By Ben Small
Trends come and go, change and evolve, but one thing has always remained a constant: what makes an archetypal English pub English. The taste of a hand-pumped cask ale; the sense of age and history, that if the walls could talk, they’d certainly have a few tales to tell; the worn-down Persian carpets that have a musky smell after absorbing years of spilt beer; the polished wood surfaces and overhead exposed beams that provide the source of many bumped and bruised heads; the wholesome experience of pub fare; that comforting feeling that you’re relaxing in a stranger’s front room. “Pub” is an abbreviation of “public house,” and that explains the crucial tenet of what makes a pub a pub, to feel a comfortable belonging in a place that feels like a home. If that means there’s a pub dog nestling up against your legs or that there’s a roaring fire to keep you warm in the winter, then so be it.
The county of Kent in south-eastern England, where I was born and raised, is a hotbed of “local pubs,” and whether in the countryside or a city center there is a familiarity among them all, a collective history. For as long as I can remember growing up, my parents would drive us out to visit pubs in different towns and villages around Kent for Sunday lunches. Then, when I turned eighteen, I started to pave my own, slightly more inebriated, way as I explored and sampled the variety of establishments on offer in Leeds, the city where I studied my undergraduate degree, a city notorious for its pub drinking culture. Now, almost twenty-three, I call Chicago home and bring the experiences I have drinking in and growing up around pubs in England to the imitation pubs in Chicago, the ones that desire to emulate the ambiance of what I know best. With that in mind, I visited a few to see how good a job they could do.
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