is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|Who wouldn’t want to be snug as a bug in a rug? Even better, who wouldn’t want to be snug in a snug especially
when that snug is in a pub? Snugs are part of the grand Irish drinking tradition, probably the one part that is harder
to find in modern pubs than a shoeless female leprechaun carrying a made in China plastic Shillelagh drinking a
Prior to the 1950s, Ireland’s drinking establishments were almost exclusively the domain of men, and few respectable
women could or would be seen drinking inside. It wasn’t a law, but it was the reigning social convention. And in fact,
many bars wouldn’t let women in (I wonder if they can retroactively sue?). But that doesn’t mean that Irish women
never enjoyed an adult beverage. They just did it in a slightly less conspicuous way: inside a small, screened-off
room attached to the bar called a snug. Why they just didn’t disguise themselves as roving Shakespearian actors
looking to join Robin Hood in County Cork Forest is beyond me. And no, I only failed geography and history once.
Almost every Irish pub of the 19th and early 20th century, had a snug for women and anyone else who didn’t want to
be seen having a pint or two. These would generally have a small window for bartenders to pass drinks through so
no one could see the patron. Many also had locks so that they couldn’t be opened from the outside, giving whoever
was inside almost total privacy. Think of it as a Catholic Confessional in a bar but without a priest or sanctification. It
did however, like its ecclesiastical cousin, sometimes have a sinner inside.
Over time, as it became more socially acceptable for women to head to the bar, snugs began to disappear. Bars
modernized by adding classier lounges where people of both genders could acceptably order drinks. Proprietors also
realized that snugs took up quite a bit of room—they were often attached to the end of a bar, with only those in the
snug having access to that part of the counter. Getting rid of the snug meant more people could get to the bar. Yes,
back in those bygone days bars could seat to capacity; they weren’t required to limit patrons due to Covid 19
restrictions. In fact, it was so long ago that the Covid was still in single digit numbers.
As such I felt like I was stepping back in history when I entered the legendary (infamous) Excelsior Pub and found that
a quiet little room off to the side of the entrance hallway had somehow become a snug. I had passed the room many
times walking to the main bar and not given it a second thought. It was just a small space with large windows and one
door. It held a single table, five chairs and banquette seating along the wall. I had never seen anyone in it until now.
Little did I realize that the only thing this island of solitude needed to become a snug were people drinking. And this
time that’s just what was there.
Five regulars from the Table Of Elders beckoned me to join them as I walked by. The Table of Elders, or TOE as it is
known in the pub, is led by group founder Brian Lynch, the Big TOE. Somehow, he put together a loosely organized
eclectic group of sage senior beer aficionados and connoisseurs of classical music from maestro Spike Jones and
the dulcet singing of William Shatner. That explains why it’s a small group. Making an exception to their minimum age
requirements they allowed me to join. I only had to buy four consecutive rounds. Every meeting. Every week. It’s a
stiff tariff but it’s impossible to put a value on their wisdom.
Brian explained that the bar and dining area seemed crowded, so he simply commandeered the room. I have a
feeling he too realized that populating the space would transform it. Maybe it was wishful thinking nestled in a hidden
part of his mind, or maybe he saw it as a vital stop in the vast design of the beer drinking universe ; or perhaps, for a
thoughtful, insightful man like Brian, he saw it as a place around the bend where the TOE could jump off into a time
where beer was still king. Whatever it was, he had made the perfect choice. With sunlight, smiles, and serenity, we
were now in a snug.
As the beer talk began, I glanced down at my menu. It seemed to take quite a while for my eyes to focus on it. As
they cleared, I shook my head several times at what I saw. There was Blatz ("Milwaukee's Favorite Premium Beer"),
Schaefer (The one beer to have when you’re having more than one.), Schlitz (“The Beer That Made Milwaukee
Famous”), Ballantine ("Hey! Getcha Cold Beer), Rheingold ("The dry beer—think of Rheingold whenever you buy
beer"), JAX (“The beer of friendship.”), Iron City (“The Beer Drinkers’ Beer”), and Stroh's ("For when you're feelin'
classy, but not too classy." – and you wonder why they went bankrupt). The “import” section listed lagers from Darty
and Clonmel, porters and stouts from Beamish and Guinness, and the venerable Kilkenny Cream Ale. Classics they
were but I knew some had long been out of business. How could the Libertine now be serving them? Not only that,
nary a single cloudy New England brew nor double or triple anything was listed. If you ordered a Belgium Tripel in
this snug, you’d probably just get three glasses of classic lager.
