Shades, dives and other varieties of British bar

The public bar, for working men only

When I lived in Hertfordshire, I was puzzled to discover that around the time Edward VII ended his long wait to become king, there was a pub in the small market town of Baldock called the Pretty Shades. It seemed highly unlikely this was some sort of pre-First World War Tiffany lamp theme pub. So what was the origin of the name?

Years later I discovered that a “shades” was originally the name given in the South of England to a basement bar. According to Words, facts, and phrases; a dictionary of curious, quaint, and out-of-the-way matters by Eliezer Edwards, published in 1882

The name originated at Brighton. In 1816 a Mr Savage, who had acquired the premises in Steine Lane formerly occupied by the Old Bank, converted them into a drinking and smoking shop. Mrs Fitzherbert [the Prince of Wales’s mistress] at that time lived exactly opposite, and Savage was fearful of annoying her by placing any inscription in front of his house designating its new character. It struck him, however, that as Mrs Fitzherbert’s house, which was south of his, was so tall as to prevent the sun from shining on his premises, he would adopt the word “Shades”, which he accordingly placed over the door where the word Bank had before appeared. The name took, and a large business was secured. Numbers of other publicans in London and elsewhere adopted the name Shades, which is now fully established in the language as a synonym for wine vaults.

I’m not sure I believe that, but the Oxford English Dictionary confirms that “the Shades” was “originally, a name for wine and beer vaults with a drinking-bar, either underground or sheltered from the sun by an arcade. Hence subsequently used, both in England and in the US, as a name for a retail liquor shop, or a drinking-bar attached to a hotel.”

John Badcock’s Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit …, published 1823, revealed two establishments called The Shades in London. One was at London Bridge under Fishmongers’ Hall (“Sound wine out of the wood reasonable and tolerably good are characteristics of this establishment”), while The Shades at Spring Gardens [presumably the Old Shades, Whitehall] “is a subterranean ale shop.”

By 1949 Maurice Gorham could write, in Back to the Local, that “Shades” was “originally a generic term for cellars, now the name of one famous pub at Charing Cross [the Old Shades again] and of various London bars. When used for one bar in an ordinary pub, roughly equivalent to Dive”. So that explained half of the mystery. I’m still looking for a reason for the “Pretty” part.

The saloon bar, for the white-collar worker and his wife

The “shades” was just one of more than a dozen different types of bar that could be found in British pubs, besides the common public bar and saloon bar, many with careful, strict social gradations from one to the other, with a system of purdah and caste strict Hindus would appreciate: no woman would ever be found in the tap room, for example, nor any man coming straight from manual labour in the lounge or the public parlour, while only the landlord’s intimates or regular customers would be served in the snug.

Maurice Gorham stated perfectly the situation as it still stood just after the Second World War:

“One of the most fascinating things about the pubs is the way they are carved up by interior partitions into the most unexpected and fantastic shapes. It is often quite startling to look up at the ceiling and realise that all these compartments, varying so widely in their geography and in their social significance, are merely sketched on the ground plan of a simple rectangular space. Pull down the partitions, and instead of a complicated series of bars you would just have a medium-sized room.”

Today, of course – and the process was already beginning even in Gorham’s time – those partitions have indeed come down. Now it is instructive to go into, eg, one of the big old boozers in the East End of London and imagine them not as they are, just one room, frequently, if they’ve been hipstered up, with unplastered brick walls and big, clear windows, but as they were 50, 60, 80, 100 years ago, carved into three, four or more separate spaces by mahogany and etched glass barriers, each section with its own hermetic, exclusive group of customers, who would rather walk into the wrong lavatory than the wrong bar, and served, often, by its own separate door to the streets outside.

