What's a Pub?

I'm really backed up on my blogging here--a fact you might find queer since the blogging has been so slapdash lately.  But let's dance around that and get to a topic raised by Ted Sobel, who dates his first visit to a pub to 1991--long after he'd been enjoying the smoky shadows of the poorer drinking holes of upstate NY.  I expressed confusion in comments, and he writes:
The first comment from my previous post came from a noted Portland beer blogger who had visited England for the first time back in November, and got to experience his first pubs. Or, was that first visit to the Raleigh Hills McMenamins the first? That's the question; do we have pubs here in America? What is a pub? Is it OK to use it as a familiar synonym for a bar or tavern or a restaurant that brews beer (brewpub)?
Thanks to that trip I took, I understand the distinction Ted's making.  For Ted, there is a platonic ideal of a pub, and it can be found, plentifully, on every other corner in every town on the Island of Great Britain.  It looks roughly like this:

Additionally, the circulatory system of these buildings must run with living cask ale.  I suspect Ted would allow apostasies like pizza or charcuterie in a qualifying establishment, but they should properly serve fish, fried deeply with a side of chips.  Meat pies, like are available at the Jack Horner above, also permissible. This would be a "proper pub."  Few exist in the United States.

Instead, we have a motley assortment of bars, taverns, and, lately, brewpubs.  Walk the streets of an American city and the places you'll find (scattered further from one another) often look like this:

These are the old-school bars, and they still greatly outnumber new-school places.  You find icy cold beer in them, fake wood paneling, pool tables, and video poker machine (at least around here).  There are upscale bars where you can get cocktails, a few craft beer alehouses which look like brewpubs, which themselves look, usually, like restaurants.  You almost never find cask ale, though fish and chips have made the transition quite nicely.  The experience, as I can now attest, is wholly different.

But this is actually a cause for celebration.  The places people drink beer reflect the character of the country they're drinking them in.  The British create lush, loving environments for their drinking, a reflection on the unambiguous emotion they feel for their national drink.  In Belgium, beer is no less a ritual, but it's a different one.  Food is involved and, far more often than in British pubs, women.  There they drink their beer from bottles.  I have been furiously reading about Ron Pattinson's many journeys to Franconia and the Czech Republic, and will this November be able to experience how those countries drink beer.

The US is a puritan country.  Drinking beer remains a slightly disreputable act, and that's why pubs close in on themselves and offer no windows to see the shameful acts inside.  The shift to open-air drinking brought about by craft brewing is family-oriented and far more public--a welcome change.  But like so much in the US, it becomes an expression of "lifestyle" and acquires the trappings of a Sunset Magazine article.  We still haven't developed ritual or created spaces devoted to the act of drinking that express a wholesome relationship to the devil's water.  Perhaps that will come.

In any case, when you're in a Belgian cafe, an English pub, or an American bar, you're in a place where the country drinks.  Enjoy.

Now, just because I have this picture on my hard drive, I offer you a picture of Ted in his native environment.  He is accompanied in the photo by the Beeronomist and Ann Wedgwood of England's Hardknott Brewery.  That's former blogger Stonch's pub, the Gunmakers.