Gardening leave

Back in the days when I was merely a fledgling Brit Out Of Water barely out of short trousers, I always knew it was summer when I was sitting at a wooden table in a pub garden holding a bottle of Coke with a straw in it. One or other of my parents was always with me, before you start to panic. If they hadn’t been there, obviously I’d have had a vodka in it too.

For some it might be the flowering of blossom or the smell of meat being gently yet irretrievably incinerated on a rusty barbecue, but for me the summer just didn’t get going until I could feel that heady mix of carbonated water, caramel, sugarhigh fructose corn syrup, phosphoric acid and caffeine rushing through my veins. Preferably with a packet of ready salted crisps to chase it down.

Since those days, pub gardens have formed an essential part of my summer experience. I’ve spent memorable nights lapping up the late evening sun in pubs the length and breadth of Britain. I once lost the ability to walk after an afternoon on the grassland outside The Mill in Cambridge (although that was less to do with muscular injury and more the result of the debilitating effects of scrumpy on a person’s physical coordination). And is there really anybody who isn’t capable of enjoying him or herself in a riverside pub garden along the banks of the Thames as the sun slowly sets? If there is, I don’t want to meet him.

For The Special One, the whole pub garden concept has come as a bit of a shock to the system. Most Americans believe that the world will implode if a single alcoholic drink is exposed to light or the outside world. As such, the idea of having an area outside a bar where adults can have a casual drink (and where kids can run around or play on climbing framesjungle jims) is about as socially acceptable as casually plucking hairs from warts on your great-aunt’s chin in public.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as the Gowanus Yacht Club in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. But given that the GYC is not on the Gowanus River, does not enable yacht mooring, is not a club, and is actually just a back yard selling beer and wine in plastic cups, it can’t actually be held to be a prime example of outdoor quaffing at its best.

New York’s in the grip of an early summer at the moment, with temperatures in the high 70s. You know something unusual Is happening when you see New Yorkers walking around with smiles on their faces. Shorts are becoming de rigeur, while women are shedding clothes in a manner that suggests they’re heading for a girl’s night out in the North of England. It’s like Britain for those ten days in July when everybody’s happy. And it’s only April.

If only there was a pub garden I could go sit in with The Special One, for a quick post-work drink, all would be well with the world.

A bottle of beer furtively wrapped in a brown paper bag just doesn’t have the same cachet, let’s face it.

12 thoughts on “Gardening leave

  1. Karen

    Great timing, today is the Official first day of summer here in Iceland and a bank holiday!

    I didn’t really do the going to pubs as a kid with my folks, with my best friend and her family yes, they lived there!

    I’d love an ice cold pint of Bulmer’s (Magner’s in the UK) that is my symbol of summer.
    For me, now, the sign of summer is when you are going out (when you can afford it) to the pub at 1 am and it’s sunny 😉

  2. Brooklyn

    Now, now Dylan, let’s be fair here. Brooklyn has a lot of places with backyard dining areas where you can bring kids and get hammered under the sun or moon if that’s your taste. Technically, they’re not pubs or (in Americanese) bars, but restaurants where you have to order some sort of food, and they don’t have jungle gyms (obviously you used “jim” based on sound; but isn’t “gym” far more logical), but it’s not like you cannot come close your childhood experience.

  3. Brooklyn

    Also, appropriate to the season, if you want Coke with cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, see if there is Kosher for Passover Coke in a store near you. Without going into the halacha (laws) of Pesach (Passover), Kosher for Passover Coke has cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. I understand that it is prized by Coke purists, whether or not they can tell a matzah (a large cracker) from a mezuzah (a small box attached to a doorframe).

    Happy Passover to all.

  4. Simon George

    Hello matey – you’ll be pleased to hear that I plan to join Caroline for lunch (it’s her birthday) in the extraordinarily lovely beer garden of The Red Lion in Bletchingley this lunchtime.

    Aaaaaaaah – fizzing-up my Coke (read: Staropramen – pint) with the straw, bag of Salt’n’Shake (read: over-priced Kettle Chips), jumpers for goalposts, etc. etc.

    Now – about that full-time employment…

  5. Cocktails

    Nice post, it’s making me hunger for summer and the chance to nurse a pint in the warm late afternoon sunshine.

    It’s ironic though isn’t it, that a country with so many pub gardens has so little summer to enjoy them…

  6. Dylan

    Brooklyn – I know there’s plenty of outdoor space to eat in, but sometimes you don’t want that formality and expense…you just want to quick pint and a chat with friends. Thanks for correcting my jungle gym issue…the whole phrase causes me issues, as The Youngest and The Eldest look at me with contempt whenever I say climbing frame.

    As for Coke, I think most of the rest of the world uses cane sugar rather than corn syrup. Ironic that the US is the only place where The Real Thing isn’t the real thing…

    Karen – I love a Magners too. Although don’t you have to save up for a year to be able to afford one in Iceland?!

    Simon – don’t even start with me! However good that lunch is though, it won’t be a noodlah.

    Cocktails – I have to admit that this early sun is pretty stunning. Still, only three months to go until Britain gets a little bit of heat on its bones…

  7. Brooklyn

    Dylan:

    I think I have the place for you, although it’s not precisely in your neck of the concrete: Soda Bar (name notwithstanding, it is what you would call “licensed;” the name refers to the space’s prior incarnation) 629 Vanderbilt Avenue, near Prospect Place.

  8. Expatmum

    Oh you’ve made me homesick. I love the smell of English gardens on summer evenings, although it’s always really hard to get the kids to bed when it’s still bright and sunny. Fond memories also of standing outside the White Horse in Parsons Green on the way home from work.

  9. Karen

    We don’t even have Magners here! No proper cider at all.
    I don’t get out much, last pub night out was in October! Now with the economy the way it is, who knows when I will again! eek

  10. Sarah

    Oh I remember The Mill from my bf’s days as a student nurse there. Had a few squiffy visits in that local myself and once we ventured onto a punt afterwards…not a good move!

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