European pubs outclass U.S. bars

An Bodhran’s is crowded tonight. The small pub has drawn in quite a few people, including college students. The bouncer outside looks just like Colin Quinn, and is extremely friendly. He says that this is the perfect place for “”a nice pint and a good time.”” My friends and I have arrived early to get a good table and hear the local trad (as Irish traditional music is called by many people here).

Our table is full of classmates. We’ve all had a long day; classes have just started. Consequently, each of us has our own poison — some Heineken, some gin and tonic and, of course, the obligatory Guinness. Our conversation ranges from classes to politics, from light-hearted jokes to serious discussion of world views.

As we sit talking, the fiddle sings and the bodhran, the Irish drums, rumble through the pub. The singer delivers Irish folk songs unabashedly and everyone joins in when they know the song. Though my folk music knowledge is still limited, I try to join in on a few well-known songs like “”Finnigan’s Wake”” and “”Danny Boy.”” When the band stops to drink their own pints, I notice several things.

First, there are no belligerently drunk guys trying to score with scantily clad girls (who say they hate the obnoxious guys — but end up going home with them anyway). In fact, no one is picking up on anyone. This is no meat market. Everyone is dressed semi-casual and there are some suits and ties.

Secondly, though the beer is flowing from the taps like water, the first priority is not getting drunk, but rather relaxing. Certainly there are some folks who have had their fill of stout, but the atmosphere is much different from the Pabst-slamming and Natty Ice-shotgunning atmosphere of the party scene in Pacific Beach. It seems as though getting drunk is second to enjoying the atmosphere.

Third, there is little hot-blooded machismo. As I look up, two men run right into each other, spilling a good portion of their drinks. Immediately, both men apologize and both offer to buy the other a drink.

It’s definitely different than what I am used to.

People say it all the time: Bars in the United States have a malicious feel to them. They say that Americans want to get drunk as quickly as possible. American clubs are merely meat markets intended for guys and girls looking to score indiscriminately. Though there is truth in this statement, to some extent, I disagree. Oh, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the high drinking age, perhaps the lack of tradition and widespread culture. Understandably, most European countries have a culture that includes alcohol as a regular part of the day, and Americans have yet to completely adopt this. However, there is a more specific reason that Americans seem to have a more sinister alcoholic scene. I translate much of this problem to a lack of good pubs.

The idea of the pub is one of the most stunningly social and yet clever inventions ever. The pub does not cater as much to raging partiers as it centers on social gatherings. Pubs offer relaxation, friendship, music and atmosphere. Then it mixes in alcohol and stirs gently. A great portion of the Irish population frequents pubs. That’s a very obvious generalization, but has very strong factual roots. Going to the pub is not a weekend fiasco, but a nightly unwinding from the stresses of the day. Plenty of college students go to the clubs and bars to get smashed on the weekends, which last until the wee hours of the morning. But after a day of rough classes or a hard job, the perfect place is not Club Perversion, but Flynn’s or Kennedy’s or one of the hundreds of pubs that saturate the city streets. There you chat with friends, have a couple pints, listen to music and return home without too much worry of a hangover for the next day’s classes.

With such a large portion of Ireland being — on average — in the mid-twenties, it seems incredible that such a relaxed, mellow atmosphere can be obtained. Anywhere in the world, young college age students are wroth to be too calm. Perhaps the only explanation is that, like most European countries — and unlike the States — there is a strong group of unspoken cultural rules, especially in the pubs. For example:

1. While traditional music does not reign as the most popular music among the youth, it is still respected. Very seldom will the atmosphere get too rowdy if there is traditional music playing. And of course, everyone stands for the national anthem.

2. A good beer is a terrible thing to waste. Because there is no Pabst or Natural Ice, there is no reason to drink your beer hastily. It is almost an insult to voraciously down a Murphy’s or Beamish. Everyone takes their time, savors their beer, and thus much of the obnoxiousness is averted.

3. No self-respecting Irishman will drink Guinness from a can, and will not even go near the stout anywhere else in the world, including England, but especially the United States. After some research, I have to agree that Guinness sent to the States is just awful. Because of this rule, and working in conjunction with the previous rule, one must go to a pub to get Guinness and because they have to go to the pub to get it, they have to savor it all the more.

4. Unless it is a very trendy pub, random pick-up lines or other sexually motivated introductions are considered mildly rude. This is probably true because you’re bothering the person who is trying to relax and have a good conversation with their friend. Though everyone is very friendly with each other when random conversations arise, you will be making a friend by doing so, nothing more.

5. And as I learned the hard way, never, ever mix Jameson whiskey with anything. Apparently, this is sacrilege and not until I received a stern talking to by the bartender did I realize this.

Of course, these rules are broken from time to time, and even then, they are generalizations. But for whatever reason, the pub is held as almost a sacred institution and is given its proper respects. Consequently, there is always a place to escape the loud dance clubs and sexually charged bars.

The whole world has trendy clubs and sinister bars, but the placement of the pub in the center of many countries’ drinking culture has definitely contributed to the view that alcohol is an acceptable institution in society and not reserved for the desperate, the degenerate and the crazy college kids.

The band finishes up with the national anthem and people begin leaving. The bouncer standing outside thanks everyone individually as they shuffle out of the pub. He tells most people to come back, and to a few women he jokes that if he was “”only 10 years young and 10 stones lighter ….”” Then he smiles and asks the one or two Americans in the pub if he will be seeing us again. We nod and say that we will definitely be back.