Is it me or have pubs pretty much lost their smell? I can remember when you could walk into a pub blindfolded and know exactly where you were by simply using your nose. Not that I spent too much time blindfolded in pubs, I was sometimes blind drunk but that was what I was there for. Yes, in bygone years pubs had an aroma all of their own. The same is true of libraries, but for different reasons.
That pub odour was great. Apart from the sweet fragrance of beer and tobacco, there were those underlying hints of wood, straw, even the occasional pickled egg. It was rather like nosing a fine wine and some pubs, just like wines, had a different aroma to others dependent on their vintage. Of course the brewery beer each pub stocked helped the variety, as did pipe or cigar smoke. The smell of pipe smoke usually meant a farmer’s inn, cigars a bar far too posh for a spittoon. I can just about remember sawdust on a few pub floors which added an extra depth to the beautiful tang of the public house, especially when it was damp.
The type of fire would often have a say in the matter too. It seemed that all pubs had open fires to huddle around; some coal, others wood, and occasionally peat. There was one pub I remember in the back of the Oxfordshire beyonds that had paraffin heating and lamps, it smelled beautiful.
The only food served back then was crisps and nuts and the aforementioned pickled egg. Pork pie was a rarity reserved for darts matches and if you wanted real and non-hazardous, healthy, food then it was a trip to the chippy. Pub fare didn’t mask the pub aroma as pub foods do now, and of course no self respecting ale house would dream of having extractor fans. Who needed them when the door would open or close every hour or so to the shuffle of a regular? Is it really just me or do pubs smell of almost nothing but steak and chips, curry, and scented candles these days? Sometimes in those more pongy days there would be the smell of damp clothes and the whiff of sheep or pigs. Some would call it a reek, but I would call it character and there were plenty of characters – both washed and less so - to provide it.
I miss the old pubs, dim smelly places that they were. You didn’t go there to drink wine or eat a pizza. You went for the smell of your pint, the aroma of chalk from the dart board and, if you were lucky, a sniff of the barmaid’s perfume. Sometimes the smell of the pub would live up to their names. The Railway would quite often smell of trains, The Water’s Edge of canals, and The Cock… Well, let’s just say all of the toilets smelled pretty much the same. Bloody awful!