In 1960 The Times brought out a book called Beer In Britain which featured a “glossary of bars”, dividing it into “Southern Usage” and “Northern Usage”. It was produced just in time: the social divisions that saw every man know his place, and know whether that place was the public bar or the saloon, were crumbling. When I first started (illegally) drinking in pubs in the late 1960s, public bars and saloon bars were still, just, separate worlds, with the beer in the public bar, where the working man drank pints of mild, continuing to be 10 or even 20 per cent cheaper than the same beer in the saloon, where the working man’s white-collared boss sipped at a half of bitter. By the end of the 1970s the price differentiation was disappearing along with the social differentiation. Here’s The Times guide to bars from the year Chubby Checker released The Twist and Miles Davis recorded Sketches of Spain, when Harold Macmillan, prime minister of the UK, made his “Winds of Change” speech in South Africa, and Senator John F Kennedy won the American presidential election, with notes in square brackets by me:


Red Lion, Duke of York Street, Piccadilly, London in the 1950s: classic saloon bar style (and note those pies …)

Public Bar Where prices are lowest and furnishings simple.
Saloon Bar A saloon was originally a spacious reception room in a private mansion, then in an inn: applied circa 1835 to the better-furnished room of a public house. [But see later.]
Lounge originally, the hotel residents’ sitting room. Now a superior saloon bar, often with waiter service and with no sale of draught beer. [ According to Maurice Gorham in 1949, the Lounge, also known as the Saloon Lounge, “is standard to the extent that many pubs have one, but it is a refinement on the Saloon Bar. It shows, therefore, that the pub possessing one has aspirations. It caters for a class of people who want something a little better even than the Saloon Bar. In pubs that have both, the Lounge implies sitting at tables, having drinks fetched by waiters, and tipping.”]
Lounge Bar/Saloon Lounge Midway in status between the saloon and the lounge.
Private Bar Midway in status between public bar and saloon bar, intended for customers wishing to conduct private conversations, or for men accompanies by women: sometimes deputising for a Ladies’ Bar
Ladies’ Bar Self-explanatory
Bar Parlour An inner room, without a street entrance, reserved traditionally for regular customers or the landlord’s inmates. Now rare.
Buffet Bar A refreshment bar (1869). Modern equivalents are the Lunch Bar and the Snack Bar, of saloon bar status. [Don’t know where The Times gets that date of 1869 from: the earliest example of the phrase I have found is 1888. “Of saloon bar status” means “saloon bar prices charged”.]
Tap Room Originally (1807) a room where beer was tapped or drawn from a cask. Now an old-fashioned name for the public bar of an hotel or country ale house. Not found in London. [while 1807 is the earliest date in the OED for “tap room”, “tap-room” occurs in a novel published in 1750 called The life and adventures of Joe Thompson by Edward Kimber, and must surely be older than that.]
Shades A basement bar. Rare.
Dive Originally an illegal drinking den located underground (United States, 1882), now usually a basement Snack Bar.
Cocktail Bar/American Bar Hotel bars now tending to spread out into public houses, sometimes taking over the place of the lounge under the name Cocktail Lounge

The public bar, New Bull and Bush, Mackworth, Derby in the 1950s: low prices, simple furnishings


Bar, Public Bar As in the South
Vaults Originally a cellar for storing food or liquor; now on the ground floor – equivalent to the public bar. (Vault in Lancashire.)
Smoke Room Northern and Midland equivalent of the saloon bar. There may be two: one for men only, the other for both sexes. [The one women were allowed in would actually be called the “mixed smoke room”.]
Tap Room A public bar. Sometimes a room reserved for playing games, without counter service
Lounge/Parlour/Public Parlour/Bar Parlour The best-furnished room. [in other words, “saloon bar” was very much a Southern expression, according to The Times. Comments welcome.]
Best Room/Best End Colloquial names for the lounge.
Snug/Snuggery Equivalent of the Southern bar parlour, but much more common. (Ireland only: one of a series of half-enclosed compartments within a bar.) Obsolescent. [I don’t understand that last bit: if the snug was obsolescent, how was it also common?]
News Room An old-fashioned name for the tap room, dating from the period when newspapers were supplied to customers. [There are, of course, pubs today that supply newspapers for customers to read, and an excellent idea too.]
Office Bar (Midlands) An inner room without counter service, equivalent to the Southern bar parlour, generally located behind the servery or the hotel office.
Buffet Bar North-Eastern variant of the saloon bar
First Class/Second Class (Mens, Women’s, Mixed) Variants of the saloon and public bars, peculiar to the Carlisle State Management System.


