My understanding of pubs is that, at one time, pubs were essentially a living room for the entire community. ‘Pub’ being shorthand lingo for ‘public house.’ The picture in my mind’s eye of a pub in the original sense is somewhat stereotypical. First of all, we’re in Ireland. It’s dark and charming inside. Warm too from the peat fire in the hearth. The air is filled with heavy, pleasant-smelling, second-hand pipe smoke. The floor is littered with peanut shells. Old fellas in flat caps laugh at each other’s jokes and then take up tin whistles and bodhrans and we all sing “Whiskey in the Jar” over and over again. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it, the flow of Guinness from the tap is torrential.
The essence of the Pub seems to be fellowship, friendship, camaraderie. Our individual woes become collective woes in the Pub, and therefore much easier to bear. Our joys are multiplied among friends. We find a place to truly know others and to be known truly for who we are. And if “who we are” leaves something to be desired, we find reconciliation, spoken sometimes but more often than not enacted in the nigh-on sacred ritual of sharing a drink. We’re made better in the presence of our friends and our enemies don’t stand much of a chance at remaining our enemies inside the Pub.
I should say, and critically differentiate, that a “pub” in modern America is something different, unfortunately, a co-opted term meaning “pricey bar” or more accurately, “pricey faux-Irish bar.” If the place is quasi-German it might be some kind of “haus.” Modern American pubs seem mainly to be places where young white folks with money go to get drunk. There’s camaraderie of a kind, but I think it’s awfully transactional. Care for a drink? Yeah? Awesome. That means we’re gonna have sex later. Right?
Times change. In the days when the Pub really was a sort of public living room it served as the place we established our individual selves in relation to our communities. I think the Church wanted the job and the Pub was completely fine letting the Church believe it was the perfect institution for the job, the sole provider of that sacred space where this sort of defining of the self amongst our fellows took place. I have a hunch that when the Church figured out what was really going on, it became more jealous than God Himself and immediately proclaimed that what it perceived as the Pub’s lifeblood—beer, whiskey—damnable substances. The Pub though, comfortable in the knowledge that its lifeblood was not, in fact, the booze, but the aggregate of the best and worst of the people (Dare I say it, the PUBlic?) found ways to hang on. The booze is, if anything, a bit of social grease.
Those who’ve ever stepped an honest inch into both the Church and the Pub know where the plebs are more comfortable with the authentic versions of themselves. Methinks a good deal of national healing might take place if we worried less about recombining the Church and the State and figured out how to marry the Church and the Pub. The State being the offspring anyway of who we think we are now, i.e. the Pub, and who we’re collectively trying to become, i.e. the Church.
I wonder where in Chattanooga we might find the true spirit of Pub life or something at least closely akin to it. Either in an actual local watering hole (bar, tavern, inn, etc.) or some other place with a similar societal function. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the Camp House and, for me, the Camp House qualifies. The time I spend in the Camp House is typically around a table with friends talking about life and literature, God and culture. If it weren’t for the pesky interruptions given to us by our day jobs or the fact that the Camp House, like many local businesses, has “business hours” I do believe we’d be sitting there still. But where else, Chattanooga? Where else? I actually am genuinely curious. List your Pub, if you care to, in the comments section below.
Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.