Thursday, January 13, 2011


You bring forth wine to gladden the human heart… (Psalm 104)

A recent piece offers a slide show of “Literary Watering Holes.” I was surprised to discover that Caryl and I have actually been to three of the thirteen pubs, bars, and cafes featured: The Eagle and Child in Oxford, The Spaniard in Hampstead, and The Grand in Oslo. We went to the Eagle and Child (“The Bird and Baby”) for the same reason all tourists do – to have a pint at (or near) the table where Tolkien and Lewis nurtured their friendship and their literary projects. The other two places simply presented themselves as inviting stops near where we were staying. In all three instances, the pubs retained the flavor, ambience, (and patronage) of a “local,” that is, they had an organic connection to their settings and had not been Disneyfied.

The Salon article got me to thinking: Caryl and I have a couple of "locals" (one is literally local – in our town – the other is a place we stop at when we head into the city), and they are, indeed, “watering holes.” In both cases we enter the front door of the establishment to find, to the left, a nicely appointed dining room, and, to the right, what is usually referred to in America as a “bar,” or in the U.K., a “pub.” (I agree that we don’t really have a neighborhood pub phenomenon in this country like that in Britain, but these places are a close approximation.) In both cases, we usually turn to the right, into the pub. We do so not to bend our elbows at the bar (we usually sit in one of the casual booths and order the same thing that we would if we were in the dining room), but because there is a different feeling – a kind of amber-lit community of conversation accompanied by the occasional clinking of glass. It has partly to do with the architecture and the lighting, and much to do with the fact that this is a place of sociability and relaxation -- perhaps the difference between sitting with friends at the dining table at home, or standing around the kitchen (with those same friends) in an atmosphere of comfortable laughter and sparkling eyes.

It’s the atmosphere I’m emphasizing. (Caryl and I do not, in fact, make a practice of turning to our neighbor and saying, “How about those Vikings?”) It’s the quiet buzz of conviviality in the room.

And “buzz” perhaps begs the question. To what degree does the inviting nature of the place have to do with the fact that it’s a bar – a place of beer, wine, and spirits? As a pastor I have always taught that there are two “Christian” approaches to alcohol. One is abstinence, the other is responsible, non-inebriated use. I have also been much involved pastorally in the lives of people afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. (And drunkenness in the local pubs is a huge issue in Britain.) So I find myself just a bit conflicted in writing an ode to a pub; I have never been attracted to the windowless saloons that are found in every town in America (well, except once, ironically, for the great Irish music they were featuring), but there’s something about a pub. What is it? Was the creativity of Tolkien and Lewis nurtured more by their pints of ale than it would have been if they’d met in a coffee shop? And, for that matter, what of the wine of Passover that becomes the fellowship quaff of Communion? A mentor of mine, a highly regarded professor of theology, once said (of the sacrament), “When I think of the generosity of our Lord, I am offended at the thimbleful of wine I receive at Communion.”

Were those first century Eucharistic feasts more like a gathering at “the local” than a pious kneeling at the rail?

And where, dear reader, is your local?


My friend, Anne, in response to this blog, writes, "In Norwich,England, the city in which I grew up, there were 365 pubs, (one for each day of the year) and 52 Churches, one for each week of the year."


Caryl said...

I like it! When should we start our visits to the other ten literary watering holes?

Joseph G. Crippen said...

So dish - what are the two "locals" you and Caryl frequent?

Richard Jorgensen said...

Joseph: We like the bar (area) at the Chianti Grill in Burnsville. Here in Faribault we go to the tables at the window-end of the bar at the Depot restaurant.