“Let’s go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all this to blow over.”
16 years after Shaun of the Dead hit our screens, these immortal lines have risen from the grave with an eery significance – they’ve even been rewritten in a new Coronavirus spoof. But while Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have somehow captured the current climate over a decade before it happened, they could never had predicted something as bleak as an apocalypse without a pub. Indeed, as the last of the Cornetto trilogy, At World’s End, proves, the building is a bastion of Britishness even in the bleakest of times, a microcosm of the nation at its worst and best.
For this very reason, the pub has inspired a spectrum of iconic movie scenes over the years. From the cold hostility of the Mother Black Cap in Withnail and I to the warm welcome of the Green Dragon of The Fellowship of the ring, inns and alehouses are atmospheric incubators that, whether inviting or inhospitable, often mirror the mood of a country. This has made them a popular muse for painters across the ages: take William Hogarth’s raucous 1732 tavern or Beryl Cook’s buzzing bar scenes.
The seeming permanence of the trusty pub throughout history perhaps what makes it such an alluring subject. These buildings tell stories: they are full of rich heritage, some claiming to go as far back as the 1100s. Until three months ago, they were ever-present social hubs, a place to drink away one’s sorrow or rest one’s weary feet. Though some have a troubled past, pubs should be welcoming spaces for all, sanctuaries for walkers, pub quizzers, sports fans, foodies and hip young millennials alike. In a world of increased insecurity, pubs can create a safe micro-community in which people will strike up chats with strangers.
But as well as inspiring art and conversation, the pub also cultivates creativity. Long before plays hit the National Theatre or the Old Vic, they are often being tried and tested on small stages in upstairs rooms above noisy bars. Long before performing Hammersmith Apollo or Wembley Stadium, artists are singing to locals swaying and spilling their pints. Grassroots fringe venues such as the 40-year-old Finborough Arms are the birthplace of new talent, where stars take their first baby steps in front of intimate audiences. Pubs also double as galleries: many establishments display or sell the work of independent artists, creating a public viewing platform before they make it into high-profile exhibitions.
Closing pub doors hasn’t just barred us from nice cold pint, but from a fundamental part of British culture. It’s a place that remains stable while governments and generations rise and fall, a place where old traditions and new innovations are celebrated side by side. So let’s raise a glass to the reopening of our most prized premises, and do our part to ensure that we stay loyal to our local after the pandemic blows over.