Foolproof Method for Finding a Good Local Pub
Whenever I’m in a new city, I look for the local hang-outs. But contrarily most expats scoff at tourists, considering themselves more of a (though possibly exotic) resident. Or if an expat is visiting another city, it’s as a traveler not as (shudder) a tourist. Even in my US home city, when the occasional tourist would ask for directions I’d make sure it was to one of the trademark places and not anywhere my friends and I would frequent. Locals know the out of the way places with the best food and ambience, but are not particularly willing to share the knowledge with an interloper.
In Prague it’s ‘throw a rock, hit a pub,’ part of what contributes to the city and entire country’s beer nation pride and popularity. One neighborhood block can feature numerous pubs. I love to sample new places, and it would take me at least many months of dedicated research to sample the pubs in just one of Prague’s 22 districts (though towards the city it is of course more dense).
So what constitutes a ‘good local pub’ and how does one readily identify such a place? I’m going to run it down with a comparison with my favorite neighborhood pub. I have a cast of characters that I think could apply to any local pub, even in another country. Those who know of the place I’m referring to may have some fun identifying who is actually cast in what role and maybe find themselves described as one of the characters.
As this particular neighborhood was one time the vineyards of the king, we’ll call the place U Kralov Dum, or The House of Kings. But that part doesn’t matter. Good neighborhood pubs tend to have interesting names anyway (The Dog’s Bollocks comes to mind). Following are the types of characters to look for:
The Baron. He is the owner or at least the manager in control. He has a slight air of royalty, but is usually jovial and approachable if he likes you and deems you to be a worthy compliment to the clientele. Getting in his good graces and becoming a regular could at least garner you the ability to run a bar tab if need be.
The Baroness. Not always present or identifiable, but a good person to know if she happens to frequent the pub. Perhaps the power behind the throne, she may be more sympathetic to listening to you decompress after a rough day and be able to liason between you and the other regular denizens. Or the roles could be reserved if she’s the one who controls the books. Careful observation over a few visits will determine her approachability.
The Gatekeeper. He (in the testosterone-driven pub culture most leading characters will be male) is a near-permanent feature at the pub. He always sits in the same place, often near the door or clear sight of the door. The Baron, with his sense of welcoming everyone to boost his pub’s profits, may play good cop to The Gatekeeper’s bad cop. The Gatekeeper has no vested interest in whether you return or not. He can be surly and not warm to you until you have been accepted as a regular. He is usually in charge of the remote if there’s a television or the fly swatter during the summer season in a more rural pub.
The Barkeep. Mostly found behind the bar of course, unless he is forced to bring a drink to your table, something he is not particularly happy to do. Don’t try to strike up friendly conversation with him unless he initiates it. Nothing is more irritating than a newby trying to ingratiate himself. Follow his lead, keep relatively mum, and tip generously on the first few visits. Once you are accepted, you’ll likely have your favorite beverage waiting for you before you’ve taken off your coat.
The Jester. Sometimes this character can be one and the same with the local drunk, but not always. Local drunks eventually are not amusing, and I find it disconcerting when someone falls off their barstool or knocks over drinks. The Jester is fun, funny, and entertaining. He (again normally male as good female comediannes seem to be more rare) can be found where loud laughter is coming from in the pub. He often has his usual seat like The Gatekeeper, perhaps at the bar.
Damsel in Distress. The token female regular in the pub. Be wary. She’s usually sitting alone for a number of reasons (looking to get laid, waiting for someone to listen to her stories, or simply an alcoholic), and you’re best advised to observe her clandestinely from afar before engaging. Definitely do not make eye contact on the first few visits. She may be emotionally entwined with The Baron, Baroness, Gatekeeper or various other regulars. Engaging in uneducated conversation could get you in hot water and possibly ostracized.
The Siren. She may not come in as regularly as the above-mentioned, but she is a requisite part of the pub composite. She needs no description, as you’ll recogize her the moment you see her. Every head in the room turns when she walks in – the men want her and the women want to be her. She’s welcomed at every table and will leave as mysteriously as she comes in.
The Libertine. The male version of The Siren. He struts like a rooster, though not unattractively. He has the charisma that attracts men and women. If he sits near or actually at your table, you should feel honored.
The Tax Man. He’s likely a local businessman who prefers to frequent pubs as opposed to the more expensive bars he could afford. Perhaps he likes to feel like a big fish in a small pond. He tends to buy expensive cocktails over drafts. He’s part of the social stratisphere of the pub, but to the private chagrin of the more working class clientele.
Overall the first 6 characters are the most universal in my opinion in good local pubs. Apply them to pubs you’ve enjoyed in the past, and I’m sure you’ll be drawing comparisons. For the further amusement of the locals of my neighborhood pub which is the template of this, I’ll list additional characters that I’ve applied to the varied and assorted regulars. Maybe you’ll see some of them in pubs you explore, maybe not.
The Apothocary. For all your ‘medicinal’ needs.
The Merchant. International person of possible wealth.
The Farmer. Simpleton who sits in the corner nursing his drink and smiling vaguely.
The Duke. Close friend and confidant of The Baron.
The Leper. Could also be the local drunk. Basically when he enters it’s obvious no one wants him there though he may come in repeatedly.
The Executioner. Dangerous. You should probably avoid eye contact and being in his general vicinity.
Good luck in your search for the good local pub using this criteria. I’d be curious to hear how it works. Or if you have different experiences, I’d like to hear about it as well. And to my local friends, guess who you are.