The Bottle and Jug department

Jug and Bottle For the purchase of drinks for consumption “off the premises”. Term now obsolescent. [Serving beer for takeaway in a jug was once common: my father used to be sent up to the pub, aged 11, in the early 1930s in Willesden, North London to fetch his grandfather porter in a jug, strictly illegally, because children weren’t supposed to be served beer in an open or unsealed container. Did he have a sly sip on the way home? What do you think?]
Off-Licence/Off-Sales/Outdoor Department The modern equivalent.

The “original” bar was the barrier in front of the buttery, the storeroom where the butts (casks) of ale and wine were kept in noble houses, monasteries and the like, which literally barred the unauthorised from getting too close to the drink: those in charge of the ale or wine stood one side of the bar and served it across to either the drinkers or those who carried it to the drinkers. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1601), the servant Maria says to Sir Andrew Aguecheek:

“I pray you, bring your hand to’th Buttry barre, and let it drinke.”

Earlier than that, around 1590, the author and playwright Robert Greene (described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “England’s first celebrity author”) had written in a book called The Third and Last Part of Cony Catching, With the New-Devised Knavish Art of Fool-taking about a trick practised by Elizabethan wide-boys, or “cony catchers” (cony as in rabbit, of course) that began with the cony catcher chatting up two innocents in “a common inn”. After gaining their confidence he would order two cups of wine to drink with them and then, on the pretence that he was going to “step to the bar” to get the inn-servant to add some rose-water to his own wine, disappear out the front door with the cup, leaving the marks to both pay for all the wine and explain to the innkeeper where the other cup had gone. This is the first evidence we have that inns had bars, at least, the sorts of bars that butteries had, where people would be served.

Behind this kind of bar gradually developed the room that became known as the bar parlour in the South of England, the office bar in the Midlands and the snug in the North: the landlord’s office and storeroom, known at first simply as “the bar”. It was the innkeeper’s private refuge, into which special guests and friends might be invited for a drink. Charles Dickens, in his novel Barnaby Rudge, described the looting of the Maypole Inn (based on the King’s Head in Chigwell, Essex) during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780, where the landlord, John Willett, sits stunned while the rioters do their worst:

Yes. Here was the bar – the bar that the boldest never entered without special invitation – the sanctuary, the mystery, the hallowed ground; here it was crammed with men. clubs, sticks, torches, pistols; filled with a deafening noise, oaths, shouts, screams, hootings; changed all at once into a bear-garden, a mad-house, an infernal temple; men darting in and out by door and window, smashing the glasses, turning the taps, drinking liquor out of china punchbowls, sitting astride casks, smoking private and personal pipes … wantonly wasting, breaking, pulling down and tearing up.

Gradually “bar” spread in meaning to mean, in Britain, “any room used for the serving of drink with a counter behind which stand the servers”, and as larger establishments would have several of these rooms, serving different classes of customers, each type or grade of bar acquired a special name. But when did the names “public bar” and “saloon bar” arrive in Britain?

Earliest uses of the phrase “public bar” are either legal, to do with “pleading at the public bar” (not a desperate call to be served, although who hasn’t made one of those, but presenting one’s case in a court or before a tribunal, either actual or metaphorical), or seemingly in the sense merely of “a bar open to the public”, which is how “public bar” (more usually “public bar-room”) was used in the United States in the early 19th century.

Tap room, or public bar price-list for Beverleys brewery, Wakefield in 1949

The first use I have been able to find of the phrase apparently used in the “modern” sense comes from a book called The Itinerant, or Genuine Memoirs of an Actor by Samuel W Ryley (sic), published in 1808: “One evening, in Manchester, we were in a public bar amongst a promiscuous company where C[ooke] [the actor George Frederick Cooke] was, as usual, the life of the party.” That’s not definitely a use of the term “public bar” in the modern sense of “down-market section of a public house”: it could, again, just mean “a bar open to the public”. But the passage is definitely (a) set in England and (b) describing something that probably took place between 1793 and 1800, since it mentions the prize-fighter Isaac Perrins, who moved to Manchester in 1793 to keep a pub, the Fire Engine in what is now George Leigh Street, and who died in January 1801.

