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Rant #76
(published Early, 2002)
Any Country That Calls It Grog Is OK in My Book
by David Bricker

What follows has been carefully worded but poorly researched. So if you complain about inaccuracies you'll just be setting yerself up for disappointment.

You see, once upon a time, humans didn't drink alcohol. They tried. Ate a few fruits and didn't brush their teeth for weeks. I don't blame early humans for not brushing their teeth more often — back then all they had were horse tails for dentifrice and brush. Thus, people were more likely to lose teeth to horse kicks than to save teeth due to proper hygiene.

Not long after the Romans abandoned northern and western Europe, the Saxons swept in and started kicking ass, impregnating cute local chicks, and leaving the stamp of sophisticated culture, which at that time meant the use of wheels and the imbibition of alcohol. The Saxons were big partiers and big drinkers. Held their liquor good, they did. When the Saxons were driven out by the locals, 'twas no matter, the kegger bug had bitten.

Along trade routes, especially where routes would intersect, enterprising debauchers built taverns with inns above, so as to make a buck or two or course. Despite their intended purpose (to serve travelers), the taverns nonetheless became the centers of social life for nearby villages and farms, since come on, it's not like they had other stuff to do, like ooh, chase the madrigal singers or ooh, go blacksmith-hopping.

The success of taverns as meeting places inspired city dwellers to build their own, with or without inns attached. Besides blacksmith-hopping and chasing madrigal singers, there wasn't all that much to do in the cities either, except perhaps watching people toss their own waste onto roads, so taverns became popular places for common city people to meet. The elite always met in more reputable (and safer) places, like country mansions or in special clubs, to get their buzzes on.

So taverns thrived in Europe. People single and married, young and old, came to the taverns to talk, meet new people, and beat the living shit out of each other.

To this day, old neighborhoods in the great cities of western Europe, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin... all have pubs and bars at a frequency that would make a McDonalds international expansion executive salivate. A few still have cornerstones showing their 16th and 17th century building years. Despite the gradual conversion of these pubs and bars to yuppie cafes and Gap shops, bars and pubs continue to serve a vital function in more suburban European neighborhoods. They tie people together socially. To this day, neighbors meet up at their local drinking holes regularly, often daily, more often on the weekends, to hit up the ol' pub for a pint o' ale, catch up on the gab, or some such.

So . . . America is a descendent of Britain. What the hell happened here?

Many of the first Americans who arrived were puritanical religious losers escaping religious persecution, who believed alcohol consumption to open the human heart to the devil's suggestion, so the center of social life ends up being the church rather than the tavern.

Later additions to the American colonies tend to be Lutheran-style protestants, also escaping persecution (again by the Catholics), and most of them are OK with drinking. But they aren't hard core drinkers, let's face it. The pub has a bit of skip and a jump in getting started in the States, and pubs are rare except in more cosmopolitan American cities with ports. Port pubs are somewhat like the taverns of old, except the beds upstairs aren't intended for long-term use. Sailors. You know what I'm talkin' about.

So at this point, the bar has been somewhat transformed — from a local meeting place to a place where sailors go for a shag while on a brief shore-leave. Not exactly the glue of society.

The Victorian Period makes a dent in pub patronage, but it isn't until the 20th century that everything reallygoes to hell.

Americans get weird about alcohol production, associating it with organized crime, one of the most sensational concerns of early 1900s Americans. Congress bans alcohol by Constitutional Amendment, which effectively closes all the bars in the country down and drives alcohol sale and consumption out of public scrutiny.

When Congress repeals the amendment (with another amendment), Americans have learned to socialize in other ways, especially by joining clubs of people with common interests. They've also gotten used to drinking their beers in their living rooms, but that's not the problem. The former transformation is.

The pub, tavern or bar used to represent a nexus of individuals united not by common interest, but by neighborhood. At least in terms of interests, the pub perusers were diverse.

In America, the bar ceases to be this center of neighborhood life. Americans don't go to bars to get to know their neighbors or learn what the big news of the day is — they go for hedonism: the pleasure of two fru-fru drinks and a good shag. The bar, in this sense, serves more in the capacity as a source of pleasure-making than as the seamstress of tightly knit communities.

And that, friends, is why English pubs kick so much ass on American bars.

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