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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Feng Shui of Pubs

On Saturday afternoon, Sally and I strolled through the early evening of a false Autumn toward Belmont Street. If I ever am forced to live anywhere else, I'll remember days like that one--cloudy and spitting rain all day, but so half-heartedly that the total rainfall measured just a tenth of an inch. It's the kind of weather that makes me want to go to a pub--not just any random pub, but a nice one that feels warm and inviting. A place with the appropriate Feng Shui.

We ended up at Circa 33, a place that has quickly zipped to the top my list for places with perfect ambiance. It's built like a cave, with the windows on Belmont standing in as the mouth. At the far back is a spectacular bar glittering with bottles. The light comes from overhead, but the main part of the pub stays in the shadows. It therefore has the perfect mixture of light and shadows. The menu is excellent and surprisingly cheap and there are a dozen rotating taps of local and international interest on tap. Perfect.

When I first started my pub-going life in the late 1980s, America was just emerging from a very dark period in which the tavern was not a particularly homey place to visit. Our Puritan streak relented enough to end Prohibition, but taverns were still no place for decent folk, so they were free of amenities like windows, decent food, or decent beer, children, and women. (Yes, that is an exaggeration.) Examples included the stalwarts I visited not irregularly along Milwaukie Avenue (Bear Paw, Yukon), in St Johns (Blue Bird, Wishing Well), and many points in between. For the cocktail set, there were definitely upscale redoubts that did have good food, windows, and women--but of course, no good beer. Your choices for good beer and great vibe were limited to, say, the Horse Brass.

It is a delight to live in a period where pubs are now as varied and individual as the people who create them. Think of Apex, Bailey's, the Widmer Gasthaus, a McMenamins pub, Grain and Gristle, Victory Bar: all different, all sporting specific visions of feng shui that will appeal to different people in different degrees.

Americans don't really do their beer drinking in pubs anymore--just 10% of all beer sales are draft, a number that hasn't changed appreciably in 30 years. I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg--but it's no surprise that by 1981 no one felt inspired to head down to the corner tavern. But maybe the change in pubs will change the culture toward drinking in pubs, too. In 2004, just 9% of beer sales were on draft, and now we're up to 9.6%. Britain is chagrined to learn that draft sales have fallen to 50% there--a catastrophe I could really learn to live with. With pubs like Circa 33, maybe we can shoot for double digits.


  1. See you at the Prince of Wales in Foxfield, Cumbria early November. That's a proper pub.

  2. Feng Shui of a pub in Portland? Come on Jeff, who ya kidding? If Feng Sui was an entree on a local Chinese restaurant menu, no one would order it. It would be foreign and confusing, ergo not approved or accepted. It would be replaced the next week by Sweet-n-Sour Pork. ;-)

  3. According to my schedule, I'll be in North Yorkshire Sunday 11/13 and Monday 11/14, heading to Scotland thereafter. Depending on where you are and when, we might pull it off.

  4. I just checked map to see where Foxfield is. Hmmm. We may have to find a pub mid way in-between.

    For what it's worth, I am scheduled to meet with John Keeling at Fuller's at 12:30 on Monday the eighth in London--which sort of feels like meeting Sir Paul McCarthy. I'm super psyched.

  5. Urban sprawl takes people away from their local pubs, leading to longer commutes, more driving, less drinking in pubs. The process is similar, except that it started later in the UK, 1980s rather than 1950s. Let me know when you're in Scotland Jeff. I'll buy you a pint.

  6. Barm, I should be in Edinburgh and relatively free on November 16. Love to have a pint--

  7. Jeff, was it you who said that you prefer pubs that are darker with lower ceilings than these new brew joints that have tall ceilings and industrustial feels to them? I'm the same way. Horse Brass is my ideal.

    By the way, when you're Scotland, please do make sure to meet up with Barm. He's a good pal of mine. And if it's available, order a pint of Profanity Stout and have Barm tell you how that came about. Let me know how it goes.