On all my travels around the world I’ve never come across an equivalent of what I call an “old man pub”. It’s a difficult concept to explain but the nearest US equivalent would be called a dive bar – but they’re definitely not the same. Some dive bars I’ve been to have been upmarket affairs filled with hipsters – old man pubs are definitely not these. Some dive bars are deliberately styled to look worn out and abused but old man pubs really are worn out and abused. Some dive bars are trying too hard to be bad but old man pubs don’t need to try, they are bad naturally. Without trying. Which is good. Get me?
There’s a few criteria that need to be met before a place can be classified as an old man pub (and it’s got nothing to do with the presence, or lack, of old men):
Beer – must have a few decent selections but nothing overly fancy. Definitely not the sort of place that serves micro brewed ales.
Wine – usually just 2 choices. Red or white although if you ask nicely they might be able to come up with a house made rosé.
Food – not necessarily served but if so then simple staples. Pie, chips & gravy feature heavily. Goat’s cheese frittata drizzled with a redcurrant jus is most definitely not on the menu.
Carpet – sticky. As is the ceiling which hasn’t been redecorated since the smoking ban so the walls and ceiling are stained yellow.
Toilets – generally basic. Try not to touch anything that’s not part of your own body.
Likelihood of getting stabbed – low. This last factor is important as it differentiates an old man pub from another category of pubs – shitholes.
But I like old man pubs – you know what you are getting and they don’t try to be anything other than a place to have a few beers, chat to your mates and watch a bit of sport. We have plenty in the UK and they are popular – even supposedly very upmarket areas of major cities will have a fair few dotted around.
I found myself in a particular old man pub that’s sadly no longer there any more. It was only a few miles away from where I lived at the time but my friend lived round the corner from this pub and I arranged to meet him there early one evening. We had a few beers and as people came into the pub he introduced me to a few of the locals that he knew. A couple of hours passed like this when one of the barmen shouted out “It’s ready chaps” fairly loudly so the entire pub could hear. One of the locals who we’d been chatting to then explained that they’d set up a poker table in the room at the back of the pub and invited us to join in a game – my friend’s girlfriend had joined us an hour before this so I didn’t feel rude agreeing to play for a while.
The local explained the details as we sat down - £25 ($35) maximum buy in for coloured chips that worked effectively like chips – cash held behind the bar. UK gambling rules are pretty strict in that pubs can’t be seen to be allowing gambling on the premises so by only allowing coloured chips rather than cash denominations they can claim it’s just a friendly game with no money on the table on the very small chance that it’s investigated. Blinds were 25p/50p (35c/70c). This immediately stuck me as very odd – such a small buy in and ridiculously low blinds but having accepted their invite I felt it would be rude to let this get in the way of playing for an hour or so anyway.
I folded the first few hands that were dealt but I noticed something strange. Everyone limped in preflop and there was barely a bet placed until showdown. It was fairly common for a limped 9-3 off to win having rivered 2 pair despite someone else having a paired Ace on the flop. A bet that was made pre showdown was immediately met with groans and folds. Every time I was in late position or even in the blinds I would raise and take down the dead money. This happened for about ½ an hour when my friend beckoned me over to the bar for a refill. He asked how I was getting on and I told him I was up about £20 – not a huge sum I know but given the £25 buy in I’d almost doubled my stake and won my beer money back. As the landlord served our drinks he leant over to me and said “They’re all moaning about you. They want you banned as you keep raising them”. He then proceeded to explain that it’s not what you’d call a real poker game – most of the players could barely play and they only really did it as a social thing once a week. Given the standard at the table that didn’t surprise me. Nearly every week no one would win or lose more than a couple of pounds and that he’d lay on a few drinks for me and my friend if I managed to lose some money back to the table. Given how this was my friend’s local I agreed – the money was of no relevance and the game was terrible albeit the guys at the table were great to talk with. Plus he’d found my one true weakness https://twitter.com/simpsons_tweets/status/629662125171081216!! But how? I’d barely got any resistance when I’d raised previously so I could barely just dump chips by waiting for a call from someone holding a decent hand – so I needed a plan.
I told the landlord to tell the other players that he’d worked out when I was bluffing – if I bet then took a sip of my beer it was definitely a bluff. If I had a strong hand then I was more interested in my cards than the beer. When he called a break for the table to serve drinks I made myself scarce and he told everyone that I had this “tell” and that anyone with a half decent hand should reraise me to see what I did. I waited until I was in the blinds before I lead out again with something like 10-4 – as soon as I took a sip of beer there was a reraise behind me. I open folded my hand with a Hollywood “You’ve got me there” and the reverse trap was set. I managed to lose my winnings plus a few pounds on top over the next couple of hours and the game drew to a close about ½ hour before the pub closed for the evening. As we all had one last beer before heading home I was chatting to a couple of the other players – one of them told me that he thought I was good at the start but I bluffed too much and even he could work me out!