When I first moved to London, I thought I knew what an English pub was all about. Based on the detailed research I had undergone before moving to Ol' Blighty (where in this case, "detailed research" equals "none at all"), my understanding was that a pub was a bar. That served beer.
This, it turned out, was like saying the Sahara is a desert. With some sand.
The thing is, an English pub is so much more than a convenient place to buy beer. It's more of a social gathering place. Every village worth its salt has at least one pub, and if you move to a major town, the first thing you find after the grocer's is your new "local." Men and women stop there after work before heading home. Families spend their Sundays there, having a traditional pub lunch. Friendships are formed, regulars who have passed on are toasted -- the pub, in my experience, can be the heart of an English community.
I'm sure there are other countries that have a similar cultural meeting place, but I don't know which ones. Trinidad has rum shops, but they aren't nearly as family-friendly as pubs -- they don't generally serve food, and are pretty much a male hang-out. And American bars are definitely not the heart of a community in the same way -- even Cheers, the ultimate American neighbourhood bar, seemed to exclude the families of the regulars.
But American coffeehouses? They sort of come close.
When I was single and living closer to the city, I used to visit what was then my favourite coffeehouse all the time -- it was practically walking distance from my house. In many ways, it acted as my English pub -- it had a great menu, it turned into a wine bar at night. I made friends there -- people I continue to stay in touch with now. It really was the hub for that neighbourhood.
Lately, I've been driving in to visit a new favourite, Blacksmith, but I really wish there was something more than Starbucks closer to our neighbourhood. If I were to design the perfect coffeehouse for our neighbourhood, it would:
a) have good coffee, but an amazing selection of teas, as well;
b) have a menu that served more than pastries -- light lunches, dinners -- in a space that's pretty, welcome families, maybe even have a patio; and
c) stay open late with good beers and a great wine selection for Marcus and I to stop in on our way home from date night.
Or, you know, maybe I'm just looking for a really good local English pub.