I am a sucker for a certain kind of nonfiction that lies at the intersection of journalism, history, and sociology. Works that detail the life of a certain people in a certain place. Favorites include David Simon’s The Corner, Studs Terkel’s Working, and Elliot Liebow’s Tally’s Corner. And now add to that list The Pub and the People by Mass Observation.
I find it most fitting that an English organization would, on a list of life’s activities, have queuing listed second.
Mass Observation was a social research organization set up by Tom Harrisson, Humphrey Jennings, and Charles Madge (an anthropologist, a filmmaker, and a poet, respectively [sounds like the beginning of a bad joke]) in Britain in 1937 to create an “anthropology of ourselves”. Among their many projects was this detailed study of pubs in a working class town in the north of England (Bolton, identified only as Worktown in the book). Using dozens of volunteer (undercover) observers, they tracked every aspect of pub life, from how people chose which pub to frequent, to the average time it took to drink a pint (6.7 minutes on a Friday if drinking with a group, 13.6 minutes on a Wednesday drinking alone). It is a distinctly wonkish but compelling record of a nonextant time and place. I am sure modern anthropologists take issue with the research methods and I know some people detect a whiff of middle class condescension to the whole thing, but for me it provides a valuable corner piece for my personal cultural jigsaw.
The reason I bring all this up is that I have been thinking a lot about my pub recently: Tequila Point. I have mentioned Tequila Point here before, when they had just opened up, but in the three years since then it has become my go-to spot in town for drinks or dinner. In Worktown parlance, it is my local. And while the food is great and they make a mean cocktail, those are not the reasons I keep coming back.
Just like the mill workers, tramwaymen, and steeplejacks of Worktown, the pub is more than just a source of drinks for me—it is a center of community. Not being a churchgoer or much of a facebooker, the pub is where I find out what is going on in town, where I make new connections, and where I get things done. Hell, last month I sold my house sitting at the bar in Tequila Point. It is also an extension of my living room—even more now since I sold that house and moved to a building just one hundred and forty-six steps up the road. Meeting friends, watching soccer games, having birthday parties–we do almost everything there.
But maybe Tequila Point is not your local, should you still go? Absolutely. The food is great, and I really appreciate the fact that their specials come from around the globe. In the last few months I have had: shrimp green curry with spring rolls, chicken tikka masala, chicken and waffles, Hungarian mushroom soup, and macaroni and cheese. You can stick with the Mexican menu though, and still have lots of great options. I suggest ordering a “kimchanga” which is their chimichanga made with Korean BBQ beef and kimchi (made by Leslie of Driftless Appetite fame). It is not on the menu, but just tell them Keith told you to order it. If you are just having a drink, Tequila Point remains a great choice; I cannot think of a better cocktail bar in the area and they always have good local beers on tap from breweries such as One Barrel, Karben4, and Pearl Street (they occasionally have cider on tap from local Cider Farm as well). The restaurant also now includes a café space (Café 43) which is open for breakfast and lunch, so now I can get my morning cappuccino there as well.
It is not just Leslie and I who have this relationship with the place, either. One regular has his special golden syrup stocked at the café so they can make him his oatmeal just the way he likes it. Another customer, when the café got really busy one morning, just started taking orders and making people drinks. Of course it helps immensely that the owners and staff are all great. It was our anniversary recently; Leslie had foraged some morels and she dropped them off at Café 43 with the instructions to “do something special with them”. When I showed up later that morning Zac (the chef) had whipped up fried chicken and morel eggs Benedict for our breakfast. Other times Leslie has been offered a pillow and blanket (Tim) when hanging out at the café all day, or they have made us dinner-to-go (Richard) when they heard we were under the weather, or they have given us advice about trimming the trees in our yard (Joel). Come for the pub, stay for the people.
Mass Observation “wheel” image used in compliance with the terms and conditions of The Keep, part of the University of Sussex’s Special Collections.
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