Monday, January 25, 2010

Kids in Pubs.

When we were little tykes ourselves, my siblings and I, Mom would occasionally drag us into a friendly bar after work, always to meet one friend or another. I think we liked it. There was food. There were friendly people. Occasionally there was Ms. Pac Man or a jukebox. Usually there was a non-smoking section. Never occurred to me there might be anything wrong with it.

There was, now that I think about it, a brief period of my life when I would've hated to see kids in drinking establishments. Usually because I was going there to drink a lot and think selfish, young-adult thoughts. Children have a way of ruining that.

Now we have a kid of our own, about 7 months old now. And we enjoy going out when we can muster the energy, will, and various accessories. We take him to pubs, if it's not smoky. He doesn't seem to mind. The Belgians seem pretty tolerant of it. It wasn't until last weekend in London that we ever had an issue with it.

There was no kerfuffle or anything. Just a tired, thirsty couple of young parents who wanted to visit the Princess Louise, a real Victorian classic in Holborn. The barman politely informed us that children were not allowed. Fair enough... but it would have been even fairer to post it out front. The place was gorgeous, incredibly ornate, lots of stuff to stare at while sipping a hypothetical pint. What a tease, that Louise.

Luckily a helpful smoker outside asked if were looking for something in particular. "Just a pub." So he pointed out the Shakespeare's Head around the corner. This would become my first visit to a Weatherspoons pub.

British drinkers will need no explanation of what that means. So I will do my best to explain it to everyone else, based only on what I saw: Imagine if a giant, unremarkable English pub had sex with an American roadside truck stop, and their offspring were all cheap, messy, and incredibly useful.

Perfectly decent cask ale, and an interesting selection. Comfortable enough tables. Tons of room for us and our all-terrain stroller (um, pram, or whatever). Pages and pages of Weatherspoons ads and propaganda at every table and posted above the urinals in the men's room. Fruity gambling machines (though no Ms. Pac Man or jukebox). The food looked boring but cheap and filling.

Not a nice place. But incredibly useful. And we were welcome there. We know, because a sign out front told us so.


  1. when I was writing CAMRA’s Pubs for Families a few years back, I was talking to one place up north and the barman said that they didn’t allow kids cause they sold cask beer…as if cask and kids when combined created some critical mass. What rot. The Princess Louise is a lovely looking place but the last pint I had there was well onto becoming so strange bitter-lambic hybrid…

  2. Hmmm, so that's how all those British kids get started on lager. Clearly they are much more compatible.

  3. My children are bigger, but we have also found them useful. Cheap and filling meals, fast service, good beer. In real life, you have to make some compromises.

  4. I think a perfect statement could be: "families welcome when behaving properly". I worked in a brewpub a few years ago: on sundays occasionally there were kids left running around, shouting and throwing coasters everywhere. Well, it was really horrible - for working guys and even for kids' safety.

  5. Good point Leo. I think "when behaving properly" would be a useful addition to the sign out front. Or maybe "Families welcome" then in smaller type "but parents of children who can't behave will be politely asked to leave."

  6. I was going to put something like, "We reserve the right to sell misbehaving children into slavery," but it reminded me of something we overheard during our visit to the Tower London:

    "Did they really cut people's heads off here, Mummy?"
    "That's right, honey, and if you don't behave they'll chop off yours too."

    She said it so matter-of-factly that it gave us chills. Made me wonder if this was a common tactic for Londoner parents... Frighten your kids into behaving with the Tower of London. A centuries-old tradition, I'd bet.