Print Story HOWTO: Drink like an Englishman, in an English pub.
By Breaker (Tue Apr 27, 2004 at 05:54:02 AM EST) (all tags)
Whilst there are many guides to English pubs, ranging from Egon Ronay style restaurant critiques to  basic pub reviews, there is a distinct lack of dissection of the "real" pub experience.  Whilst tourists may find the well written Pub Passport a useful guide to getting along in an English pub, it doesn't really go beyond the basics.  This article is aimed at foreigners who wish to take their basic literacy one step further, and become English pub connoisseurs.  It's almost an online Faking It.

At the Bar

Whilst addressed in the Pub Passport, the queueing aspect of being in a pub cannot be emphasised enough.  At a busy bar, there's nothing more likely to kick off a ruck than some badly behaved tourist elbowing his way to the bar.  Whilst the ability to queue is drummed into the English with rigorous and sadistic training in childhood, we recognise that foreigners may have difficulty in doing so.  Even though we don't like it either.  Also, when being served, your order should end with the word please.  Once your change has been returned, a thankyou is required.  Don't embarrass the barstaff by leaving your change; if you want to tip then offer to get the bar[wo]man a drink.  And don't get impatient, John, even if you're only ordering two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, please.

The "round" is a capricious beast.  People take turns in getting the drinks in; few pubs have waited tables on.  Because of this, you'll also curry favour with the barstaff if you bring your empty glasses back to the bar.  There are usually dedicated "potmen" in larger pubs, or barstaff will come and collect the empty glasses from your table, eventually.  Be careful when stacking pint glasses together, however - they sometimes crack.  A jagged edge of a pint glass is like a bacon slicer; I've seen someone nearly lose a finger before when the bottom glass cracked in a large pile.  About 5-6 pint glasses is about the maximum for an amateur potman.

Because the person buying the round is also expected to carry them back to the table, it's best to be fairly dextrous when ordering large rounds.  Four pints can be carried with two strong hands and a little practice; more if the glasses are of the Toby jug style with handles.  For large rounds, your mates may offer to help but they must not queue with you.  Standard practice is to situate yourself close enough so your mate at the bar can hand you the drinks.  Be careful not to spill any over people standing between you and your mate; this is another potential situation that can kick off a pub ruck.

Remember, gentlemen drink pints.  On the rare occasion you are ordering a half (for example, you are driving a car later, are on your way to a court appearance or the like), it is important to pour it into your pint glass so as not to be seen drinking a half in public.  It is acceptable for the odd G&T, Redbull and vodka towards the tail end of the night.  About an hour from closing time is usually acceptable.  Ordering anything other than a pint as your first few drinks will have you labelled as a big girly poof with limp wrists.  Also, there is the economic cost - it's usually impolite to buy a single measure of spirits for the drink, so double spirit and mixer ends up costing about twice the price of a pint.  Which makes you a leech.   Ladies, obviously, are exempt from these rules.  

Finance and Fairness

The seasoned drinking man is long aware of the problem of the "Long Pockets Short Arms drinker".  They will continuously attempt to duck their round.  Usual ploys include

  • Hiding in the toilet when it's their round next

  • Claiming to "just be nipping to the bank"

  • Leaving early.

A variant on the LPSA is the cheapskate bastard drinker.  This sort of drinker will ensure that his is the last round bought in a pub before the group moves on to graze beer in a club, where drinks are a lot more expensive.  Then he'll be on the dancefloor, or have left by the time his round has come back again.

These sorts of drinkers should be avoided where possible.  When this is not possible, a solution is for the group to drink slowly until the LPSA drinker is the first to finish, forcing the issue.  

Another, less confrontational method is The Whip.  Also useful when you're in a large group where there simply is not enough time for everyone to have a turn in the chair.  Everyone coughs up a given sum of money, and all drinks are bought with this.  Usually, any spare at the end of the night is either spanked in gaming machines, on communal chips, or on cabs.  The position of Whipholder is one of responsibility; they must take care that they are always available to dole money out when more drinks are needed.  Note that the principle of each person going to the bar usually holds here; everyone takes turns in queueing at the bar, returning The Whip to the Whipholder once the drinks have been distributed.

It is not normally expected for ladies to go to the bar unaccompanied, or in some circles, at all.  This depends on the dynamic of the group.  However, if a lady is there with a boyfriend, then the boyfriend is usually obligated to do two rounds, or accompany his lady to the bar.  Even in todays equal society, there are still some vestiges of misogyny/chivalry, depending on how you look at it.

