arms. Many pub names, however, do not provide the publican with an obvious decorative theme - what would you put in The New Inn? Often, the publican may wisely choose to ignore the name: you are unlikely to see paintings or sculptures of red lions in The Red Lion, for example.
All ages, types and social classes - the population of the local is as varied as the inhabitants of the surrounding area.
Usually very relaxed, friendly and sociable. The local pub is where the natives meet and talk, exchange news and jokes and gossip, argue and debate, celebrate and commiserate. Although the prevailing atmosphere will be cheerful, you may occasionally hear a few heated words, and perhaps even see a few tears: ‘All human life is here’.
Despite the somewhat insular nature of the local, you will probably be made to feel welcome. Even if you fail to read or remember the etiquette advice in this book, the publican and staff in the local are likely to be friendly and helpful.
Do not try order fancy cocktails or un-British drinks such as iced tea, as local pubs are not familiar with these drinks, even though they may have all the necessary ingredients. Stick to beer, cider, spirits, simple spirits-with-mixer combinations such as gin-and-tonic or vodka and coke, or soft drinks, tea and coffee. The choice of wines in most locals will be very limited. See Chapter 1, The Basics, and Chapter 6, What’s Yours? for tips on what to order and how to order it - and how the natives will judge you by your choice of drink.
If food is available, it will be the simple, unpretentious fare known as ‘pub grub’: pies, sausages, sandwiches, maybe roast beef on Sundays, and just about everything will come with chips. Most locals will offer some food, at least at lunchtime, even if it is only sandwiches and filled rolls. Almost all pubs have packets of crisps and nuts somewhere behind the bar, although crisps may not be displayed. If there are no visible signs of food, and you are very hungry, it is still worth asking.
The local is a pub where people spend a lot of time. Some may just pop in for quick drink and a chat, but many natives will while away entire evenings in their local on a regular basis. Social bonding is the main function of the local pub, and pub games play a central role in facilitating friendly interaction. In most locals, you will find several traditional pub games, such as darts, pool and dominoes. See Chapter 8, Games Pubgoers Play, for advice on how to join in.
Some locals will have a jukebox; in others, the publican or staff will play tapes or CDs - or you may find a live band. In some very basic locals, there may just be a radio playing. In some, usually the more up-market locals, there may be no music at all. You cannot identify a pub as a local by the music - either the means of playing it or the type of music played. But the type of music can sometimes tell you a bit about the type of customers the pub attracts. Within a particular area there may be one local that is favoured by a younger crowd, where you will hear louder and more up-to-date music, and another which appeals to an older clientele, where the music may be more nostalgic or ‘easy-listening’ in style.
The Family Pub
If you are visiting Britain with young children, these pubs could transform your holiday. Family pubs have been rapidly multiplying ever since the brewers and pub-owning companies discovered that many pubgoers are also parents. Parents, especially mothers, had long been deprived of the joys of regular pub-going, because children were not legally allowed in pubs.
This enforced maternity-leave from the local was clearly damaging to the family unit, not to mention bad for business, and so the ‘family’ pub was created. The law was changed to allow under-14s (accompanied by an adult) into pubs with suitable facilities until 9pm. The clues below will help you to find these child-friendly pubs - and if you prefer to do your drinking and socialising in a child-free zone, this section will help you to avoid them.
Where to look
There are two main types of family pub. One is the ordinary local pub that particularly welcomes children, the other is the dedicated or specialist family pub. The local version is to be found, like all locals, in primarily residential areas away from main shopping centres and tourist-traps, or in suburbs, housing estates and villages.
Specialist family pubs are now mushrooming in town centres as well as on the outskirts of towns and in rural areas. There are now many ‘roadside’ family pubs on major roads (not motorways) across the country. In town centres, family pubs are competing - and often winning - in the same market as chains like McDonalds and Burger King. The out-of-town family pubs are providing healthy competition for other roadside restaurant-chains.
When to visit
Daytime and early evening.
What to look for
The specialist family pubs are very easy to identify. They often display large signs or banners saying ‘Family Pub’, ‘Children Welcome’ or ‘Children’s Menu’. The local, community type of family pub is less easy to spot, but there are a few clues that will help you. For a start, any pub with signs advertising its food offering is worth trying - ‘food’ pubs are far more likely to welcome children than dedicated ‘drinkers’ pubs. In suburbs and villages, look for swings, slides, climbing frames, sandboxes, bouncy castles and other children’s paraphernalia in the garden.
