On Merseyside, pubs that don’t serve food have been forced to shut. Similar restrictions look likely elsewhere. The nationwide 10pm hospitality curfew is in its third week, and as infections continue to rise, pub trips have become a precarious game, threatened by illness and Track and Trace calls.
I find myself marooned in isolation after coming down with Covid-19 last week. My housemates, with whom I might otherwise be enjoying a pint one evening this week, must also isolate. Can we, and can those in a similar position, recreate our local at home? And to what level of detail? Do we need to do it down to the patterned carpets, or will a small number of innovations go a long way? Let’s knock up a plan...
It’s just not the 2020 pub experience if you don’t take everyone’s names and numbers before entering. We will need a clipboard and we will need the highest quality cyber-security in order to protect our customers’ data. Maybe we can get away with just the clipboard.
More broadly, pubs are an example of what the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg called “third spaces”. Third spaces – which also include places like parks and coffee shops – are neither work nor home, and they are used as venues for relaxed interaction.
By definition, your home cannot be a third space, a fact that somewhat undermines our quest. Nevertheless, we can experience some of the psychological effect by harnessing novelty. My housemates and I work in our bedrooms, which means that the living room, vacant for much of the day, would be a good venue for our pub. Perhaps you have a similar room in your house, or perhaps you’ve already turned your shed into a working pub.
Is it tragic to play pub ambient noise on YouTube? It is certainly tragic to, as I have just done, search eBay for cut-price Wetherspoon’s carpets. Less egregiously, you should soften your lighting, find a Spotify playlist that matches the music played at your local, and consider what kind of decoration defines your favourite pubs.
In our case, unfortunately, our local’s main decorative feature is a large statue of a bear, which strikes me as the kind of thing that will be hard to reproduce at short notice. But for beer mats, a music quiz, and other crucial pub experience components, we could try the “Pub in a Box” kit offered by Signature Brew (£25).
Genial strangers, again, will be difficult to source in one’s own house, but you could consider patching in a friend via Zoom for some beers.
This is probably the quickest and easiest way to obtain a frisson of pub. If you’re interested in trying home-brew, use our guide. If you’d rather go straight to the beer, have a look at the kegs you can buy from vendors such as Beerwulf. As observed by the great countryside writer John Lewis Stempel, a fox electrifies any scene. Well, so does a keg.
The key here is to make your drink feel more special than normal, whether it’s a craft beer or an elaborate cocktail. And if you’ve ever thieved a pint glass from a pub, now’s the time to use it.
How I have missed the throng of queuing punters at the bar. The air thick with their breath, the floor damp with spilt beer. Short of paying people to come to my house, push past me, and wave a tenner at a bartender, I will struggle to recreate the experience of waiting at a bar.
But perhaps there are elements we can reproduce: the delayed gratification, the conviviality of a round, the challenge of carrying multiple pint glasses in two hands. Our domestic pub will serve posh beer and it will serve it in rounds.
For snacks, add to your pre-order of beer something along the lines of peanuts, crisps or pork crackling.
For meals, you’ll have to think a bit harder. As a vegan, I recall with no affection the years in which the only veggie option at most gastropubs was a portobello mushroom burger, but at least they’re easy to imitate: simply put a large mushroom in a bap. Your delicious meal is ready.
For those of you who are used to superior pub fare, check whether your local now delivers, or try a substantial ready-made meal of the kinds made by Marks & Spencer or Cook.
If your route home is just a walk upstairs, at least you can’t drink and drive.