I spend a lot of time in pubs. Not a surprise. But while I find myself in a wide range of places at times, I gravitate to pubs that have the right atmosphere and a great (or at least intelligent) selection of beer. I have been travelling a fair bit in the past few weeks, hitting St. John’s, Hamilton, and Toronto in recent weeks. In each of those cities – and others – I have go-to places that I simply must hit every time I am in town.
I have been thinking about why I like the places I do, and have come up with a few reasons. I felt motivated to offer those reasons up recently, and that motivation turned into columns for Vue Weekly (read here) and my Beer 101 column for sherbrookeliquor.com (read here) – (Planet S/Prairie Dog is coming).
I came up with five features that matter to me. They include: a smaller, cozy room; a homey, natural feel; an atmosphere emphasizing conversation (i.e., quiet music and no/few TVs); friendly and welcoming patrons and staff; and knowledgeable staff that take beer seriously. Read the articles for details of what I mean about that.
In short, I am looking for a place that is inviting, not too corporate/sterile and takes its beer very, very seriously. That is what makes a great pub experience for me.
I remember during one of my first visits to Augusta’s Winking Judge in Hamilton the owner, after having chatted beer for a few minutes, invited me on a road trip to pick up some beer in Pennsylvania with him. Similarly I remember a friendly but focussed conversation with the owner of Hop In Brew in Calgary about the recipe of their house beer. And then there was the afternoon at the Duke of Duckworth I spent with key leaders of Newfoundland’s labour movement and senior NDP executives just because I saddle up to the bar for a pint of locally produced beer. Finally, I am starting to feel like I am Norm from Cheers when I enter Edmonton’s Sugar Bowl. These are just a small sampling of the stories I have gathered hanging out in good pubs.
That is what happens in a great pub. And you get to drink good local beer at the same time!
Everyone’s mileage will differ. People like different things. But great pubs exist in this country and I firmly believe more people should be experiencing what they have to offer. Pick the ones in which you feel most comfortable but, for the love of beer, don’t put up with a second-rate atmosphere just to have a good pint. A good pub is a combo of both good beer and an inviting atmosphere.