In the Western world, bars have always served as centres of social interaction, both for the ordinary people and the wealthy elite. In Britain, bars are generally referred to as ‘taverns’ or ‘pubs’, the latter being a shortened form of ‘public house’.
Since the Middle Ages, people have frequented these establishments to imbibe beer and ale, or more potent spirits, and hear the latest gossip from their neighbours and friends.
Commenting on the ‘social value’ of the local tavern, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), one of the UK’s leading progressive think tanks, has noted that pubs ‘are more than just private businesses selling alcohol.’
According to the think tank, pubs ‘also play an essential role at the heart of their local communities’ by ‘providing meeting places, supporting formal and informal social networks and a focal point for community events.’
In urban areas, pubs have come to represent the epicentre of modern nightlife, with groups of friends often spending the evening going bar-to-bar in elaborate ‘pub crawls’, which can often extend into the early hours of the following day.
For many young urban professionals, the pub is the preferred venue on Friday and/or Saturday nights for ‘letting off steam’ after a challenging work week. Whether they are only looking to ‘meet someone’ or show off their new pair of Ecco high-heel shoes, the bar is typically considered their ‘go-to’ place.
But pubs aren’t only for having fun or catching up on the latest gossip. They can also serve as venues for necessary (albeit unofficial) meetings, with many business people, and even some politicians, preferring the less-formal atmosphere for their wheeling and dealing.
In some cases, even high-profile scientific discoveries have been announced, if not made, at the local tavern.
In 1953, celebrated scientists Francis Crick and James Watson announced their landmark discovery of DNA, dubbed the ‘secret of life’, at The Eagle and Child tavern in the English city of Cambridge.
Established more than three centuries ago (1667), the famous pub, now called The Eagle, was also a favourite watering hole for allied pilots during World War II, many of whom indelibly burnt their names in the ceiling with their cigarette lighters.
Over the years, many bars and pubs have also been associated with famous writers, artists, musicians and philosophers.
For example, New York City’s White Horse Tavern, (established in 1880), was frequented by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who reportedly drank his last whiskey there. American novelist James Baldwin and ‘The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison were also regular customers there.
And in Havana, Cuba, the El Floridita cocktail bar, (established in 1817), was a favourite haunt of literary heavyweights Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, along with controversial poet Ezra Pound.