Paul Fitzpatrick: London, January 2022
Hands up if you can remember your first trip to the pub?
And by pub, I mean a proper public bar, not the Beachcomber at Butlins in Ayr with your Mum & Dad.
I’m pretty sure mine’s was the Burnbrae bar in Bearsden in 1973. I went with a few pals, one of them, Jay, was a year older than the rest of us, and as he strolled nonchalantly up to the bar, the rest of us hid round the corner near the dartboard and tried not to squeak.
I’m not even sure I liked the taste of beer back then or knew what type of beer to order so when Jay said he was having a pint of ‘heavy’ we all followed suit, lowered our voices by several octaves and growled – “yeah pint of heavy for me too mate”.
What came back was warm brown liquid (probably slops reserved for undiscerning intruders like ourselves), and I realised heavy wasn’t for me, settling instead for lager and lime which lacked a bit of credibility but suited an unrefined palette, more used to Garvies fizzy pop at the time.
It’s interesting to reflect on our hierarchy of needs in those early days; the main priority of course was access – can we get into the damn place without suffering the ignominy of a knock-back, and the subsequent walk of shame .
This also encouraged a Darwinist, law of the jungle approach to proceedings, where some of your best mates got left behind because they had a baby-face or looked too young…. they weren’t too happy at the time but they’re probably laughing now!
Being an underage pub-goer took meticulous planning, for instance the ETA was critical – the pub had to be busy enough so as not to stand out but quiet enough that you could get a seat.
What entrance you used was important – if possible, a side entrance that didn’t face the bar.
Where you sat was also critical– out of sight of the bar if possible, and always with your back to the bar.
Close to an exit was preferable in case it got raided by the police and you had to get out pronto
So much thought and energy just to rush down a couple of watery Norseman lagers all the while sitting in fear of being chucked out.
Once we got a bit more confident (and older) then we started looking at other variables – pubs that offered better value, pubs that had a jukebox or played live music and then ultimately livelier disco-pubs like The Rooster or City Limits at weekends where you could mingle to your hearts content
Of course, the landscape has changed a tad from 1973 particularly the breadth of choices on offer.
Back in the day there would probably only be one draught lager on offer whereas now you can take your pick of multiple lagers and craft beers from around the globe (plus numerous bottled options).
Similarly, if you asked for a gin, it was probably Gordons (or a cheap supermarket version in a Gordons bottle) whereas today it can take 10 minutes just to present the various options.
Vodka? the same, – Smirnoff used to be the only game in town but now you can have any flavour you want – toffee, watermelon, passion fruit, the list goes on.
I don’t even remember if you could buy a glass of wine in a pub back then, but if you were lucky there was a house white and a house red.
One thing my friend Tabby reminded me of recently is that cordials used to be a big part of the offer – lime, orange, blackcurrant and his favourite, peppermint, all essential mixers and often laid out on the bar with lemonade and water, totally free of charge, nowadays it’ll cost you £2.50 for a bottle of Fever Tree to mix with your Gin and juniper berries.
Talking about prices, on my first sojourn to the pub a pint was 15p which is equivalent to roughly £1.55 in today’s money. A shot of vodka, rum, gin or whisky was 16p which is equivalent to £1.65 today.
To put it in perspective the average annual salary in 1973 was £2,000 or 13,300 pints of beer.
Jump forward to 2022 where the average salary is £32,000 and the average cost of a pint is £3.80… equivalent to 8,420 pints of beer.
Which means that we’re 4,880 pints worse off people!!
It’s true that our money used to go a lot further in those days, and when you tell youngsters today that you used to be able to have a great night out for the cost of a bottle of Fever Tree, they look at you the same way we looked at our parents when they spoke about collecting jam-jars in order to get into the cinema!
It’s easy to get nostalgic about some of our old haunts and there’s a great Facebook group called Old Glasgow Pubs, which features some terrific images and memories about pubs from the 60’s, 70s & 80s in Glasgow.
It’s mostly made up of punters reminiscing about their favourite pubs & bars in Glasgow, with people commenting on how they used to frequent said establishment, or in some cases how they worked there, or met their wife/husband there or in the case of the Bell Geordie in Bell St, a previous owner joined the thread to say he used to own the gaff.
As you go through the posts you realise just how many pubs there are or used to be in Glasgow, for instance according to the site below there are 579, yes, 579 pubs within 10 miles of Partick train station, sounds bizarre but you can check them all out on the link and start the biggest pub-crawl of your life.
I’ll see you in The Curlers!