The new comedy from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg is The World’s End, a genre-mashing midlife-crisis comedy about a pub crawl which is rudely interrupted by an invasion of body-snatching aliens. Bearing in mind that Wright (the writer-director) and Pegg (the writer-star) have already nominated the pub as the ideal hideout during a zombie attack (see Shaun of the Dead), they might seem to be in the grip of an inn obsession. But they’re not alone in that.
British pubs may be shutting down at a rate of 26 a week, but in films, books, television and radio, they remain the place where the community gathers, where lovers conspire, where enemies accuse each other of spilling pints, and where outsiders are met with the immediate silencing of all music and conversation.
In a decade or so, our sitcoms may all be set in Starbucks. But for now, in honour of the 12 pubs tackled by Pegg and his drinking buddies in The World’s End, join us on an ale trail of a dozen of the arts’ finest public houses. (No room for The Bull, I’m afraid.) Cheers!
The Moon Under Water
Our first port of call has to be the Moon Under Water, as imagined by George Orwell in his 1946 Evening Standard essay on the perfect pub. Among the 10 key features designated by Orwell are Victorian architecture, a beer garden, “motherly barmaids”, and the absence of either a radio or a piano. These days, not many pubs have a piano, so we might substitute the absence of a TV tuned to Sky Sports.
What to order: A “creamy sort of draft stout”.
The Cricketers’ Arms; The Coach and Horses
After a quick bite at the Cricketers’ Arms in Richard Bean’s smash-hit comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, we’ll stumble on to the Coach and Horses. A genuine Soho pub, it was recreated just a short stagger away in the Apollo Theatre for Keith Waterhouse’s 1989 play, Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell. Peter O’Toole starred as the permanently pickled Spectator columnist, locked overnight in his favourite watering hole.
What to order: The Cricketers’ Arms is spoken of in awed tones as “a pub that does food”, so line your stomach. At The Coach and Horses take several vodka-and-tonics, all “on the slate”.
“I’m moving in the Coleherne/With the leather all around me/And the sweat is getting steamy”. So sang the Stranglers in “Hanging Around” in 1977. The Coleherne was another non-fictional London pub, a pioneering Earls Court gay bar where Freddie Mercury and Ian McKellen used to, well, hang around.
What to order: “Pan-fried five spice Barbary duck breast, noodles, bok choi, onion confit”. In 2008, the Coleherne became a gastropub called The Pembroke.
The Boatman; The Slaughtered Lamb; The Crow and Crown; The Green Man Inn
Time to get out of London and visit four country pubs. The first is an only-in-the-movies marvel: you can roll up to The Boatman (Four Weddings and a Funeral) in the small hours, and you’ll still be greeted by Andie MacDowell and an all-night drinks service. The next three are forbidding lairs of whiskery yokels. Having said that, The Slaughtered Lamb (An American Werewolf in London) has bags of olde worlde charm, as long as you don’t mention the pentangle scratched into the wall. The Crow and Crown (one of numerous pubs in Withnail and I) would be homely if it weren’t for Michael Elphick thwacking a live eel on the bar. And who could resist The Green Man in The Wicker Man? The landlord’s daughter (Britt Eckland) can drive even a rigidly virginal policeman (Edward Woodward) to distraction.
What to order: at The Boatman, “Another whisky. And a cigar. Actually make that a bottle of whisky”; while in The Slaughtered Lamb, “We’ve got spirits and beer. If it’s something hot you want, you can have tea”; If in The Crow and Crown, you might consider “Another pair of large scotches”; and at The Green Man, a “disgusting” supper boasting “turquoise” broad beans.
The Feathers; The Grapes
The Queen Vic and the Rovers Return have to be the country’s most thriving hostelries – neither has any competitor for miles around. But after the excitement of the Green Man, we should head somewhere quieter, courtesy of Craig Cash. As co-writer of The Royle Family, Cash tantalised us with frequent allusions to Jim Royle’s second home, the Feathers, before taking us to another sticky-floored Manchester boozer, the Grapes, in his exquisitely authentic, bittersweet sitcom, Early Doors. In reality, alas, a pub that was half-empty so often would have closed its doors for good.
What to order:
The Feathers: “I’m not having shandy,” protests Antony, “I’m having lager.” The Grapes: A bitter and a brandy chaser – but no more than that if you’re a policeman on duty.
The King Canute; The Rest and Be Thankful
The great painters never took to British pubs the way they did to Parisian cafés. But if we sneak graphic novels into this category, we can pop to the King Canute, where Eddie Campbell’s alter ego, Alec, embodies the joy of talking nonsense to your mates over a pint or six (cf Alec: The Years Have Pants).
And if pubs haven’t made it on to the walls of the National Gallery, at least there’s one on the floor. In among the mosaics representing “The Pleasures of Life” in the Gallery’s entrance hall, there’s a roundel depicting the Rest and Be Thankful. Boris Anrep, the Russian-born Bloomsbury-setter who created the mosaics between 1928 and 1952, must have deemed pub-going to be the most quintessential of British pursuits. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright would surely agree.
What to order: At The King Canute: Anything. “If I asked for a pint of Guinness and the barmaid gave me bitter by mistake, I’d be too shy to ask her to change it. And at The Rest and Be Thankful: According to the mosaic on the floor, “ales” and “stout”.
‘The World’s End’ goes on general release this Friday