Preparation and First Aid

Preparation for a night out should not include eating anything since lunchtime.  A great maxim for all you mnemonic fans out there to remember is "Eating's Cheating".  This will ensure you have sufficient space for beer.  Crisps, nuts and pork scratchings consumed in the pub do not count.  The one exception here of course, is the Sunday Lunch, when the express purpose is to go to the pub to eat.  This is the only acceptable time to be eating in a pub.

Less seasoned drinker may find the "Eating's Cheating" mantra a little daunting at first.  You'll drink a little quicker than you're used to at first, and not be too sure of your limits.  This can often lead to Whiteing Out, leading to a conversation with the porcelain doctor.  As a wannabe serious drinker, you can show no sign of weakness.  Unless your mouth is already full of vomit, excuse yourself to the toilets and chunder away.  If you already have a gobfull of puke, run.  When inside the toilet, practise for pin-point bombing accuracy.  There's nothing worse than a toilet that looks like a vat of vile smelling soup has been dumped all over it.  Make sure you're done, then rinse your mouth with a little water and go back to your pint.  This is known as getting back on your chariot and riding.  Throwing up in cabs is not advisable.  You're far better having a little walk around to make sure your oesophagal integrity is going to hold, than facing down an irate cabbie demanding damages to his soiled vehicle.  Likewise on buses and London tubes; you'll make yourself incredibly unpopular on these.  And don't, whatever you do, lean over the tube tracks to spew your evil guts.  Those central rails are live with a lot of electricity.  

One thing that is a common affliction in so called "trendy" pubs and bars are the toilet attendant, also known as Bog Trolls.  These unfortunate creatures are not paid by the establishment; rather they are there for their own gain.  If you're unable to turn a tap on, pour soap on your hands and pick up a couple of towels to dry your hands with then they're there for you, for a fee.  However, if you're unable to turn a tap on, perhaps it's time you went home (only after buying a round in if it's your round next).  Bog Trolls often sell chewing gum, aftershave deodorant etc, however they can put off the trapshy, forcing them away from the urinals into the cubicle toilets.  It's not just your common drinker that hates the Bog Trolls; even pop stars get agro with them.  Establishments claim they "add class" to the pub or bar; drinkers claim they either get in their way, prevent them from dealing drugs, or are trying to sell them drugs.

Additional Fun and Games

While traditional pub banter is the lifeblood of the average pub, sometimes a game or two can help pass time when no sparkling conversation is ongoing.  Traditional drinking games usually involve roles as following: a Chairman, a Weights and Measures, and sometimes a Chief Sneak.  It is usual for various additional side games to be played at the same time as the main game, and all for drinks penalties.  The Chairman may introduce the quarter past - quarter to rule.  This is where drinks must be only held with the left hand during the time of quarter past the hour to half past the hour.  Outside of this the drinks must be held only in the right hand.  Optionally, the Chairman may insist on pinkies being extended at all times.  Other arbitrary rules, such as not smoking until half past the hour, and not walking directly to the toilet and back are imposed.  Weights and Measures is in charge of setting the punishment for each crime.  This can range from a single finger in height of your pint, to the onerous "down in one" ultimate penalty.  If Weights and Measures imposes a 5 finger penalty and the miscreant has only 3 fingers left in his pint, he may down the pint and be considered to have fulfilled his punishment.  Chief Sneak must carefully watch all players and inform the Chairman of the infraction.  If a transgression is spotted by another player, then both the Chief Sneak and the transgressor drink the same penalty.  These roles can be contested if the Chairman introduces too many unpopular rules, or Weights and Measures is seen to be favouring some players unfairly.  Deposed Officers of the game must down their pints.

I list two simple drinking games for your amusement:


Get an empty pint glass and a piece of toilet roll.  Moisten the rim of the glass, and stretch the toilet roll across it.  Wait for the moisture to dry; it should have just about stuck to the rim.  Gently drop a coin (choice of denomination up to you) in the centre.  Light a cigarette, and players take turns in burning through the toilet paper without dropping the coin into the bottom of the glass.  The player that drops the coin usually drinks 5 fingers.

