Trendy Men’s Pub
A simple catch up with two friends had inadvertently turned into a pub-crawl with a difference. My night out with friends had turned into a sociological pub-crawl exploring men and masculinities. Earlier we visited the Sporty Flamingo and the Timid Lamb; however, we didn’t prescribe to the masculinities offered in these pubs and had taken our thirst elsewhere.
As we rambled an open door presented and we entered the Sour Grape. This was an eclectic spot with matching patrons. There were groups of young trendy men, groups of young women, couples, a few lone individuals and our small motley crew of three. Its décor was artistic, flamboyant and bold, a haven for the metro-sexual trendy masculine type. Original art works for sale were displayed throughout and lush velvet curtains framed the windows. The Sour Grape offered a À la Carte menu and comprehensive wine list. As it happened it was my turn to empty my pockets to buy the round of drinks, and so I enquired as to the extent of the Sour Grape’s craft beers. The bar maid encouragingly recommended a ‘light and frothy beer that is refreshing with a slight hint of lemon’. I was intrigued. After consulting with my friends only one was sold on the bar maid’s recommendation. I ordered two pints of the recommended brew, which were presented in their own branded glasses to which the bar maid said ‘now there’s two manly glasses for you!’ It was like I had ordered a subordinate brew and needed my masculinity asserted somewhat through the symbolic use of manly glasses and an affirmation from the bar maid. It may also hint to a peculiarity of the relationship between Irish masculinity and alcohol, if its not Guinness or whiskey, its not manly!
With my masculinity affirmed and augmented by two glass tankards, I returned to my friends. The bar maid’s remark made me smile and reflect upon my own research questions. Her passing comment verified for me the way in which the pub and alcohol permits men to acquire and accomplish certain masculine status. Indeed reflecting the hierarchies of masculinities, it appears there may be a hierarchy of alcohol too, with Guinness or whiskey being the hegemonic brews. Offering males ‘manly glasses’ symbolically provides a means of publically asserting ones masculinity and reaffirming it, especially if you have ordered a subordinate brew. The giant glasses were large, a handful in fact and I struggled with them! These tankards amused my friends and me. Our amusement was eventually replaced by a shared unease upon the discovery of a toilet attendant, which is not a common feature of most Irish pubs. The Sour Grape not only provides food and fine ales but for a small donation you can avail of complementary use of aftershaves, deodorants and refreshing mints, all available from a toilet attendant in the men’s room.
This toilet attendant became the subject of much of our conversation and my friend’s expressed their unease and mild horror of having someone watch over them in the men’s room. This attendant and his services offered did not fit with my friend’s concept of a ‘men’s room’. The men’s room in their view was a sacred and private space, not to be intruded upon by an observer. Men do not watch other men, unless they are playing sport and they certainly do not watch other men in the bathroom (or so hegemony leads us to believe). The attendant’s surveillance and imposition into this private space was uncomfortable to my friends and to be honest, me too. According to my friends, men did not want to be handed tissue to dry their hands by another man. Men are supposed to give their hands a good shake dry or give them a rub in their jeans … perfect. Nor, according to my friends did men want to be asked ‘alright boss?’ and presented with a bottle of ‘Eau de toilette’ to dowse in. This, in their opinion, did not just border on but crossed the line into femininity. Our reaction illustrated the tension that at times presents between emerging and traditional masculinities. So before the next call of nature was necessary, a unanimous decision was made to take our patronage elsewhere.
We frequented two more separate establishments on our unexpected journey, each offering their own unique atmosphere and cause for reflection. The man bag jokes continued as we wandered. Eventually we passed an old man’s pub and one my friends confessed a longstanding wish to see what The Smelly Mosher had to offer.
To be continued …
Barich, B. (2009) A Pint of Plain – Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub, New York: Walker & Company.
Lemle, R. and Mishkind, M.E. (1989) ‘Alcohol and Masculinity’, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Vol. 2, pp.213-222.
Mullen, K., Watson, J., Swift, J. and Black, D. (2007) ‘Young Men, Masculinity and Alcohol’, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 151-165.
O’Dwyer, P. (2001) ‘The Irish and substance abuse’, Ethnocultural factors in substance abuse treatment, pp. 199-215.
Share, P. (2003) ‘A genuine “Third Place”? Towards an understanding of the pub in contemporary Irish society’, 30th SAI Annual Conference, Cavan, Ireland (26 April 2003).
A version of this blog featured on www.irishsociologyblog.com on 10/22/2013.
Clay is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin, School of Sociology. His research interests are Masculinity and Drug Use, in particular, exploring the role of drug use in the construction, maintenance and displaying of young masculine identities. Clay’s other areas of research interest include health, Irish culture and art.