The autobiography of a London pub, as told to Giles Coren
I was born in a small village in the south of England, not much less than a thousand years ago. Maybe it’s a bit soon to be writing my autobiography? I don’t know about you, but these tuppenny-ha’penny celebrities penning their life story when they’re barely out of their teens make me laugh. And as for that Zoella, what can you do? But this big-shot columnist come in the other day, splashing his money around – eight pints of Pride, eight packets of Scampi Fries and he’s said I ought to think about it. Think of all the stories you could tell, he says. And I thought: What stories? I’ve just been sat here on the corner of Winchester Road for ten centuries smelling of brewer’s yeast and piss.
I tell a lie. Until 2007 I smelt of fags. But I give them up on me 983rd birthday for the sake of me health. And because the government said so.
Where was I? Three hundred pints a night for a millennium is tough on the old short-term. Oh yes, so for about 700 years I was a rural pub called the Duke of Winchester. In fact, I was called that until six years ago, when some public schoolboys with funny hair and tight trousers come in and started doing sliders and absinthe cocktails in jam jars and changed me name to The Winch. Cheek of it! Nine hundred and however many years, a pub’s got a name and then the area gets a bit posh and these little twats buy the place and give me a new name that’s meant to sound local and folksy but just sounds like some pink-faced pal of theirs from the rugger team.
Locals have all give up. Took one look at the seven-quid craft beers and homemade wild venison scotch eggs and legged it for The Old Festering Bollock on the High Street, where you can still get a £2 pint on a Tuesday morning and watch the racing. So to get back to me story: typical country inn, sawdust on the floor, pigs and chickens out the back, tractor boys in the public bar making goo-goo eyes at their female cousins and then one morning in 1743 I wake up and we’re in the middle of London. Talk about urban sprawl. Now everyone including children is drinking beer instead of water to avoid the cholera, and the ones who want to get properly pissed are on the gin. But it’s none of your fancy-arse premium gin made from 14 local organic botanicals and shaken with pomegranate juice by skinny ponces with flower tattoos; it’s bath tub stuff, grain spirit and glycerine in a lead cup and your money back if you don’t go blind.
That was me heyday, mind. After that, regulation come in and nearly killed me off. Not to mention licensing laws. For most of the twentieth century I was only allowed to sell booze for about 12 minutes a day. Late licensing looked like a good thing at first, but soon as you make a lock-in legal it takes away all the fun. I used to love a lock-in, I did. The copper’d come knocking round midnight and you’d have to fill his hat with mild and black to get another hour. When the shame went, the glamour went too. And that happened for good when they got rid of me curtains and smoked glass windows, so that for the first time in a thousand years people walking past could see in. I didn’t understand at first but then the penny dropped: there’s no point these fancy wankers sipping rare unfiltered manzanilla out of Edwardian glasses if nobody can see them doing it.
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