Passing by the now-shuttered JP O’Hanlon’s pub today, I had a very fleeting fantasy about owning a pub like that—a fantasy that I will never realize, because my list of more realistic “someday/maybes” is far too vast. I don’t really want to run a pub. If only a friend would open one and ask me for my advice at every decision point. I’d like to participate in the design of a place much like JP’s: a community gathering place with a good bar, good food, and regular live music.
None of my friends seems likely to buy JP’s, or create a place in Harvard like it, so I’ll just have to lay out my plans here, and hope that someone takes the bait.
There’s a big question hanging over all this. Much as I liked JP’s, I only went there about once a year. There are a couple reasons why. First, taking my kids to restaurants still falls on the wrong side of the pleasure/pain equation, which usually disinclines me to do it. They don’t have the patience for the timing of establishments that are likely to serve good food. Second, I don’t know enough people close by who liked JPs as much as I did. You could easily order things from that menu that weren’t great. Sticking to Guinness with fish and chips was the ticket to liking the place.
So what would be my perfect local pub, inspiring more regular participation? Thanks so much for asking. Let me tell you all about it.
First, let’s clarify some terminology.
A “pub” serves food and drink, with an added emphasis on being a community gathering place, rather than a tourist stop. Traditional English pubs are often associated with specific breweries, which mine would not. Good local and imported beer would flow, though.
A “bar” focuses on alcoholic drinks, with food served essentially as a means to get people to order more drinks. Specific types are cocktail lounges (like in hotels), saloons (add prostitutes and maybe gambling), nightclubs (focus on drunken dancing), etc. None of which are quite my focus in this current scheme.
An “inn” has rooms, as well as food and drink. As such, they are traditionally associated with travelers, more than locals. The word “tavern” means essentially the same thing as “inn,” though with different historical roots.
I’m using the word “pub” in my fantasy because I want to emphasize its local feel and be certain that it serves food, but it is arguably more technically an “inn.” I see my “pub” as having five separate spaces.
1. The Drinking Room would focus on handcrafted cocktails and microbrews. There would be a roomy, comfortable bar where people could linger, and then a mixture of tiny to moderate sized tables for intimate conversations and the potential to accommodate a big group or two. There would be enough darts stations to host a tournament, and if I were strong-armed by my inevitable business partner/funder into having a TV, it would be invisible and inaudible from 80% of that space, and completely hidden from the rest of the establishment. There would be a stage just big enough to accommodate a four-piece band (with a permanent, surprisingly good Steinway). You could get flights of beers, as well as whiskeys, and order a small glass of good beer for just $2. There would also be a booze-free cocktail menu for children and others on the wagon.
2. The Restaurant. The restaurant would be informal, but clean lines and all wood and no plastic, and an enormous roaring fire. Every table would have a button you could press to get a server’s attention.
We’ll have to discuss specifics of the menu another time, but menu items that would be served in under 5 minutes would have a special icon so you could spot it easily, if you were in a rush. Every selection would have a “tapas” size option, suitable for kids, people who want small tastes of separate things, and those watching calories. For appetizers such as jalapeño poppers, there would be an option to increase the quantity to accommodate your group. So, if there are four of you, you could get it with four poppers. If there are three of you, you could get it with three. Why doesn’t everyplace do that?!
In addition to tables and a few booths, for a reasonable hourly surcharge, you could set in a section with special tables designed for working lunches, with electrical outlets for laptops, free Wi-Fi, printer access, a modicum of privacy, and relatively large tables for the number of seats. You wouldn’t be pressured to leave or order more things. I’m thinking, the surcharge might be $5 per person per hour. An accountant would have to crunch the numbers, but the idea is that people could go there and work and not feel guilty for not ordering enough food because the surcharge would balance things out, even if they just drank tap water. There would be a private room too that would have a projector, serving as a conference room as necessary. So, we could accommodate an author plugging away at a novel or a staff meeting on retreat.
3. The zoo. This is where your fussy children go so that you can enjoy yourself, for a change. There is a TV (invisible and inaudible from the rest of the pub), train table, play kitchen, and comfy furniture where they can use their iPods/read books/sack out, and a children’s bar, staffed by an expert child wrangler who can control crowds and perform first aid, but mostly serves children’s cocktails and simple snacks. Maybe offer some video games or DVDs.
4. The Inn. Upstairs, there would be some rooms that you could rent by the hour. Each room has a bed or two, a TV, and a full bathroom. You could put sleeping/antisocial children there (with video monitors provided at the parents table in the restaurant), you could sleep off your accidental drunkenness or over-stuffedness, you could take a shower, and sure, you could use your imagination.
5. Gardens. Pub patrons need a pleasant place to walk around, if there’s a wait, or if the kids become totally impossible. It should be big, at least an acre, and with multiple outdoor rooms. Maybe a hedge maze or some animals. On-site chickens would be helpful both for producing eggs and knocking off table scraps. Pigs would be better, though visiting them they might not stimulate the patrons’ appetites. Better to have an associated pig farm off site.
This requirement of a garden will unfortunately preclude most potential locations, so I have to be prepared to give it up, but it would be a really good addition, if possible. If not, maybe instead have an attached museum. The point is that pubs need places for people to stretch their legs, walk around, and look at stuff while they wait for their order to arrive.
I’ll save my fantasy menus for another post, or series of posts….