Family-friendly locals do not differ much from other local pubs in their appearance, and even the big, specialist family pubs still retain much of the traditional pub decor. Some of the larger specialist pubs, however, now boast children’s play facilities and entertainment to rival the most well-equipped nursery. These may include separate play-houses, sometimes the size of large barns, with ‘ball pools’, video, games, slides and all types of inflatable and squashy toys. Play areas often have padded floors and walls, and are supervised by trained and experienced staff.
In some family pubs, you can leave your children in these capable hands for an hour or so while you enjoy a drink and some adult company in another part of the pub. These pubs will also have high-chairs, children’s menus, baby-changing facilities and sometimes even child-sized toilets. Yet family pubs are beating even the most famous burger-chains in competitions such as the ‘Parent Friendly Restaurant Awards’ because they recognise the needs and tastes of adults as well as children. Despite the child-friendly elements, the place is still a pub - with a proper, grown-up bar; chairs and tables made of wood, not plastic, and a sociable atmosphere.
In the family-friendly local, the customers will be as described in ‘The Local’ above, although you may see more couples, more women, perhaps slightly fewer single male drinkers and, before 9pm, more children. The clientele of the specialist family pub will, of course, include a much higher proportion of parents and children. These pubs are also very popular with grandparents, and attract many native ‘tourists’ and day-trippers.
In general, you may find that native parents who choose to take their children to pubs are rather more open-minded, and more friendly, than those who stick to burger-chains. Pubs are about sociability: burger-chains are about burgers. You are more likely to strike up a conversation and make friends with British families in a pub.
Service in the family local will be much as in all local pubs: friendly and informal. In the specialist family pub, staff will usually be well-trained and attentive. Their approach may lack the cosy familiarity of the local, but they will be more accustomed to coping with children.
In addition to the usual range of beers, ciders, spirits, sherries, wine, soft-drinks, tea and coffee, specialist family pubs may offer milk-shakes and other children’s favourites. Some even provide bottle-warming facilities for those with small babies.
The family local will usually provide child-sized portions of traditional pub food, as well as basic child-friendly meals such as baked beans on toast. In the larger specialist pubs you will find colourful, illustrated children’s menus, offering dinosaur-shaped fish, batman-shaped potato, smiley puddings and everything else a child could wish for. In fact, the specialist family pubs offer a much wider choice of children’s food than the fast-food chains. And in the pub, you get to eat real food.
Advice: Unless there are signs specifically stating that children are welcome, you should ask at the bar if children are allowed in the pub
Specialist family pubs, and very family-oriented local pubs, are less likely to have a pool table, as this is considered a somewhat ‘macho’ game, but you may well find other traditional pub games such as darts and dominoes - perhaps even scrabble, which can help to keep older children amused.
There may be background music in both local and specialist family pubs, but it will generally be less noticeable than in other pub types. A ‘Children Welcome’ sign certainly does not mean that you will be subjected to inane jingles and twinkly nursery rhymes.
The Student Pub
Many of Britain’s most popular tourist-venues are university towns - Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Edinburgh, York and Brighton, for example, are all as famous for their scholarship as for their tourist attractions. In some cases, the centres of learning and the tourist attractions are one and the same. In all of these towns, and many others, you will find student pubs.
Where to look
No more than one mile from the university buildings or halls of residence, as most students don’t have cars. Students are also far more conservative and predictable in their lifestyle than popular opinion would suggest, and they rarely stray very far from their familiar home-territory. They tend to patronise a few designated pubs within a restricted area.
When to visit
Student pubs will be at their most lively in the evenings and at weekends. Some student pubs double as lunchtime and early-evening venues for shoppers and local office-workers, and may not reveal their true character until after about 8pm. In the summer, student pubs in the prettier university towns may become tourist pubs, although some tend to attract a large proportion of foreign students. To see the student pub in its ‘natural’ state, you need to visit during term-time.
What to look for
From the outside, student pubs tend to look just like any other town-centre or local pubs. Having located the ‘student territory’ in the town you are visiting, you may have to take a look inside a few pubs to make an accurate identification - unless you want to track a group of students through the streets to see which pub they go to.
Once inside, the true student pub will be fairly easy to identify. It will be furnished and decorated in much the same manner as the scruffier type of local, but with the addition of posters, photos, news-sheets, sporting paraphernalia, scarves, flags and other assorted tribal emblems and totems of the student sub-culture.
Student-pub customers will be casually dressed, with no marked distinction between male and female costumes. You will see some young couples in student pubs, but students generally move in packs, mixed-sex groups being the most common formation.