I was in for another surprise when our server appeared. She wore a blue checkered dress short enough to allow for
easy movement yet long enough to meet the demands of modesty, a white apron, a white collar, and short sleeves
with peaked white trim. Atop her head was a stiff, white, little hat. Her apron had pockets which were more functional
than fashionable since it held an actual pencil and a pad to take down orders. Even more surprising, she also wore a
smile and seemed happy to serve us
The special of the day was a flight of four 4-ounce pours – one each of Schlitz, Ballantine, Rheingold, and Stroh’s all
for $1.98. It was a premium price but look what you were getting. My flight was duly delivered but this time by a male
server who doubled as the bartender. Like his distaff counterpart he too was nattily attired. He wore a single-
breasted white jacket, sans lapels of course. He might have passed for a pharmacist which is no surprise since a
bartender is much like one albeit with a limited inventory. His trousers were black as was a perfectly made bow tie on
a crisp, white shirt. He too smiled and seemed happy to serve us. It was nothing like I’ve ever seen before.
Later the manager stopped in to ask how we were doing. I can’t be the only one who thought he looked a lot like
As a serious beer person, I followed the official flight drinking rules according to the PAABDMR (Pompous Arbiters of
All Beer Drinking Meaningless Rules). Fortunately, I had been studying for my Cicero Aurelius Nero Certification so
knew them well. I began tasting in the alphabetical order of the first letter of the brewery name. In case of a tie I went
with the brewery’s location with the farthest West going first. If there was still a tie I started with the glass with the
most liquid in it. If there was yet another tie, I would order a martini.
I noticed my fellow group members eschewed flights and boldly ordered full pours. Two sizes were available – 8 and
12 ounces. In what seemed like an instant they too were served creating an awkward silence around the room since
we didn’t have our usual 30 minutes of conversation complaining about slow service.
Snugs do not have TVs or juke boxes. They simply have quiet, broken only by spoken, not shouted, discussions.
Even so, some of the chatter from the bar area waffled in. I picked up bits and pieces of a lively argument about who
was the better baseball player Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams, Hal Newhouser or Bob Feller along with barely audible
music which I thought sounded like Stardust by Artie Shaw and I’ll Never Smile Again by Frank Sinatra. The sounds
really didn’t intrude at all. Things simply seemed as they should be. I began to think maybe I had too much to drink
so I ordered a Tripel. Right, I got three glasses of Schafer. That was fine with me; they only added to the perfection
of a perfect afternoon.
After several hours we said our goodbyes and decided to meet again the next day at 2:30. I arrived a few minutes
early and headed straight for the snug. Blocking the entrance was a sign that said, “Closed For Renovation”. I
looked in the window. The same tables and chairs were there but I could tell something was different. It was just
another small room that needed an upgrade.
I turned and saw Brian waving at me. He and the rest of the TOE were seated at a large table in the corner of the
main bar/dining area. I walked past blaring TVs showing soccer and basketball games, past people arguing who was
the better baseball player Mike Trout or Christian Yelich, past a juke box with someone rapping “laugh now, cry later”,
to the table. I sat down and was glad to see they had ordered for me. After a long wait a harried server in a green
Libertine t-shirt appeared with a Tripel - Westmalle Trappist Tripel to be specific. I asked the Elders if they noticed
anything different today compared to yesterday in the back room. No, they said, adding there’s a bit more space for
us here up front. I knocked down the Tripel and then switched to Double IPAs but even those didn’t help me
understand how these wise individuals didn’t notice anything special yesterday. Maybe it was just me. Did I have
one too many? It has been known to happen. Instead of little pink elephants perhaps I simply had a different, though
classier, hallucination. I vowed to give up beer for at least seven days. Okay, it was for a day.
Not wanting to rush the start of my teetotalling pledge I finished off another couple of pints then said my goodbyes to
the group. As I turned to leave Brian picked something up from the floor and said, “this just fell out of your pocket”
and handed it to me. It was a coaster with a drawing of the globe and a banner going across it that just said
“Schlitz”. On the back side there was another Schlitz banner with the slogan “when it’s right you know it.”
I sat back down and smiled. I was now sure that for at least one day I really had been in the snug where time stood
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