Livin’ la vida local

Boak & Bailey asked ‘what is a local?’ in October and it’s a question I’ve pondered for some time. Ironically, for me it needn’t be that local; it’s a pub you frequent. I tend to favour pubs serving *what I regard to be* good beer, but this wasn’t always the case. I was previously more concerned with the pub’s aesthetic and overall character, and I lament that I now eschew former favourites such is my intransigence in this regard.

To have a local also requires a sense of stability; you build an affinity with a pub over many visits. However, ever rising rents has created a generation of nomads, which makes establishing yourself in the local community difficult. Even so, while I’ve had 10 addresses in 13 years in London and previously lived in Dublin, Glasgow and Stockholm, I’ve had a number of locals over the years, and I decided to take a crawl down memory lane.

My first bona fide local was the Elephant and Castle in Dumbarton (a town near Glasgow), which was sadly demolished earlier this year. We drank there as it was known as the town’s ‘metal’ pub, frequented by ‘moshers‘ including my older brother and his friends. Drinking with/tolerated by an older crowd, we felt some form of kudos had been bestowed upon us, especially so when drinking with our substitute teacher, Leon. Leon was named after the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and given the proud tradition of left-wing politics in the west of Scotland, this only added to his aura. I have many great memories of ‘Nellie’s’, and the most vivid is my friend being dragged out for some minor transgression that ultimately resulted in his first night in the cells. I’m happy to say that while he didn’t learn his lesson as such (he’s still a fanny), it didn’t result in a life of crime and punishment.

Then it was the Clyde Bar in Helensburgh, a well-heeled town on the Clyde coast, during a prolonged period of unemployment in my early 20s. I’d drop in for a few Tennent’s on ‘Giro Day’, and it was here that I witnessed taxi driver and regular, Dermot, rescue eight pence from the trough WHILE I WAS URINATING IN IT. While that event is imprinted onto my mind (it was a 5p, 2p and a 1p), it gives a false impression of the pub. It was a great live music venue, and featured in a video from purveyors of beige jock rock, Travis, if such trivia interests you.

When I moved to Glasgow to study, I enjoyed the subdued lighting of the Brunswick Cellars, which would fall completely silent every Sunday evening for the latest episode of The Simpsons. This was back when it was only available on Sky, but the quasi-religious observance practised by the ‘congregation’ was impressive. In Stockholm (my Erasmus year), it was The Dubliner (home of the local Celtic Supporters’ Club) for the football and Kvarnen in Södermalm for the vibes (which just so happened to be a Hammarby pub, a team who also play in green and white – a happy coincidence).

Once I graduated ‘in absentia’ it was off to Dublin. I was a regular at many Dublin pubs, and was often in Grogan’s (The Castle Lounge), a Dublin institution and well worth a visit if you’re in town and have the common sense to avoid Temple Bar. I also spent some time in The Long Stone just north of Trinity College, and ‘Dublin’s oldest Viking bar’ apparently. The Long Stone had a trough-like wash basin in the men’s toilet that I inadvertently found myself urinating in on my first visit, stopping mid-flow when I realised and shuffling over to the correct repository.

Then to London. I’ve written about my first London local before, a resolutely, fundamentally, genuinely working class Irish pub. The then manager Fintan and I bonded over our support for Celtic and arranged to travel to Glasgow together for a Champions League game (if I remember rightly my ‘packed lunch’ consisted of six cans of Stella Artois and a pre-made cheese sandwich). It was on this trip that I learned an important lesson in the folly of pre-judging people. I decided to get a newspaper for the journey, and with Fintan in mind decided to go for the Daily Mirror as opposed to my usual choice, The Guardian. Fintan called me as I boarded to tell me the seat next to him was free, and as I arrived he had the very same broadsheet spread out before him. For someone who takes pride in my class, this was embarrassing and humbling. What a tosser. Anyway, Fintan’s pub was an amazing place, and I could write a book on my experiences there but it may be best if I wait for its what seems to be inevitable decline…

Fast-forward to the present time and I’m so lucky to have an abundance of ‘locals’, and they’re getting more and more, well, local. The Duke’s Head in Highgate, a 45-minute walk away, opened a sister pub in Bounds Green, a 20-minute walk away, and this month the owners opened another pub, Small Beer in Crouch End, which is a mere 15-minute walk away. I also have the fantastic and beautifully restored Fuller’s pub The Great Northern Railway Tavern (GNRT) at the end of my street, but it’s the aforementioned family of pubs that I prefer to drink in. While the GNRT is great, it suffers as all chain pubs do from a lack of personality and warmth, which the other pubs have in abundance. The local is a place where you’re as happy to have a contemplative pint on your own as you are to visit with friends and family; indeed, it may even function as a surrogate family. Basically, the theme from ‘Cheers’ nailed it, and while not everybody knows my name in my local/s, I know I’m guaranteed a warm welcome.

Here’s to many more years of livin’ la vida local.

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