Thursday, 8 March 2012

Other room!

The results of the public bar poll are pretty conclusive.

I didn’t vote in this poll, and I’m a touch ambivalent about the result. I’m all in favour of pubs having multiple spaces to accommodate multiple pursuits, and possibly that’s how people interpreted the question. But I’m not convinced about the old-fashioned public bar, a Spartan space intended to encourage male working-class perpendicular volume drinking. That kind of segregation by class and sex is largely a thing of the past now.

And, even when pubs provide the design cues to direct the “vault trade” to a particular part of the pub, they often cheerfully ignore it. Well-designed pubs segregate customers without them even knowing it. Compartmentalisation is great, but the designated public bar is, to be honest, something from a vanished era.

Incidentally, “Other room!” is what I once heard an old-school licensee bark when some scruffy customers wandered into the lounge of his pub.


  1. Would it be possible to have one room for people that like to talk about biscuity malt & citrusy hops, and another for those that just want to neck a pint?

  2. As you say, the results are pretty conclusive. People prefer a public bar, as do I. When I voted for it, I wasn't thinking of the pre 1976, rather grim, image. And it isn't all about perpendicular drinking-there are seats!

  3. There's a difference between a "vault-type area" and the rigidly separate section typical of the post-war estate pub. In many cases, where old-style vaults still exist, they don't tend to get used. In the 80s and early 90s, Banks's expanded into this area and built a number of new-build pubs such as the Milestone, Longsight and Wilmslow Flyer (the first two now demolished) which had a big separate public bar of the style more typical of the West Midlands. The Milestone and Wilmslow Flyer were eventually rebuilt with one room as the customers tended to avoid the public bar.

  4. I used to like having the choice. In London and the South, I didn't find the Public Bars to be particularly spartan. They tended to be busier, noisier and less comfortable than the Saloon, but that was their appeal. Even back in the 60s it was quite normal for women to drink in the Public. But if you were taking a bird out on a first date, the Saloon was the bar of choice, as it invariably had more private areas, and was quieter, enabling one to whisper sweet nothings in her ear - a bit tricky when you have to shout to be heard, and there are loads of raucous young lads slopping beer around.

  5. I once walked into the public bar of a pub near Kilmainham Jail, Dublin with my wife and a local propping up the bar grunted at me "There's a lounge through there - for your woman"!

  6. What about country pubs where a slightly more spartan "other room", with a tiled or otherwise easy to clean floor, will cater for walkers, agricultural workers and people with dogs? Such customers would otherwise feel out of place in a heavily-carpeted "lounge" type bar, and their presence would probably not be encouraged by the licensee either.

  7. The GBG still has a flag for "Public bar" but on discussing it's use on, we have considered morphing this into "Adult bar" (but don't like that name) to mean "No children".

  8. @Paul: That kind of thing can be catered for by "distinct areas" without the rigid demarcation of the public bar, which in any case was always more of an urban phenomenon.

    @Rob: Yes, I'd like to see a symbol for pubs that have at least one separate area where no children are admitted at any time. Plus a symbol for pubs without Sky Sports. And a symbol for genuine quiet pubs where no piped music is ever played. But, well, I'm just a bit of a curmudgeon...

    1. Just to come back to you Curmudgeon, here in Kent the "rigid demarcation of the public bar" was NOT more of an urban phenomenon. Certainly not in the early 1970's, which was when I first started drinking. Back then practically every village or country pub I knew had its own separate public bar, where one could play darts or cribbage with the locals. If one wanted a quieter place to drink or, as nisakiman said somewhere to take a girl on a first date, then the saloon was the bar of choice.

  9. What does piped music even mean ?

  10. "What does piped music even mean?"

    Umm, it's a very commonplace English phrase - I'm surprised you are not familiar with it.

    Defined here as:

    "music piped or relayed around a building or room which people have not chosen and which they may not be able to escape. In short, it is involuntary music, forced on listeners"

  11. Re separate bars, I used to go in the "bar" room of the Alma in Mosboro, Sheffield. It was spartan, yes, but much more a reflection of the pub's clientele - the lounge was flouncy, and there was visible tension between the lounge and bar punters! On quiz night a bar win was greeted with widespread celebration, less so a lounge win, yet the landlord made no judgement and treated customers the same.

    So really, bar and lounge differences were purely customer issues not ones of the pub. One wonders if this is a throwback in this pub, or more widespread? The only place it seems to matter now is in Scottish pubs....


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