Student-pub customers are generally egalitarian, friendly and easy-going (unless you count the odd nervous breakdown around exam time). They enter the pub like children arriving home from school, shedding bags and coats around the place as they call out greetings, scramble for drinks and snacks and flop into chairs where they sprawl, munch and gulp contentedly. They seem to have little need for privacy or personal space, and do not regard their time as particularly precious. You should have no difficulty in making friends among this sociable crowd, although their apparent informality conceals a fairly rigid adherence to some of the rules of pub etiquette. (See Chapter 3, Making Contact, and Chapter 5, It’s Your Round, for further advice.)
There are two main types of service style in student pubs. Where the publican does most of the work behind the bar, he or she will often adopt a somewhat avuncular manner - indulgent, but with a reassuring touch of parental authority. Where bar staff are involved, they will often be students themselves - sometimes the ‘natural leaders’ among the student tribe, hired by the clever publican who knows they will attract a following. Their service style will be very informal - you will certainly never be called ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, and spilt beer or missing lemon-slices will be treated as minor mishaps, not matters requiring grovelling apology.
Beer is by far the most popular student drink, as it is relatively cheap, thirst-quenching and more satisfying than a small measure of wine or spirits. While circuit-pub customers (see below) almost invariably prefer lager, you will find more bitter-drinkers among the student population, including a number of real-ale connoisseurs. (See Chapter 1, The Basics and Chapter 6, What’s Yours?, for advice on ordering.)
If food is available, it will usually be basic snacks and ‘pub grub’. Some student pubs may offer more vegetarian options than normal. Students rarely have budgets to match their healthy appetites, so you can expect generous portions and good value.
Traditional pub games such as pool and darts are very popular with students, and will be found in many student pubs. Students tend to take these games rather less seriously than other regular pubgoers, and you should find it easy to join in. Pub quizzes are somewhat more competitive - knowledge having a slightly higher value among students than eye-hand co-ordination - but these are still friendly occasions. You may also see more recent inventions such as pin-ball machines, quiz machines and other electronic amusements.
Students have varied tastes in music, and their pubs reflect this. Some publicans will simply play the latest sounds, others will play the current ‘cult’ favourites. Live music is very popular with students, and student pubs will often feature local bands, or even student bands.
The Estate Pub
This is, strictly, a sub-type of the broad ‘local’ pub category, but it deserves a section to itself. You will never find an estate pub listed in a glossy guidebook. This is a true native habitat, untouched by tourism - in fact, the estate pub is about as far removed from tourist-Britain as you can get.
Where to look
The estate pub, as its name suggests, is to be found exclusively on housing estates. These are large, purpose-built groups of inexpensive houses on the fringes of towns and cities throughout Britain. Somewhere among these houses, you will find an estate pub.
When to visit
Evenings and weekends. Like other locals, the estate pub is likely to be deserted during the day, as people are away at work (except in areas of high unemployment, but here there will be very little spare cash for leisure pursuits, and pub-going will generally be a Friday/Saturday night or Sunday lunchtime activity).
What to look for
Estate pubs tend to be functional rather than aesthetically pleasing. You will not find any pretty, quaint, old-fashioned estate pubs, for the obvious reason that most estates, and their pubs, were built after World War Two. The estate pub is usually a large building, and decidedly utilitarian in appearance, although it may well be hung about with banners and posters advertising forthcoming events or promotions. Do not be put off by the exterior. If you wanted a glossy-guidebook pub, you would not have come this far.
Size and layout
Estate pubs tend to be big, often with two or more spacious bars, as well as a generously-sized function-room and perhaps even a separate games room.
Unless the pub has been recently refurbished, it will have a comfortably shabby, lived-in look. You will probably see worn carpets, scuffed furniture and fittings and other features reminiscent of an ordinary family living-room - rather than the beams-and-fireplace homeliness of more up-market pubs. There will also be some bold, brash elements: brightly coloured posters promoting special events such as darts matches, live music, karaoke nights - and hand-written notices congratulating regular customers on their birthdays or wedding anniversaries.
The inhabitants of the housing estate. Very few strangers, unless there is a special event on that attracts people from other areas, and no ‘passing trade’ at all. You may well find that many of the customers in the estate pub are related to each other. There will certainly be no tourists, until you arrive.
As in the town, suburb and village locals described above, only more so. The close connections between the regulars, and the almost total absence of outsiders, mean that the estate pub will seem even more like a private club than other locals. The regulars’ familiarity with each other, however, may work in your favour, as a stranger will often be regarded as an interesting novelty - a welcome distraction from the same old faces - rather than as an intruder. They will almost certainly want to know why you have strayed so far off the tourist-track. The best response would be simply to say that someone recommended this pub to you as a friendly place.
