Thursday 17 November 2016

Pub room names

This sort of thing happens to me quite often. I was rummaging through a pile of books looking for something. I didn’t find the book I sought, but tripped over another. One I’d forgotten I had. But very relevant to my current area of focus.

The book was “Beer in Britain”, a book based on a supplement which appeared in The Times newspaper in 1958. It’s a series of short articles on the subject of beer. I’ve owned it for a few years yet never really looked at it. That’s pretty typical of me. I buy books which I think might come in handy some day and then forget about them. Pretty sure I’ve still got a couple of books on bottling that I need to process.

I’ll be pestering you with plenty from “Beer in Britain”, starting with a useful guide to the terminology of pub rooms.

Sadly, most of these terms have disappeared along with the rooms that they designated. Few pubs retain the multiple-room layout. Those that do rarely have more than two these days. But even before the ravages of crap refurbishments in the 1960’s and 1970’s the number of rooms in pubs was being eroded. Pubs built before WW I, unless they were tiny, always had several rooms. Ironically, the larger “improved” pubs of the interwar years had fewer rooms. While those built after WW II were usually limited to just a Public Bar and a Lounge.

What isn’t mentioned in the list is a feature that was common in the North and the Midlands: a drinking corridor. The classic 19th-century design was to have a central serving area. The front of this was the bar counter for the taproom, the back faced onto a corridor, off which were all the other rooms. It’s not really a room in the sense of a Lounge or Public Bar, but was used for vertical drinking.

The names used for different rooms varied considerably from region to region. “Beer in Britain” rationalised that down to just northern and southern usage, using the River Trent as the dividing line. You may recall that I grew up in Newark, which is on the Trent. But on its southern bank. However, it was definitely a northern usage town.

Let’s take a look at those names in detail, starting with the South. 

Pub room names - Southern Usage
Public Bar Where prices are lowest and furnishings simple.
Saloon Bar A saloon was originally a spacious reception room in a private mansion, then in an inn; applied c. 1835 to the better-furnished room of a public house.
Lounge Originally the hotel residents' sitting room. Now a superior saloon bar, often with waiter service and with no sale of draught beer.
Lounge Bar / Saloon Lounge Midway in status between the saloon and the lounge.
Private Bar Midway in status between public bar and saloon, intended for customers wishing to conduct private conversations, or for men accompanied by women: sometimes deputizing for a Ladies' Bar.
Ladies' Bar Self-explanatory.
Bar Parlour An inner room, without a street entrance, reserved traditionally for regular customers or the landlord's intimates. Now rare.
Four-Ale-Bar Colloquial term for the public bar; so named because mild ale. the working man's drink, used to be sold at fourpence a quart.
Buffet Bar A refreshment bar (1869). Modern equivalents are the Lunch Bar and the Snack Bar, of saloon bar status.
Tap Room Originally (1807) a room where beer was tapped or drawn from a cask. Now an old-fashioned name for the public bar of an hotel or country alehouse. Not found in London.
Hotel Bar A saloon bar in a hotel, without a street entrance, mainly for residents.
Shades A basement bar. Rare.
Dive Originally an illegal drinking den located underground (United States, 1882). now usually a basement Snack Bar.
Cocktail Bar / American Bar Hotel bars, now tending to spread into public houses, sometimes taking over the place of the lounge under the title of Cocktail Lounge.
"Beer in Britain", The Times, 1960, page 69.

It’s incredible how long the term Four-Ale-Bar continued to be used. Mild hadn’t been 4d a quart since 1914, yet the expression was still in use almost half a century later.

I always considered names like Saloon Bar, Lounge Bar, Private Bar, etc. just to be synonyms for Lounge. Probably because the specific function of these rooms had fallen into misuse and been forgotten by the time I started drinking. There may have been different names on the door, but everyone just treated the rooms as part of the Lounge.

