Pubs and bars have always had an important place in my life, from the Salmon and Ball in the early Sixties (where my dad and his mates would stand a 5 year old me on a beer crate so I would be able to reach the beer taps and pour 'em a pint.) through running, working and drinking in them during much of the Seventies and Eighties, right up to the present day when I am a less frequent frequenter. I remain a fan of a good bar/pub to this day.
But what constitutes a good bar?
Even the most casual observer will note that "good" in this context is in need of some definition, but also that the very personal nature of what is or is not held as "good" make such definition nigh on impossible.
But are we not fellows who sneer at impossibility, chaps who rise to every challenge and dudes who never dodge a dust-up? I say we meet this challenge head-on. Let us set the standards and make the rest of the world step into line for once.
A good bar really only needs two things, to whit: Good punters and a good guvnor. Anyone who is harbouring seditious thoughts about décor, food, interesting beverages and the like is missing the point. All those things are nice, they all add to the equation in their various ways and they are most welcome but they are none of them necessary.
Some of my favourite pubs, drawn from long, extensive and wide-ranging research in the field, are initially unwelcoming to the eye, grim even. They may reek of stale beer and cigarettes, carpets may be filthy or non-existent and they may on occasion be places where it seems best for the unwary not to tread. I care not, for pubs and bars are first and foremost about people in all their glorious and gloriously fucked-up diversity.
BLH reminds me of a imaginary bar/pub, made from a composition of some of the finest I have known.
All are welcome here as we all know, but most folk here realise that this welcome comes with a gentle warning. "Behave yourself!"
Management here have a tasty security team on standby should anyone need instantly banning, but like the best bars this place is largely self-policing.
On a good night Kap and H0ly will be doing the rounds, visiting every table and stirring the pot (whether it needs stirring or not!). In darkened booths deep in shadow lurk some familiar faces… Olbas in one, Boxanne in another, while Counterpunch and The Mighty Whypu argue mightily with Phill, Dave Oakes and assorted others as to exactly how shit Wales is.
To the uninitiated the place may seem to have an air of tension about it, especially when tempers fray and long words are used! This is, however, like the crackle in the atmosphere before a storm… a couple of blasts of thunder and its soon exposed as just a little Sturm & Drang. Nothing to see here, folks, so move along. Just some old and unresolved debate that should have been put down years ago but that is kept alive way past any usefulness by the vast reserves of stubbornness, hostility and out-and-out stupidity that we all bring in through the door.
Behind the bar is Scott, from where he serves up fare of the finest quality to a barely-deserving but nonetheless appreciative audience. Scott may not be the owner, but this is certainly Scott’s Bar.
At the busy bar the noise level goes up where the old ESPN boys are a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’! I guess someone just mentioned Floyd, or some such. Join in if you like, Stranger, but you better be quick on your feet and know some excellent "yo-mama" jokes or your ass is toast. These boys take no prisoners.
So if it’s a row you feel the need for, head for the bar. If you’re just looking to shoot the breeze then the booths are for you; any subject at any time with anyone, that’s how they roll in the booths. And sometimes the darkness of the booth, the esoteric nature of the debate and the years of guile and cunning that the occupants bring to bear all combine to disguise the quiet ferocity of the response. The boys at the bar might ruffle your hair and toss you out by the seat of your pants, but the booths have a fucking oubliette, ferchrissakes!
The place has no obvious owner. Scott, Banman and the rest get their due respect but there is, over all, a presence that defines this place whether he is here or not. I speak, of course, of the Doc, whose own particular brand of inspired insanity is an inspiration to us all. (Well, the smart ones anyway!). The Doc is a gentle soul, but if you're really lucky you might be present when he casually disembowels someone who forgot their manners.
I fucking love this place, and I thank you all for being here and for being who you are.
This is the Salmon and Ball as it stands today. The old man's shop was just past that railway bridge.
Anyone for Pie n' Mash?