As in the other locals described above, service in estate pubs will generally be friendly and welcoming. The service style will never be obsequious or ingratiating - you are more likely to be called "mate" than "sir". In an estate pub, the customer and the staff are considered to be of equal status, and those working behind the bar will not take kindly to being treated like servants. Respect is mutual, so if you want friendly, polite service, remember to smile and say "please" and "thank you" yourself.
Drinks and food
As in the other types of local pub described above, avoid asking for elaborate cocktails, and do not expect haute cuisine. Food will be honest, simple ‘pub grub’, usually served in generous portions.
Games such as pool and darts are often an important element of estate-pub life. There may be a separate room dedicated to pool-playing, perhaps with more than one pool-table. As with other locals, you may arrive in the middle of an important league match. See Chapter 8, Games Pubgoers Play, for advice on appropriate behaviour.
You will rarely find an estate pub without music (the no-music trend being confined largely to more up-market ‘serious-traditional’ pubs). The wide age-range of customers means that publican will generally ‘play safe’, both in terms of the type of music and the volume - unless you happen to arrive on a Karaoke Night. Karaoke, a pastime imported from Japan which involves exhibiting one’s singing talents with the help of backing tapes, is very popular in estate pubs. The singing is usually loud and unskilled, but the atmosphere is lively and good-humoured.
Estate pubs are not to everyone’s taste, but visitors with a genuine curiosity about British life and culture will find much to capture their interest. Most tourists do not have the opportunity to spend time in the homes of ordinary natives: the estate pub is as close as you will get to a behind-the-scenery perspective on Britain.
Advice: If you get into conversation with an estate-pub regular, you would be wise to refrain from commenting on the appearance or behaviour of other people in the pub, as you may well be talking to their uncle, cousin or mother-in-law!
The Circuit Pub
Young people in British cities and larger towns practice an ancient tribal ritual which involves sauntering from pub to pub on a Friday or Saturday night, usually following a well-defined route or sequence of pubs (the ‘circuit’), taking just one or two drinks in each pub before moving on to the next. The pubs on this circuit are known as ‘circuit’ pubs, although you may also hear them referred to as youth pubs, venue pubs, fun pubs or disco pubs.
Where to look
Town and city centres. The ‘circuit’ usually consists of just a few streets within a small central area. Look for streets at the centre of larger towns which are brightly lit and contain a generous number of pubs.
When to visit
Friday and Saturday evenings only, after 8pm. This is when the young natives flood in to the town centre for their weekly parade around the circuit. Some circuit pubs will do very little trade at other times. Many will have a quite different role and atmosphere during the working week, when they may serve as lunchtime and after-work-drinks venues for office workers and shoppers.
What to look for
Identifying a circuit pub from the outside can sometimes be tricky. Many circuit pubs have deceptively ordinary facades, with nothing much to distinguish them from other town-centre pubs. On a Friday or Saturday night, however, there will be a few subtle external clues to help you. First, the music will be louder. You may be able to hear it from the street, even when the pub doors are shut.
Second, there may be one or two ‘bouncers’ (more politely known as ‘door staff’ or ‘door supervisors’) standing at the door of the pub. If neither of these clear signs is immediately obvious, glance through the windows: a circuit pub will usually be more brightly lit than other types, and by 9 or 9.30 pm on a Friday or Saturday, it will be very busy. The most popular circuit pubs will be packed with crowds of young people by this time.
Size and layout
Again, many circuit pubs are not easily distinguished from ordinary town-centre pubs, although circuit pubs tend to be fairly large, and usually open-plan. There may be two separate bars in some of the very big circuit pubs, but you will rarely find the old-fashioned ‘public bar’ and ‘lounge bar’ distinction. The most common layout is one large, open-plan bar - sometimes even with a dance-floor.
You will often notice a lack of cosiness and privacy in the decor of a circuit pub. Young people come to the circuit pub to see and be seen, so bright lights, open spaces and ‘posing platforms’ - raised areas where the trend-setters can be even more visible - are essential. In the dedicated circuit pub, you will see none of the dark wood, soft textures and comfortable shabbiness of more traditional pub-types. Surfaces will be hard and shiny, furnishings will either be new-looking and carefully matched, or clashing and mismatched in a highly contrived and clearly deliberate manner. Style always takes precedence over comfort.