There is another example of the term from 12 or so years later, in a moralistic tract called The Dialogists or the Circuit of Blanco Regis by the pseudonymous “Edward Meanwell”. This, the British Library says was published “circa 1810?”, but it must be circa 1821-1822, since it mentions George IV’s coronation, which took place in 1821, and also gives “Mr T Dibdin” as manager of the Surrey Theatre, and Dibdin was manager only between 1816 and 1822. Here, I think, we do seem to have “public bar” in the modern sense, implicitly contrasting it with a more private or upmarket area to drink:

“You recollect poor Anne, that beautiful young woman of whom you was so much enamoured with; who, in open defiance and violation to common decency, called for a glass of gin at the public bar, in the presence of a crowd of persons.”

Smoke room, or saloon bar prices for Beverleys, 1949

However, for the next 30 or so years the term seems to vanish, until it suddenly bursts into more regular use around 1856. Glasgow and its Clubs by John Strang, published that year, contains the passage: “champagne, hock, and hermitage, now so common, were found in few private cellars in the City, far less in the public bar of a tavern.” The same year, Dr Frederic Richard Lees wrote in An argument legal and historical for the legislative prohibition of the Liquor Trade, complaining of apparently respectable drinking places filled with prostitutes, “which can scarcely be said to come under the denomination of gin palaces, as they aim at enlisting under the banners of profligacy those who would (while sober) deem it beneath them to lounge at the public bar of a spirit shop.”

Three years later, in 1859, the report of a parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption during an election in Huddersfield contained the following exchange:

“Now a word about having seen Jabez Wells at the Queen’s [Hotel]; where was that was it in the bar?” “In the public bar, I believe it was.”

That, I think, would pretty much underline that whatever had been going on before, by 1859 at the latest, “public bar” was a recognised expression for a particular sort or grade of room on licensed premises, something confirmed by a description from three years later of the Angel, Islington, a famous coaching inn now remembered mostly for the Tube station and the square on the British version of the game of Monopoly named after it:

The Angel Inn is certainly a most unangelic-looking place, reminding one of a dilapidated Mechanics’ Institute, which has taken to beer in later life and broken out into innumerable ‘bars’ in consequence. There is the public bar full of “bus cads” and costermongers, the private bar with boozy tipplers from the street; there is the retail and bottle entrance with a narrow door, and there is the supplementary tap-room, which is apparently all window, and of which the chief characteristics are sawdust and spittoons.

(London Society magazine, January 1863, p183. A “bus cad” was the conductor of a horse-drawn omnibus.)

A report in the Daily News from Saturday October 3, 1874 described the “great dram-shop at the foot of the Trongate in Glasgow, and contrasts the public bar with the partitioned-off private areas:

It is not easy to squeeze one’s way into the throng of drinkers in the public bar, consisting of frowsy men, slatternly women, ragged stockingless, palid-faced[sic], preternaturally quick-eyed children. This, you see, is the public drinking, the coram populo saturnalia of those who care not who sees. Yonder, behind the wainscoted partitions, are the shut-in boxes, the drinking pens of Scotland, the private niches at the counter, where “canny” folk sit and soak without being seen of men. These boxes are the haunts of “respectable married women” who would on no account be seen drinking at the public bar.

For the comfort and guidance of strangers, the different bars advertised themselves on the outside in ways, of course, that still often survive today. An American description of London pubs in 1878 (England from a Back Window by James Montgomery Bailey) said: “They invariably have two, and in many cases three entrances; and are subdivided accordingly. These compartments are indicated on the glass of the doors; viz., public bar, private (or luncheon) bar and jug (or wholesale) bar.”

