Clubland

B&B recently broached the topic of clubs – not nightclubs (as nobody calls them) but social clubs, places to drink and see some entertainment. There are three I’ve been to in my local area, although I’m not a member of any of them and there’s only one I’d consider visiting for the beer.

The enigmatically-named Lauriston Club (whose interior you can see here) is a members’ club; apparently you pass two signs on the way in, reading respectively “MEMBERS ONLY” and “VISITORS WELCOME”. Beer is cheap-ish but there’s no cask. There was originally a large detached house on the site; this was later converted to serve as the local Liberal Club, which closed in 1962 (the 60s weren’t kind to the Liberals in this area). The club reopened under its current name, as a members’ club without any political affiliation (or any other particular raison d’etre as far as I can see). But it clearly had a substantial following – more substantial than the hard core of regulars you’ll see in there now; when the building burned down in 1982, a new building was put up on the same site and the club lived on. The video shows a group of us who performed in the front bar one night, to an audience slightly larger than the group was. NB I am not the Phil playing guitar (although I am in shot a lot of the time).

The local Irish Association Social Club – universally known as the Irish Club – is self-explanatory. They put a lot of music on, dances in particular – sometimes with fairly well-known DJs, sometimes with a ceilidh band, sometimes one of each on the same night. Since I occasionally play in a ceilidh band, I’ve seen quite a lot of the inside of the Irish Club. The beer isn’t cheap and there’s no cask. They’ve made a couple of ventures into interesting bottles – Schneider Aventinus was a particularly memorable guest – but most nights you’re best off just getting a pint of San Miguel and planning on drinking it before it warms up.

The third of the three is in a different class, at least on the beer front. For several years I used to go to the local Cricket Club once a week, for the Folk Club (clubs are good for function rooms). Norman, the barman, always had a smile and a friendly word for anyone he’d known for 20 years or more, which let most of us right out. But he did pull a good pint, and the beer was seriously cheap – £1.60 a pint when I started going, or about 2/3 of what were then pub prices. There were two hand pumps: one of them was for Holt’s bitter, and so was the other one. If you didn’t like Holt’s bitter, well, you could get used to it. (This was actually one of the reasons I went back week after week – miss a couple of weeks and you had to get acclimatised to the beer all over again.)

After I’d been going for a few years there was an upsurge of interest in acoustic music, and suddenly the club was a lot busier. Norman was slowing down by now in any case, so the management put a barmaid on alongside him; she was less than half his age but every bit as friendly, and had that infuriating Guinness-derived habit of pulling 4/5ths of a pint and letting it settle before topping it up. On special occasions they started switching the second pump to carry a guest ale; word had it that Norman didn’t approve.

Three or four years ago I stopped going very often, having got into folk music (long story). The last couple of times I went back the only Holt’s beers were the keg range; the two hand-pumps were devoted to rotating guest beers, generally well-chosen and in good nick. They were still being pulled on the 4/5-and-wait principle, annoyingly; on the other hand, they were still about 2/3 of pub prices. And there was a plaque behind the bar with Norman’s name and dates.

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