People Make a Pub
The hubby and I have always said that people make a pub. We bought a 200+ year old Inn in a very small town in Vermont with an idea to add in a bar and open to the public for meals and drinks. It should work, right? (Many successful years later, we marvel at this faith. We sit around and do the ‘what if’ conversation. So many things could have gone wrong. So many.) We were thinking of the style and feel of an English or Irish pub. I mean, every town in either of those countries, and in towns and villages much, much smaller than the one we were moving to, would have a pub. There wouldn’t always be food available in this places, or it might not be anything more than a toasted cheese special and a package of Tayto crisps.
I have to interrupt this story for just a moment and explain the Toasted Cheese Special. If you are in Ireland, I promise you, you can go into just about any pub, anywhere in the country, and ask for the toasted cheese special. It will be a toasted cheese, ham and tomato sandwich. Maybe some onion. Everywhere, always, every day. No, I have no idea why. Yes, I love ordering them. I’ve been in fancy pubs and the ham has been freshly cut from a roast. But most often it’s deli sliced ham. The cheese is gooey. Just enough tomato and onion to add flavor but not make it a big unwieldy mess. It is exactly what you want to eat after walking on the beach on a misty day, or driving through small villages looking for signs to follow down country lanes. If you are truly doing it right, you will have this with a pint of Guinness. (If you are me you’d have a Bulmers cider on a hot day or a glass of wine on any other day)
Interruption #2 – if you want a good rant, ask the hubby about a grilled cheese sandwich. As he rightfully (and repeatedly) will point out, there is no grill involved in grilled cheese. It’s false advertising. Most often it is a fried cheese sandwich, right? Pan-seared cheese sandwich? Anyway, calling it ‘grilled’ makes him nuts.
Back to our inn idea – At the time the gastropub craze had fully landed in the UK and we just thought, it has to work elsewhere, doesn’t it? I mean, I know the ‘pub’ has never really existed in the US, we seem to be more of a bar country. A pub in the US seems to imply sports on TV. This was not our goal. Our goal was an old building with lots of character, a cozy space, decent food – a little on the hearty side, an interesting wine list, some good beers, eventually cocktails, but no cocktail list. We were not a cocktail bar. We were not trendy. We wanted it to be place that felt like it had been there forever. The building did most of that work for us.
But eventually we can only provide the space, cook the food and pour the drinks. People, they had to show up, repeatedly, and turn it into a pub. It had to be a place where everyone comes, young and old. There had to be room for chatting, cozy spaces, places to bump into neighbors, flexibility to let people wander from table to table. No reservations, no rigid structures. Sure, we had complaints about some of this, some folks would really like to know that they can come in the door at 7pm and immediately sit down at their pre-organized table. And I get that. I like that too on occasion. But we held strong that if we did that, we were taking away the magic moment of ‘oh, hey, why don’t you guys come join us?’. And watching people run into one another, chat, buy each other drinks spontaneously, join in singing birthday songs to neighbor’s children, that was one of our greatest satisfactions. So, we heard you, people who wanted reservation lists and regular menu items and a screened-in deck and TV for major sports events, but we held our own ground. And we know we didn’t make every single person happy, but it worked. The people turned it into a pub and made it work.