Apropos of my post-before-last, here is the link to George Orwell’s famous essay about The Moon Under Water, his favorite pub of all time. He lists the ten criteria that make it the perfect pub, before confessing the obvious: it doesn’t exist. He notes that he’s found a place or two that meet eight of the ten criteria, but never the perfect spot – somehow, the draft stout and the china mugs are unavailable.
I’ve been thinking about some of my places in relation to that, and what it is I liked the most from each place, and if they can be combined. Not just pubs, but other “sit and relax and drink”-type establishments as well, especially since moving to NorCal where pubs are regrettably thin on the ground. Onward, then:
OVERCUP OAK (Vanderbilt): had darkness, fireplaces, was generally quiet in the evenings. Bar space, table space AND booth space available. Some minor food options until it got late (mostly in the mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers line), beer but not liquor available. TV on weekend afternoons but not on at night. Outside balcony, walkable from my apartment. Come to think of it, this is nearly the most perfect place.
FOUR PROVINCES (DC): dark, amazing jukebox, live music. Generally crowded and convivial, with a full menu and full bar. Live music, lots of stomping and cheering and carrying on. Perfect for socializing, but not really what I need in a public house anymore unless it’s for a birthday party. No televisions at all, but a pull-down screen and projector available for World Series games, March Madness and election night. Accessible by public transit but usually required a $20 cab ride home. Would be lying if I didn’t admit I could smoke a pipe in here without incident back in the day.
O’FLAHERTY’S: dim, very limited menu, good bar selection, live Irish music of the pickup-session type, occasionally a song or two. Accessible via light rail, in an hour. A few TVs, prone to showing Fox Soccer or (when it existed) Setanta Sports, so easy to get the right Anglo-Hibernian feel as needed.
TRIALS: very dim, classic pub-grub menu, very good beer and decent hard liquors, assorted seating options, small fireplace (I think), NO television to speak of (an advantage, there) – closer to rail than O’Flaherty’s but not any closer to home. Fills up pretty good most nights.
LILY MAC’S: dim (seeing a theme here?), reasonably complete menu, not too crowded of a Sunday, live music (though more organized than walk-in-and-play), solid food and drink options, nice long spacious bar and high Tudor-esque ceilings, and reasonably close to home (more so than the San Jose bars).
RIPTIDE: dim, close enough to the ocean that you can walk outside and see the surf (and hear it on quiet nights). No food to speak of, but reasonably good drink selection at low prices, plus a real wood fireplace with two (uncomfortable) chairs near it. Never been there past about 7 or 8 PM but it gives the impression it would turn crowded in a hurry. About as unreachable from home as is possible to be without having to get on a plane.
IBERIA: dim (look, let’s just take it as read that any place I want to hang out will be dim and let it go), comfortable leather-chair seating in the bar area, big fireplace with actual booths enclosing it on two sides, remarkable array of tapas, sangria that would stop a bull in its tracks. No TV or music (the place is a restaurant, although the bar half is of equal size). Biggest drawback is that a night here will cost you HELLA money and not just because the 18% gratuity is built into every tab. Not unreasonably distant but not a stagger-home either.
BRITISH BANKERS CLUB/OLD KNICKERBOCKER: a publish restaurant with a cigar shop attached, both now defunct. BBC had above-average pub fare and a remarkable cocktail list, if expensive, but also had a large outdoor patio space and occasional live music, which made it an attractive option on summer evenings.
DUKE OF EDINBURGH: a real English pub, built in England to be dismantled and moved to Cupertino. All the fittings and finishings of an upper-class English pub, with the velvet wallpaper and seating. Solid food and drink, televisions always tuned to some Brit-sport channel, small outdoor patio for seated smoking. Absolutely inaccessible by public transit, but easily walkable from the forthcoming new Apple campus.
