What a joy it is to go to a pub now that they are open and new safety precautions are in force to protect us against the scourge of Covid-19. No standing at the bar, just waiter service at a table which will have been scrupulously cleaned and sanitised: no old peanut bags or pungent beer stains. Of course the old atmosphere is not there, the desperate scrum at the bar waving ten pound notes and debit cards in an effort to attract the attention of staff who seems to be favour everyone but yourself. It was the Victorians who were to blame for this unseemly form of downing pints while standing at the bar which in its pioneer days was called “perpendicular drinking”. It the 1830s it was a novelty of the new palace like beer houses put up by the big breweries. They were out to capture a new urban passing trade of workmen who had little time to relax on their way home. It was not a place for women: no respectable lady would join the scrum at the bar and the ritual of “buying rounds”. The only women were the barmaids, chosen for their looks and easy banter, and the prostitutes looking for trade.
Toilets for women were not introduced until the 1930s.
It was very different in the old inns where there was no bar and the legendary serving staff were the “buxom wenches” of Tom Jones tradition. No social distancing then, of course, but I think the atmosphere now in pubs with the ban on perpendicular drinking perhaps recalls the old pre-Victorian days when a beer house was no more than someone’s front room. Old folk like myself prefer it like that and can find in the dark clouds of Covid oppression at least one silver lining: the toppling of the perpendicular drinker.