The lounge bar of the King of Bohemia pub, Hampstead, London in the 1950s

“Saloon” is an interesting word: it goes back thousands of years to Proto-Indo-European, where etymologists have deduced that there was probably a word beginning “sel-” that meant “human settlement”: the Russian for “village” is still село, and the Lithuanian is sala. In Proto-Germanic the word seems to have shifted to mean “hall”: Saal is still a German word meaning “hall”. Old English had sele, and beór-sele in Old English, was “beer hall” – or “beer saloon”, if you prefer. The word appears several times in Beowulf, the epic Old English poem about a hero’s fight with a monster called Grendle and its aftermath, including the line

Gebeotedon beore druncne oret-mecgas, ðæt hie in beor-sele bidan woldon Grendles guðe

that is, “The sons of conflict, drunk on beer, promised they would wait in the beer-hall for Grendel’s attack.” It amuses me somewhat to think of Ray Winstone having a drunken fight in a saloon bar with a monstrous opponent before ripping its arm off: “who’s the daddy?” indeed.

However, sele dropped out of English, and “saloon” comes to the language via Italian, which picked up the Germanic word for “hall” and turned it into sala, “hall”, and then salone, “large hall”. The French then took salone and made it salon, “reception room”, and from there “salon” entered English as a word meaning originally “A large and lofty apartment serving as one of the principal reception rooms in a palace or other great house”, and then more specifically “A room, more or less elegantly furnished, used for the reception of guests; a drawing-room”. By the 1720s “salon” was also being spelt “saloon” in English, and by the 1740s “saloon” was being used to mean “A large apartment or hall, especially in a hotel or other place of public resort, adapted for assemblies, entertainments and exhibitions”.

The lounge of the Olde Greene Manne, Batchworth, Hertfordshire about 1908

Since drink – and food – would naturally be served in these saloons before, during or after the entertainments, it was equally natural that “saloon” drifted semantically to take in the meaning “a place where intoxicating liquors are sold and consumed; a drinking bar”. “Saloon”, in an American context to mean place serving alcohol, looks to date from at least the early 1840s. In Britain, Charles Dickens was using “saloon” to mean “place where drink is served” in a letter to a friend in 1841.

All the same, “saloon bar”, is in a British context and its British sense of the upmarket side of the pub, a little later than “public bar”: the Oxford English Dictionary only found its first mention in 1902. Google Books lets us do rather better, but considering how ubiquitous the saloon bar was in British pubs in the 20th century, finding the earliest reference to be only in the late 1880s is a surprise. Once again it’s a teetotaller who is our helpful guide: those people just don’t seem to be able to keep out of pubs. This is from an anonymously written book called Tempted London: Young Men, published in 1888:

The most harmful class of taverns are those which are made the usual resort of women of bad character. We have had many of them pointed out to us, which derive the greater part of their trade from the business resulting from these frequenters. One tavern at Islington is one of the most notorious of this class. Here there is a large saloon bar which, after 8 o’clock at night, is almost monopolized by the class of persons just mentioned. They are allowed to remain there as long as ever they like, and no man is safe from their impertinences, if he once ventures into the saloon.

Undoubtedly, however, the expression had been in use for some time before it was recorded in print. The next year The Builder magazine recorded, in its issue of November 9 1889, the results of a tender for “new billiard room, approaches, alterations, and new staircase to concert rooms, extension of saloon bar and general decorations” at the Tufnell Park Hotel, North London for Mr John Lees. The Tufnell Park Hotel was a rebuilding of the original Tufnell Park Arms (and was itself blown up by a German bomb in October 1940, to be replaced by the Tufnell Park Tavern). If the hotel’s saloon bar was being extended, it sounds as if it must have been in existence when the premises were still the Tufnell Park Arms.

A bar fit for ladies around 1968: note the still-surviving snob screens above the bar counter

While no one, I am sure, can regret the ending of the social snobbery and sexism that made it necessary for most pubs to have a multiplicity of bars, I’m nostalgic for the multi-bar pub, despite what it represented. I love what happened to the Princess Louise in High Holborn, London after it was taken over by the Yorkshire brewer Samuel Smith, around 2006. Sams restored it at some expense to just the way it would have been in the 1890s, complete with bar doors separating the open space into smaller drinking areas, and snob screens, the rows of small centrally swivelling little opaque windows along the top of the bar at head height, found in the saloon bar or snug. The snob screens were closed when patrons in the saloon did not want to be seen by hoi polloi in the public bar or taproom, who might otherwise be able to watch across the behind-bar serving space their “social superiors” drinking pints of pale ale. They could be opened, however, when it was time to attract the barmaid’s attention to order another drink.