A theme of some sort may be evident in the decorative features, such as, for example, ‘1950s Americana’, with drug-store jukeboxes, lots of chrome, tail-fin cars, etc. Themes go in and out of fashion very rapidly, and circuit pubs are re-furbished at least twice as frequently as any other pub-type, to keep up with the fashion-conscious British youngsters. The current fads are for ‘Sports-bars’ with banks of video screens showing satellite and cable sports events, and ‘Cyber-pubs’ with computers connected to the Internet. By the time you read this book, these may already be old hat, and a new gimmick may be sweeping the youth-pubs of Britain.
You will see very few customers over the age of 30. On a Friday or Saturday night, almost all of the customers in the circuit pub will be in the 18-25 age group. You may spot a few stray thirty-somethings, joining in the fun with determined cheerfulness, but the rare forty-something is probably a sociologist writing a book on youth-culture.
Circuit-pub customers are of about the same age as student-pub customers, and have the same capacity to consume large quantities of beer, but there the similarities end. In the circuit pub, customers will be dressed in the latest street-fashions and will clearly have invested some time and effort in their appearance. Females in particular will be much more glamorous than their student-pub counterparts. This is also one of the few pub-types in which you will consistently find equal numbers of males and females - and you will see more large single-sex groups in the circuit pub than in any other type of pub.
Apart from the basic good-humour which characterises all pub behaviour, the comportment of circuit-pub customers bears little resemblance to that of ordinary pubgoers. Circuit-pub behaviour is a curious mixture of spontaneous exuberance and self-conscious posing. The object is to have fun, but also to be noticed.
You will notice that circuit pub customers, unlike those in the cosy local, are always on the move. There will be a constant flow of customers in and out of the pub, as they consume the statutory one or two drinks before circuit etiquette requires them to move on to the next pub, all entrances and departures being performed with maximum noise and fanfare.
Do not expect leisurely chats with the bar staff in circuit pubs - particularly on busy Friday and Saturday nights. Service will usually be fast, efficient and cheerful - sometimes even flamboyant - but has none of the cosy familiarity of the local.
Fashions in drinks change even more often than the decor in youth pubs. Generally, there will be a wide range of standard lagers and imported bottled lagers, but do not expect much choice of bitters, or any traditional cask-conditioned ales. The current trend is to drink bottled lagers from the bottle, and in some youth-pub circles, asking for a glass will seriously damage your street-cred.
The usual spirits-with-mixers are common, but you may also be faced with a bewildering variety of bottled ‘designer’ concoctions. There is little point in listing the current fads, as they will be out of favour by next week, but be warned that they are often very strong.
The circuit pub is unlikely to serve food in the evenings. Come nightfall, these pubs are dedicated to drinking, laughing and showing-off.
You are unlikely to find any traditional pub games on the circuit, although a few youth pubs may have pool tables. You may, however, see a few pin-ball machines, and perhaps ‘gimmicky’ novelties such as table-football, video games or the Internet.
Usually loud. Music is very important to young natives. The volume suggests that it is considerably more important than conversation, which tends to be limited either to monosyllabic shouted exchanges or a rather awkward kind of semaphore.
If you are invited to join a circuit-drinking group, and you have plenty of youthful energy and stamina, accept. It should be an experience to remember.
Within these basic categories, there are many variations. The ‘local’, for example, is a very broad category, encompassing many very different types and styles of pub, which include the basic spit-and-sawdust boozer, the serious-traditional pub and the suburban-stockbroker pub. Some town-centre pubs, although not situated in residential areas, may serve as ‘locals’ for office-workers, market-stall vendors, labourers, executives and others who work nearby. If business contacts say "I’ll take you to our local", they usually mean their work-local, not their home-local. If you find a town-centre pub with a particularly friendly, informal atmosphere, where many of the customers appear to be on familiar terms with the bar staff and each other, you may have stumbled on a ‘work-local’.
The classless society
Although the above categorisation of pub-types has inevitably emphasised the social differences between different styles of pub and their clientele, it is important to remember that the British pub is, in general, a ‘classless society’. Although some pubs cater largely to a particular social group, you will find a wide cross-section of the British population in most pubs. The composition of the pub-football teams in an Oxford local provides a graphic example: regular players include a head of a University department, a bricklayer, two solicitors, a postman, a financial consultant, two self-employed builders, a biochemist, a maths teacher, a factory worker, a computer programmer, a salesman, three unemployed, an accountant, a roofer, a tiler, a town-planner, a shop assistant - and Joe McCann, SIRC’s Research Manager and the principal researcher for this book!
Warning: The quiet, pretty, town-centre ‘tourist’ pub you discovered at lunchtime may lead a double life, becoming a vibrant, crowded, noisy circuit pub at night