Next it’s the turn of the North:

Pub room names - Northern usage
Bar, Public Bar As in the South.
Vaults Originally a cellar for storing food or liquor; now on the ground floor—equivalent to the public bar. (Vault in Lancashire.)
Smoke Room Northern and Midland equivalent of the saloon bar. There may be two: one for men only, the other (mixed) for both sexes.
Tap Room A public bar. Sometimes a room reserved for playing games, without counter service.
Lounge / Parlour / Public Parlour / Bar Parlour The best-furnished room.
Best Room / Best End Colloquial names for the lounge.
Snug / Snuggery Equivalent of the Southern bar parlour, but much more common. (Ireland only: one of a series of half-enclosed compartments within a bar.) Obsolescent.
News Room An old-fashioned name for Tap Room, dating from the period when newspapers were supplied to customers.
Office Bar (Midlands) An inner room without counter service, equivalent to the Southern bar parlour, generally located behind the scrvery or the hotel office.
Buffet Bar North-Eastern variant of the lounge.  Not a snack bar.
Sitting Room North-Eastern variant of the saloon bar.
First Class / Second Class (Men's, Women's, Mixed.) Variants of the saloon and public bars, peculiar to the Carlisle State Management District.
"Beer in Britain", The Times, 1960, page 70.

I’m intrigued to see that the Carlisle State pubs had their own system of naming rooms. Not so surprising, as the scheme made radical changes to pub layouts, reducing the number of rooms and making decorations simpler.

You’ll note that there are considerable differences with southern practice. About the only names in common are Public Bar and Lounge. A couple of those terms I’ve never come across: News Room and Office Bar. And snug I only really know from Coronation Street.

The room names tally pretty well with what Mass Observation noted in 1930’s Bolton:

Vault — Vault, Public Bar, Saloon Bar.
Tap Room — News Room, Commercial Room.
Best Room — Music Room, Concert Room, Lounge, Parlour, Saloon, Commercial Room, Snug.
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), pages 92 - 94.

Odd that Music Room and Concert Room aren’t mentioned in “Beer in Britain” as I have seen those names etched into pub glass.

I was rummaging through my brain trying to think of other names for pub rooms. I’m sure the list above isn’t exhaustive. Let me know if you can think of any.


Matt said...

I've always called it the vault. Never realised that some people add an "s", although I can think of a couple of pubs in the Manchester area which are called something Vaults.

Gunnar H said...

Would the drinking corridor you mention as missing in the lists correspond to the Franconian Schwemm: vertical drinking , technically outside the Wirtshaus proper so you could have a quick one or three and honestly answer:
“Been to the pub, have we?” – “Why, no, darling!”
Also reminds me of the corridor in the Blue Anchor, Helston. But I never saw anyone drinking in the corridor. Could be because I have only visited in winter...

Anonymous said...

The snug may have been obsolescent since 1960, but it's alive and well in Manchester - there aren't many pubs that have them, but everyone knows the term. Never heard it called a snuggery, though. And yes, the public in older pubs is often called the vault; I always vaguely thought it was something to do with having a high ceiling.

Ron Pattinson said...

Gunnar H,

no, not the same as a Schwemme, as it's inside the pub proper. Anyone drinking in a room other than the public bar needs to go to the bar in the corridor to order drinks.

Curmudgeon said...

Vault is the usual term for "public bar" in Stockport and Manchester. But, growing up in Runcorn, less than 30 miles away, I never heard it there.

Adam said...


Bosh said...

As an American I'm having a hard time visualizing a lot of this. Am trying to find a blueprint or layout diagram for an old school English pub but I'm not coming up with much.

Malcolm Nicholls said...

There is at least one pub I'm Nottingham called the News Room.

Curmudgeon said...

IIRC the one in Nottingham is called the News House - Castle Rock pub on Canal Street.

Curmudgeon said...

This is the floorplan of the Nursery Inn in Heaton Norris, Stockport, built in 1939 and still largely intact, showing clearly the Lounge, Smoke Room and Vault.

J. Karanka said...

There used to be a few pubs in Cardiff with 'Vaults' in the name. Park Vaults shut some time ago. Queen's Vaults still open.

Unknown said...

To David Boshko- try, the photos section, for a gander at a real traditional pub.

antrog65 said...

An old boy i worked with when i was an apprentice told me he used to get sent to the pub as a young lad to fetch beer for his family. Up the steps - lounge to the left and Tap room to the right and in the middle was a wooden shutter. You knocked on this, up it came and you got whatever you had brought with you filled with beer. It was called the Kettle Hole.