The refurbishment won the hearts of the Camra pub design awards judges in 2008, who gave the Princess Louise joint first prize, commenting that it “reflects both its incarnation of over a century ago and the modern customer’s wish to drink and chat in a cosy, quiet and private environment.” Drink and chat, chat and drink: I’m not sure which one I’d put first among pubby pleasures. But when the literal social barriers came down, and the pub became one large room, it made the chatting, against the background of everybody else’s noise, a lot harder.

The Crown, Belfast, the finest pub interior in the British Isles, with its row of carrols down one side for drinkers to have private conversations together

43 thoughts on “Shades, dives and other varieties of British bar

  1. Great piece, nice to see one of my old locals – the Tufnell Park Tavern, once the North London Ronnie Scott’s – get a mention.

    As for “Shades” interestingly there was a Soho record shop in the 1980s called Shades, and yes it was tucked away in a basement.

  2. I wrote about the term “dive” from an American perspective, back in July, on whim. Boak and Bailey had written about Becky’s Dive Bar, in London, and it inspired me to investigate where the term came from. It turned out to be one of the most interesting aspect of beer I’ve ever written about!

        1. Blues Clues? They should make a children’s television show about a blue dog and name it “Blues Clues”.

          Sorry, I have little kids and they would think that was hysterical.

  3. There was still a price difference between public and saloon in 1981 or so, when I was drinking in the White Lion (a Davenports pub) in Birmingham. I didn’t realise, of course, until I got a filthy look from the landlord one night after buying a pint in the former, then spotting and joining some friends in the latter…

  4. Very interesting survey. The partitions still exist to a certain extent,except the division now is largely external. Different bars and pubs often have different clienteles, that is. People still divide themselves naturally, it’s an old human impulse, not always imposed from without. In the modern context, we have “beer bars”, i.e., bars patronized largely by those interested mainly in beer choice and quality, that is an apt example in this context.

    No question the bar is more democratic than it was though, in the U.K. as in most Western countries I’d think. In London, the old Henekey’s Wine Bar, called Cittie of York for 30 years now or more, has numerous sections and enclosed compartments, surely it reflects the older style of pub architecture of which Princess Louise is another example. And both are Sam Smith houses, so the company clearly is appreciative to maintain this aspect of London tradition.


      1. Hmmm – [citation required] for that claim, I think, and I don’t mean, which, if you go to it, doesn’t actually say lawyers conversed with their clients in the booths, only that it’s easy to imagine them doing so.

  5. The rigid separation of public and lounge sides probably persisted in the Midlands longer than it did in either South or North. I’m sure in the 1990s there would have been plenty of Banks’s pubs that still had a price differential, and in the 80s they built a number of new pubs in the Manchester area with entirely separate Midlands-style public bars that didn’t really suit the local trade. Many pubs in the North would have a central bar and lobby with various rooms radiating off.

  6. Nice piece of work. This type of history always fascinates me. Have you ever heard the term ‘resort’ being used for a bar in the later half of the 19th century? I’m reading a book titled “Sister Carrie” and it’s set in that period, and one of the main characters is a ‘resort’ manager in both Chicago and New York. The term sounds like it’s a high end bar. They refer to smoking lounges and saloons and other types of drinking establishments as well. But this was the first time I’ve heard the term ‘resorts’ used in that way.

    I enjoy reading your stories, keep them coming.

