Mon, November 18, 2013

Bar maids, bar fights and bartending

By THANE BURNETT, QMI Agency


Pouring beer at the Bucket of Blood
 

LONDON - This corner once welcomed the best types of London whores and men who punctuated their sentences with fists.

There ó right over there ó is where English poet John Dryden was beaten up in 1679 by thugs hired by the 2nd Earl of Rochester.

And over this way, Charles Dickens stumbled around, three sheets to the wind.

If these walls could talk, they would slur their words.

Today, itís the Lamb and Flag, but was once known ó thanks to bare-knuckle prize brawling ó as the Bucket of Blood.

This, my new friends, is a proper English pub.

Arguably Londonís oldest. Perhaps its most heralded.

And I may be the end of it.

Itís a weeknight inside the notorious tavern tucked tightly between a cobbled laneway big enough for a Mini Cooper, and a low-ceiling pathway small enough to mind whoís following you late at night.

Thereís nothing as entirely British ó not tea or Big Ben or even the Queen ó as an authentic alehouse.

And this oneís as awesome as an old scar.

A short walk away you can find a yogurt shop and a ĎCyber Candy Shopí, but the guts of the Lamb and Flag remain largely untwisted over centuries.

Iíve been accepted as a barkeep in training ó learning everything from pouring a decent pint to clearing tables in elbow-to-elbow conditions.

Iím given plenty of slack by bartender Kasia Szakodyn ó who carries more clout than her small frame would suggest.

Iím slow and awkward as I pump cool glasses full of rich London Pride, a popular cast ale.

Thereís no way theyíre allowing me near the scary looking Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, Scotlandís Hendrickís Gin or Pimms liqueur, which during the 1880s in this city was sold as a digestion remedy.

And theyíve learned not to let me handle the money, because I keep getting confused over the coins.

Since Iíve walked behind the bar ó with glasses lined up like crystal soldiers above me, and below a dark booze-stained floor where more than a few will go to die if Iím not careful ó the evening crowd thins.

But maybe itís nothing personal

Bar manager Chris Buckley figures business has dropped at least 40% since the Games began.

The same worry is true for shops all around London. By one estimate, sellers on Oxford Street have noted a 30% slump since Londoners ran from Olympic gridlock.

But the slowdown gives me a chance to be pulled aside by remaining customers who notice a Canadian in their house.

One conversation goes like this:

(English drinker) ó Your report going to be shown in Thunder Bay?

(Me) ó You know Thunder Bay?

(Drinker) ó Nope, only a girl from there.

(Me) ó Everyone knows a girl from Thunder Bay.

And I swear on all the souls of all the bruisers who proved themselves in the Bucket of Blood, I have almost the identical exchange at the other end of the bar ten minutes later.

But itís a conversation regular Marc Kenyon draws me into that ó maybe for the first time since 1772 ó slows the flow of beer here.

Itís on the history of small clocks. And heís happily determined Iím gong to understand the importance.

Fearing an insult and a return to the bad old days of blood, I politely stop my work to listen.

Maybe itís this pause, or the times Iíve looked to the TV and the Olympics, but either way my time here has wound down.

I have just been fired from a place that once happily accepted more noble whores and fist-fighters.

thane.burnett@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: thaneburnett