Matchbox Conversion

You'll need a matchbox for this one.  About half full is about right for the weight, but it's not that important.  Players take turns in throwing the matchbox over their pint.  The action of the hand is a palm facing down flick of the wrist, similar to a Petanque throw - the matchbox is supposed to spin as it flies.  If the matchbox lands on its largest side, then it is the next players' turn with no penalty.  If it lands on the long thin side, the next player must drink two fingers.  If it lands on the shortest end, the next player must drink 4 fingers.  Players being handed a penalty have the chance at a saving throw, whereas if they manage to get the matchbox to fall on a "scoring" side, then their penalty is added to the value of their score, and the next person then has to drink it.  Penalties can stack like this unchecked.  Obviously, if you finish your pint then this is your penalty served.  If by some chance accident of clumsiness, you manage to drop the matchbox in your pint, you must finish the pint.

Feel free to post your favourite drinkng games below.

Sporting Events

From time to time, pubs will have sporting events on.  At first these can seem intimidating, and rightly so.  A minority of pubs may have dull sports like horse racing, snooker, cricket or tennis on.  These pubs will typically be filled with crusty old men drinking bitter or stout, watching that month's rent disappear on Lucky Dancer in the 4:15 at Cheltenham.  These are easily avoided and rightly so.  Where the excitement comes is watching football matches, especially if it's a Derby match.  Note to foreigners that think Manchester United are universally popular - they're not.  They just have the largest international market penetration for their goods.  Walk into a Millwall pub wearing a Man U shirt and you'll be lucky to get out alive.  Your best bet is to wear a neutral shirt (black for instance) and sit quietly.  If the crowd start singing "who's the wanker in black?" they're talking about the referee, not you.  If you have no comprehension of the offside rule, don't try to bluff it.  In a pub, everyone's a commentator.  From the silkiness of Thierry Henry's touch to the failings of Emile "Lump of Lard" Heskey to the darting runs of Shola Ameobi - everyone's got an opinion.  So listen to those around you for choice commentary to regurgitate.  However, be sure to check what colour shirt your conversational partner at the bar is wearing - a Liverpool fan may take it badly if you start in on Heskey and Owen being overrated.

Note that many pubs ban the wearing of football colours for the reason that emotion will be running high and the lager will have been flowing.  There's many a victim of dissing the defence to the wrong person.  Remember that bottles can be broken to make a handy stabbing instrument, and if you've ever seen anyone glassed you'll know what I'm talking about.  Heavy ashtrays make a good throwing weapon if you have to stage a tactical retreat.

Other reasons for pub violence are usually initiated with the words:

  • Did you touch my pint?

  • Are you looking at my woman?

  • This is a Millwall only pub...

  • Are you calling my pint a woman?

It goes without saying that if you spill someones drink, you immediately offer to buy another for them.

Getting Home

Well, if you've survived to closing time, well done.  Now remember, you've still got 20 minutes drinking up time to be used.  Get another pint in, you can always power it down in 15 minutes.  Failing that some pubs will exchange your glass for a plastic one, leaving you free to leave with your drink.

Now, at 23:20 most pubs in England kick out.  The exceptions are Sundays and Bank Holidays, which kick out at 22:50.  And it's not just you that's looking for cabs, tubes, and kebabs.  We're now in the magical time of food that you'd never eat sober.  Hot dog stands are always good for a 1 in 5 chance of food poisoning, but you're unlikely to get grief there.  But in the kebab shops and cab ranks, you now have an overflow of people all wanting the same thing.  This is where your queueing practice in the pub earlier may just save your life.  I've seen most fights start in kebab shops and cab ranks at about 23:30-23:50.

Only limp wristed girly wusses go for burgers or hotdogs at kebab shops after the pub.  The socially acceptable thing is to order is at minimum, "a large doner, extra chilli sauce, some garlic sauce and all the salad on, please".  Just because you're drunk doesn't mean you are allowed to drop the "please" off the end.  Mixed kebabs are acceptable for either the very rich or very hungry, but must contain the all important elephant leg meat.  It's got important electrolytes in it that will help recovery tomorrow.

A cheap option is chips and curry sauce, although I haven't had decent curry sauce to put on my chips since I left the Midlands.  Your mileage may vary.  They also double as amusing sloppy projectiles to throw at your mates/passing cars if you get a double portion.

Or, the other option is to go for a late night Ruby.  This has the additional advantage of being able to continue to drink beer after pubs have shut.  Nothing more mild than madras may be eaten, however.  

It's now time to put a traffic cone on your head and stagger home.  Sing when you're winning.