  7. I think “saloon bar” is a Southern thing. It always makes me think of the kind of people Barry Andrews wrote about in “Win a night out with a famous paranoiac” –

    We’re just about to order scampi in an Elizabethan basket when
    two neckless men in blazers and cravats approach our table and say: “Sorry.
    This bar is exclusively for the use of Nobel prize winners, latter day saints,
    people who have seen God and selected relatives of our dear Queen,
    and furthermore, you worm, there is mud upon your plimsolls”

    1. It’s interesting how the term “saloon” came to mean the opposite in America, a low-down resort for cowboys or a modest bar for working people where whiskey and beer were the staples along with the famous free lunch. In fact all the various terms mentioned found their way here but often ended up used in a specific way or regionally that distanced it from its origins. Tap room is a term I saw in the 60’s and 70’s at barroom entrances in upscale New England resorts. The term resort though was never used here to mean a drinking place as such, but rather a general place for entertainment and rest. There was Shades bar in Guelph, Ontario at one point. Tavern, pub, beverage room, bar, beer parlour, are or were used essentially indifferently. Sometimes local legislation – how it classified something – influenced the usage. Some terms though never made it over to any extent, vault is probably one.

      Back to Blighty, there were still plenty of pubs in London in the 80’s which maintained more or less the old saloon-public bar division, even if prices had evened out by then. The Coach and Horses (Norman’s place) was one in Soho. Nothing was enforced about it, it just seemed to me that an office crowd tended to stay on one side (where too a sit down lunch was offered), and a more diverse crowd stayed on the other. All this is probably changed now. I would think the situation now is like it is here, where some places get a mixed crowd, some a “suits” crowd, some a neighborhood crowd, or tourists, or whatever. The flow of life finds its own channels, and so it always was.


  8. There does appear to be many references to Shades being a pub where ladies of pleasure frequented. Of this my only knowledge is references.
    However something I do have firsthand knowledge of, is the public bar system. This came in at the time of the first world war when the ingredients for beer was needed for food, the drinkers of beer were needed in the munitions factories not the pubs, and of course it was preferred if they were sober. Lloyd-George who had Methodist leanings with its strong temperance stance was able to use the war situation to make many restrictions on the beer industry, including high taxes, reductions in beer strength and reduction in pub opening hours at the same time protecting the basic price of a pint of beer. From then on the public bar price was pegged and remained halfpenny or a penny cheaper than other bar prices until the Edward Heath government removed the restriction in the 1970’s. The bar you drank in defined you as to whether you were a public bar person or of the private bar etc. My granddad always said if you were a public bar person you were more in favour of friendliness, banter and report. The public bar in the Alexander in East Finchley was also kept basic because of the large number of local allotment people with muddy boots and clothes that used it. Alan Greenwood

  9. Interesting to see the price list for 1949. I remember drinking (during the school lunch time with a blind eye turned by the teachers who were in the lounge!) and paying from memory 1/6 a pint for Shipstone’s Bitter.Even in the early 1970s Bateman’s Mild was 10p a pint.Makes a change from today’s escalating prices.
    I remember buying a pint in the bar, seeing friends in the lounge and on joining them was asked to pay another sixpence! I tried to argue that as I’d already drunk half of it in the bar I should only pay threepence.

  10. Fascinating, as ever — a sort of time traveller’s guide to the British pub.

    The Crown in Penzance has a door marked “Jug and Bottle”. (You might recall helping us decipher it when we Tweeted a photo.)

    Have you ever been to the Valiant Soldier? That has a nicely preserved lounge/saloon divide. The lounge has a couple of upholstered chairs, some dainty tables, carpeting and pink wallpaper; the public bar is all hard benches and stripped wood.

  11. Have you read The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg? I can’t speak to its accuracy, but I enjoyed its attempt to understand the societal purpose of English Pubs (and other gathering places).

  12. Absolutely loved this post Martyn! My Dad (70+ yrs old) loved the term Tap house when he visited me in Canada. This term has been thoroughly revived in the US and Canada for pubs/bars that have a large number of craft beers on draught (mainly keg, but occasionally some cask). I think he felt it was a lovely old piece of terminology that was rightfully revived!

