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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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My latest Publican's Morning Advertiser piece - some pub etiquette tips for Christmas visitors.
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Friday, 18 March 2011

The strange relationship between the Local and the Regular

So it's looking like the Publican mag is on its way out - shame, I've really enjoyed writing for them.


Here is the piece I've done recently that I'm most proud of.  They haven't put it on the web edition so I thought I'd share it here.


It’s one of the most complex and enduring relationships in modern life.

Statistics recently showed that we’re more likely to get divorced and remarried than change your bank.  Well, if that’s the scale of comparison, we’re probably more likely to change our bank and love the new one so much that we divorce our partners and marry our bank managers than we are to voluntarily change our choice of local pub.

The ‘Local’ and the ‘Regular’ – each a British icon on their own right – together tell you approximately 84.3 per cent of everything you need to know about the rituals, rigmarole and rhythms of the Great British Pub. 

“The usual, John?”

“Jeff been in yet?”

 “You can’t sit there, mate.  That’s Bill’s chair.”

I remember the important rite of passage to maturity of becoming a regular in my first local, as clear as if it were yesterday.  I’d been at St.Andrews University for about six weeks.  My new mates favoured one particular pub, the Niblick, because that’s where the second years said they went, and we wanted to fit in and appear urbane.  It was run by Tony, a man as physically tiny as his presence was huge, one of those special bar managers who imprints his authority on a pub with effortless ease. A man whose approval you craved and anger you feared, whether you were an eighteen year-old student or a windcreased, hard-as-nails Old Course caddy.  This one November night, I walked through the door and looked towards the bar’s golden glow.  It was busy, one or two deep, with two people serving.  One of them was Tony.  He peered over the punters’ heads (not easy if you’re five foot three, but that’s what I mean – once behind that bar, he could do anything), nodded and smiled at me, “Alright Pete!” and had my beautiful pint of Tennent’s Lager – yeah, alright, Tennent’s Lager, I was eighteen – waiting for me on the bar by the time I made it through the crowd.

Tony knew my name!

We were spoilt for choice for pubs in St Andrews.  But nine in every ten pints I drank during my university career from that day on were sunk in the Niblick.

The Regular is the person who has his own tankard on a hook behind the bar, and woe betide the newbie who serves him a beer in a different glass.  He’s the guy who sends a postcard to the pub on the rare occasions he goes somewhere else on holiday.  Who takes quiet pride when a photo of him from New Years Eve gets blu-tacked up beside the optics.  The guy who a Leicester Local has to keep an Everard’s Beacon pump on the bar for, because even though he and his mate (they’ve never been to each other’s houses – only the pub) are the only punters who drink it, it’s the only beer they will drink, and they get through a nine between them every week.

This is a relationship with as much loyalty, love, bickering and fractious argument, frustration and fatalism as any great marriage.  Each needs the other to survive. 

All of which brings me to my shameful confession: I’m currently a bigamist.

When I first moved to Stoke Newington, my closest pub, the White Hart, spoke to me in a way no other pub had since the Niblick all those years ago.  I could tell you about the food, the beer garden, the Sunday afternoon footie… It was all of that and none of that.  It just felt like my local.

And then, last year, the Jolly Butchers opened just up the road.  Eight handpulls standing proud along the centre of the bar.  Staff keen to hear from me what beers they should be getting in.  Cracking food, a beer and cheese pairing menu I helped put together. 

Now, every time I’m in one, I miss the other.  And the smiles of the respective guvnors are growing brittle.  Whenever I walk in either, it’s “Oh, we haven’t seen you for a while.  Been there, with them I suppose, have you?”  Recently I’ve been so busy with work I’ve hardly been in either, and now each thinks I’ve abandoned them for the other.

Guys, if you’re reading this, I love you both, very much indeed.  It’s just… complicated. 

11 comments:

Tandleman said...

This seems oddly familiar. Have you published this or something akin to it before somewhere?

Pete Brown said...

As I say Tandy, it's been in the Publican but nowhere else apart from that, no.

Curmudgeon said...

I'm sure I saw it on the Publican website a while back.

matthew turner said...

Lol. I don’t think you need to worry Pete, I think both pubs will welcome you back with open arms when you get a chance to visit them again. I also think that they'll be fine with you being a regular in both pubs as well. The regular of just one pub is a dying breed in my opinion, most people have at least two or three good pubs in which they will visit frequently. More and more pubs offer people different things and its just too hard to choose just one to be a regular of.

bigmommales said...

i miss my local in Edinburgh. Wherever we have gone, we have found ourselves our local pub and become regulars. it's also the people that you talk to there, the other regulars who are your friends for that evening and you probably don't ever see anywhere else. we have found a version of a local in our rural village in Australia but it's not the same...the pub is hotel as well with a betting shop in the corner (as they all are round here) and despite the beautiful beer garden with river views and year round sun, there is nobody in there apart from us. and it's the same for all the other pubs in the village... Maclean nods off by 7pm and certainly people don't go to the pub for a drink and a blether with a random stranger. still, we are on first name terms with the barman and our drinks are poured for us by the time we reach the bar. It's a small comfort

michael-j said...

it is up online: http://www.thepublican.com/story.asp?storycode=68967

Tandleman said...

Must have read it on the Publican then or it is deja vu all over again.

Phil said...

It's on the Publican site. (I knew I'd read it before, and I assume it must have been there.)

And I agree with Matthew. When I did a writeup of "My Local" I had to do it as a four-part series; if I was doing it now I'd make it five (mmm, Electrik). I guess the cost of spreading my custom around like that is that I'm not a Regular at any one of them so much as a regular visitor to all of them, but I don't think that's a huge loss. I'm too much of a ticker to have a 'usual', anyway.

Neil, Eating Isnt Cheating said...

I feel the same about Mr Foley's and North Bar in Leeds. I love you both!

Northern Snippet said...

I'm sure I've read this somewhere before(snigger).

mudskipperbeerlife said...

I recently moved to Leeds so have had to look at completely different pubs to frequent. I still don't know where to go or know which will be my local. On the other hand, everytime I go home I always visit the same pub. It's still my local despite not living anywhere near there because I still have the same feelings about it every time I go back, even if it's been months.
http://mudskipperbeerlife.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/my-local/