They’d arrived at the pub, which for Don Fernando was the same as arriving in heaven, where all the wretchedness of the earth comes to an end.
– Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote
A symphony of crescendoing and diminuendoing laughter fills my ears with joy. The backdrop of colourful murals, withering tables, new friendships being kindled and old friendships being rekindled engulfs me. The sun beats down on me and my mates, invigorating us into our best basketball-playing selves. The six-dollar pints seemingly fly themselves to us as if they were golden swallows migrating from the dark, cold keg beneath the counter into the warm embrace of our hands, our mouths and our hearts. Much like Proust’s recollection-of-childhood madeleines, when someone mentions Vic on the Park, these are the memories that are instantaneously evoked within me.
Contrast this to a pub so bleak that I will not mention its name. There is no sun at all, only bright lights and sterile artworks glaring at my mates and I. Atmospheric? No. Kitsch? Yes. Littering its walls are yuppies – corporate desk jockeys who are unmistakable for their identical haircuts, colognes and perfumes and bitter absence of dreams. Its happy hour could not redeem it, offering an abysmal ‘ten-dollar schooners’ deal. It is hard to find anything ‘happy’ about that price (other than the fact that it was not $11).
How is it that one pub can evoke such pleasure, and the other, such despair? Ever since that desolate day, I have made it my raison d’être to answer this question. It is difficult to pin down an answer, as there are many components of pub perfection As such, we must look at the question differently: what aspects constitute the perfect pub?
It was only after reading Anna Karenina that I could see this question in a new light. Tolstoy starts ‘his first true novel’ with the line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. By this, he means that every family is built upon and around certain aspects such as political beliefs, religious views, sexual interests, monetary issues and ideas on how to bring their children up; and if any of these aspects are in trouble, then so is the family. James Diamond coined this the ‘Anna Karenina principle’ in his magnum opus, Guns, Germs and Steel; and if he could use it to explain the global domestication of animals, I can certainly use it to understand the complexities of pub perfection.
I have defined six criteria with which to determine to perfect pub: first is its location; second is its price; third is its people; fourth is its chic; fifth is its facilities; and sixth is its security.
As with all of the aspects on this list, location is relative. A good location has either one, some, or all of the following: a grand view (whether it be of a harbour, the bush, a mountain range, the cityscape or an architectural marvel), catches the sunlight, is close to your house and is situated nearby other pubs.
Price refers to the cost of the drinks and food that the pub has on offer. If a pub has a cheap happy hour but is otherwise expensive, it is still sound so long as it is near pubs with cheaper drinks. For example, if you go to Vic on the Park on a Tuesday, after the happy hour finishes you can walk to Webster’s in Newtown and continue into the night with six-dollar schooners. If a pub has no happy hour but cheap beers regardless, then it again gets a tick of approval. If a pub has an expensive happy hour and more expensive options after the happy hour ends, I advise you to leave to a pub more aligned with the first three examples in this definition.
People is a multifaceted criterion. It refers to the individuals within the pub (and whether you know them or not), but it also refers to the ‘vibe’ of the patrons as well. If randomly catching up with people you have not seen since school is your jam, then a pub where you can do this will work for you; if it is not, then an acquaintance-filled pub is not for you. Moreover, the ‘vibe’ of the people also matters. If it is a cool vibe but you keep seeing people you do not want to, then you calculate yourself as to whether it is sound or unsound in this aspect.
Chic refers to the ‘vibe’ of the pub’s interiors and exteriors. Chic is certainly subjective; and as such, I cannot comment on what makes it sound or unsound for you. For me though, if the pub is even vaguely Italianate in style, it is sound.
Facilities typically refers to the bathrooms, pokies room and smoking area, but can also include other ‘facilities’ such as pool tables, dart boards and even basketball courts. If a pub has any of the three latter examples, it passes muster for me. If it does not, so long as it has clean toilets (the more graffiti sprayed onto the walls though, the better), pokie machines that pay out and a smokers’ area that encourages different groups of people to converse with one another, then it is sound.
Security refers to the people managing the safety of the pub. If they are the type to kick you out for smoking a stig (disposable vape) in the non-smoking area, security gets a fail. If they deny you for being intoxicated when you are not, this aspect is unsound. If they are empathetic and humane, then all is well.
If any of these aspects are unsound, the pub is doomed to imperfection. If all of these aspects are sound, then the pub is, by this principle’s logic, perfect. From writing this essay though, I have had to consider how other people would treat these several aspects – from the quietest introverts to the loudest extroverts. As such, I have changed my question a third time. Instead of asking ‘what makes the perfect pub?’ or ‘what aspects constitute the perfect pub?’, we should instead ask ourselves: what makes my perfect pub?