  13. Across the street from Lincoln Center there was for many years a bar and restaurant owned by the actor Patrick O’Neal and his brother Michael, who actually ran it, by the name of “O’Neal’s Baloon [sic]”. It opened in 1964, fter a short run in a different location as “The Ginger Man” (a play that Patrick was appearing in), it was due to become “O’Neal’s Saloon”. Alas, the brothers discovered that as an aftermath of Prohibition the word “saloon” was banned in New York City in the names of restaurants. Here’s a fine article about the place. I ate there once, unhappily, being unable to find any dish that didn’t contain horseradish (I exaggerate, but not by much), and never went back.

    (The name is often misspelled “Balloon” in printed references to it, but I remember the sign well.)

  14. “bring your hand to’th Buttry barre, and let it drinke” – maybe that’s why (even though butterbur is a plant) Tolkien’s innkeeper at Bree is called Barliman Butterbur.

  15. Hello, I’m a New Media specialist working for an advertising agency based in London. We are working with a new start up business, who send personalised cakes for any occasion through your letter box. I was wondering if you would be interested in doing a review of one of their cakes. Let me know if this is something you would be interested in and I can sort out getting the cake to you – just reply with the style of cake you would like and your UK postal address, and if there is any requirements such as a specific message or gluten free etc. Many Thanks, Wenda.

    1. Wenda, before you send out mass mailouts to people on lists of food bloggers, DO try to check if your offer is suitable for the individuals you’re mailing to, otherwise you look an idiot. And no, I don’t want a cake shoved through my leterbox.

  16. A very Interesting and informative read. Takes me back to my miss-spent youth. I’d always heard the word ‘SNUG BAR’ was so called as it spells guns backwards and some where down the line was told that it was the area in a bar where guns could be carried. Perhaps I’ve been miss-informed?

    1. You certainly have. The name comes, of course, from an anagram of ‘gnus’, since this was the bar where fanciers of wildebeest, or gnus, gathered to show off their animals, demonstrate the tricks they had taught them, and take part in gnu-judging contests. As keeping gnus in private property was banned under an Act of Parliament passed in the early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, because it was feared they might pass on diseases to cattle, the true purpose of these bars was camouflaged by calling them “snug bars” rather than “gnus bars”.

      1. Though I hate to have to contradict the illustrious writer of this blog, I am afraid that, while correct about the enciphered anagrammatical nature of the word, you are in fact wrong on the origin of the word “snug”: it does in fact refer to “nugs”, an old-English slang term for the ample chest displayed by the women of ill-repute that would frequent these establishments. (Of course, in time “nugs” would become “jugs”, hence the “jug bars” you also mention).

        Aside from this minor error, thank you for a truly fascinating article!

  17. Thanks for the great article, if people are in London and want to see an example of this kind of bar The Princess Louise near Holborn tube was restored a few years ago back to this kind of style.

  18. The wonderful Tafarn Bessie (aka The Dyffryn Arms in Pontfaen) is worth a visit if you want to see how a rural pub would have looked many decades ago. The public bar is effectively Bessie’s front room, barely touched since the mid 20th century, and beer (only Bass is available) is served through a hatch rather than over a bar. Nice picture of it here:

  19. Very enjoyable. There is a laneway bar below street level in Darlinghurst NSW called the ‘shady pines’ – perhaps ‘shades’ lives on.

  20. […] This essay on the varieties of English pubs was interesting in how it related to Victoria's early drinking establishments. Prohibition here meant that little if any of the vintage pubs and saloons survived into the modern era yet it appears that some of our new bars, like Bard and Banker hold up nicely against some of the best vintage pubs in the UK. Shades, dives and other varieties of British bar | Zythophile […]

      1. Have seen a reference to the “Pretty Lamp” and a suggestion as to where it was so maybe it’s the same place. Will keep digging….

  21. A great article, thank you.
    I recently had the experience of going into a pub in East Anglia I’d never previously visited and, on walking in off the street, being faced with three doors (I think they were labelled Lounge Bar, Public Bar and Off Sales). It shows how things have changed that I had to stop and think before deciding which was most suitable for a reprobate such as myself!

  22. […] * ” More than a dozen different types of bar could be found in British pubs, besides the common public bar and saloon bar, many with careful, strict social gradations from one to the other, with a system of purdah and caste strict Hindus would appreciate. “ Shades, dives, and other varieties of British bar. […]

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