The British have a particular relationship with their pubs, one that you don’t tend to find anywhere else. Yes, they are places for drinking and carousing and dating and singing and shouting and kissing and all of that stuff, but they’re also a community hub, a place to gather sporting teams together, a dark refuge from the world outside, a place to get a sunday roast dinner, a place to celebrate, commiserate, plan a robbery, or a wedding or interview for a job. The decor is supposed to vaguely resemble a sitting room, because they are a home away from home.
To put it another way, in rural communities, a village without a shop is disadvantaged. A village without a pub is a dead village.
Here are five great pubs from fiction that illustrate this point still further:
The Queen Vic (EastEnders)
British soaps love pubs. How else can you reliably get all of your characters in the same place at the same time and get them to start arguing? The Queen Vic is the pub in the middle of Albert Square, and fulfils the same basic dramatic purpose as by The Rover’s Return (Coronation Street) and The Woolpack (Emmerdale): half community center, half gladiatorial arena. People have been murdered in the Vic, marriages have publicly disintegrated (pun intended), and more pints have been poured over the heads of love rats than ever make it down the throats of the regulars. If it was a real pub, you’d avoid going in, in case some gruff cockney offered a life-changing injury to go with your dry-roasted peanuts.
The Winchester (Shaun of the Dead)
Never mind all of that stuff about Cornettos, the real unifying themes in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s movies are pubs and maturity. In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun is forced to grow up, accept his step-father, stop larking about with his mate, and move on to the next stage in his life. He does this in a pub. In Hot Fuzz, Nick has to regress back to the youth he never had, in order to progress to a more contented existence. He does this in a pub. In The World’s End, which is principally set in a series of pubs, Gary discovers that the answer to his life’s problems actually lies outside, in the real world, and not in a pub in the past. He does this outside of a pub.
The Slaughtered Lamb (An American Werewolf In London)
Two classic pub archetypes in one here, both derived from the idea that a community hub doesn’t have to welcome all comers. First there’s the rural pub that goes silent as soon as a stranger walks through the doors. That’s scary, but not as scary as the rural pub around which awful, magical things happen, and everyone knows except you. Granted, this is not just a British invention. The expression “you ain’t from around here, are you boy?” is one that has equivalents all over the world, and is just as chilling wherever it is used.
The Hog’s Head (Harry Potter)
The principal difference between the magical world and the world of muggles is not the appliance of wands, it’s to do with modern life and ancient tradition. That’s why Uncle Vernon lives in suburban materialist heaven, and the Weasleys have a tumbledown cottage in the countryside. And it also explains why there are no Starbucks in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. If you’re magical, you want to meet friends and be sociable, and you are old enough to be allowed out by yourself, you need to find a pub. JK Rowling even had to invent butterbeer, a drink for magical children, to make this more socially acceptable to our modern sensibilities, given that they will hardly be ordering soda or smoothies in a faintly knackered magical tavern.
The Tabard (The Canturbury Tales)
A fictional pub that was first invented long before America was invented, and one with essential pub characteristics that still hold true today. In Chaucer’s series of narrative poems, The Tabard is an inn on the wrong side of the river Thames from London, in disreputable Southwark. It is also where a group of weary travellers stop as they make their pilgrimage to Canterbury. While enjoying a drink or two, the landlord suggests that each traveller tell a tale, and he’ll judge the best one. By the end of the night, everyone knows each other a little better (than they would like to, in some cases), and the first classic work of English literature has been created. And it’s all thanks to a pub!
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