SECRET DIVE BAR WHICH I WILL NOT NAME, GET YOUR OWN DAMN DIVE BAR: Close enough to easily get to or home from. No food options at all, no draft options at all. Stupidly cheap drink, but don’t go looking for any fancy cocktails or flat-panel TVs: the couple that are mounted in high corners are old CRTs usually tuned to Oakland A’s games. This is a place to drink and get out; the only signage is a piece of Xerox paper stuck to the door and it always has a faint atmosphere of “we might get our asses kicked in here”.
DAN BROWN’S LOUNGE, may it rest in peace: equal halves dive bar and sports bar. Front half dark with a couple of leather booths, big framed Marilyn Monroe poster over the bar (you know the one), absurd amount of hard liquor with bottles that might not have been touched in a couple of decades. Back half well-lit with a dozen televisions, couple of pool tables, small space outside for smokers with TVs visible through the windows. No food to speak of, except for the bit brought in for Redskins fans on a Sunday morning. Generally crowded as hell, especially on karaoke night.
Note, too, that I’m leaving off the speakeasy-type high-cocktail places. No Bourbon and Branch, no Singlebarrel, no Public Edition or Rickhouse or Alembic or Clock Bar. I’m looking for the sort of a place I’d be happy to go to any evening or any weekend and not pay $11 for a drink, not to deny that their drinks are well worth $11 a pop.
So what does my perfect place have, then? Behold, the Bear and Commodore Publick House*:
* Drumroll please: dark. Dark furnishings, dark fittings, dark wood all round and perhaps some of the trappings of the traditional Irish pub. No objection to an outdoor space attached, but not critical at all.
* A solid selection of beer and whiskey. I’m not here for a guy in suspenders to ask about my flavor preferences and concoct something impressive, I’m here to work on a pint or two of Guinness. Or Newcastle. Or maybe a short glass of Laphroaig or Ardbeg with one large rock.
* Comfort food. There should be a couple of plausible meal options for dining with friends, but there need to be potato skins and cheese sticks/fries to nibble on whilst working on the aforementioned pint. Goes without saying that there should be options available for people with dietary restrictions – veggie, celiac, etc etc.
* One modestly-sized television is OK, but not obtrusively so – maybe have the space divided in such a way that half has a TV and half does not. Under no circumstance should the television show anything other than games in progress. Any person tuning the TV to CNN or MSNBC shall be whipped, and any person tuning it to CNBC or Fox shall be shot.
* A fireplace is a must, ideally featuring actual burning wood. Two fireplaces, one in each half, would be even better.
* There should be a few big comfy overstuffed chairs near the fire suitable for sitting in if one is alone, and it should be possible to get up and replenish drink or avail oneself of the facilities without losing one’s place in the chair. It wouldn’t hurt to have a couch or two in the non-TV room.
* Games – pool, foosball, darts, Golden Tee – are to be highly discouraged, if not banned outright. Takes up too much valuable space and encourages untoward displays of bro-dom.
* The place should never be a hundred percent full. I know, I know, they have to make money, but this is my ideal dream place, so indulge me – it should always be possible to go in and get situated however you require, be it at the bar or at a table or on the couch or comfy chair.
* No wi-fi. Excellent cellular reception, so you can get text messages in and out and check Twitter if necessary, but nothing that would allow or encourage people to be camped out with laptops. Anything you need a laptop for, you ought to be doing somewhere else.
* Live music, if provided, should always be acoustic Irish stuff. Otherwise, the background should be full of 80s 2-Tone, traditional Irish music, old bluegrass (think Bill Monroe-era) and Johnny Cash. Loud enough that you can listen to it but not so loud you have to.
* It should be possible to have two drinks and a plate of cheese fries for $20, tip included. That’s an hour or two just to hang out or read or chat.
* I have to be able to get home from this place alone at 10 PM on a school night in under 15 minutes. Train, cab, walk, whatever. If I can do it on public transit, all the better.
Hmph. No wonder I can’t find this place. Picky picky, I am. =)