There has been a radical change to the drinking habits of artists
since the advent of the takeover of our city centre's hostelries by the super breweries, part of a nationwide phenomenon. Before this homogenisation took place, (along with the death of the greasy spoon and the rise of Starbucks), pubs were community centres and hubs of inter generational discussion, where people from different ages, classes, and walks of life could debate anything from football to morality, (or both). In these halcyon days, it was traditional for art students and artists to frequent working class drinking establishments and to embrace left wing politics.
With all this taken into account, its good to see that our present artists’ community is still seeking out alternative drinking haunts which are antidotes to the prescribed status quo. Apart from those mentioned by previous bloggers, Chapter Arts Centre's bar still offers a great selection of beer and conversation, and remains a wonderful melting pot of nationalities and backgrounds, and is often the catalyst for artistic collaborations. The adjacent Butcher's Arms is a welcome change with its free sandwiches on Sundays and friendly obscenities bantered amongst its resident clientele.
But I do mourn the demise of the Splottlands as a regular meeting place. This basic Brains, beer and rugby joint was often used as an office for nascent art projects as well as an impromptu venue for student tutorials. The Old Arcade offered Clarks pies and arguments between artists allied to either the Socialist Workers Party or Militant, amidst the smoke and engraved mirrors. But most of all I miss the Royal Oak as an artist's regular, with its pound a pint staple for OAP's, boxing memorabilia and Gentleman Jim Driscoll's championship belt. Yes, it is still there but its been stripped of its original title and character. Dempseys now replaces the notorious former 4 Bars, which provided live jazz upstairs and drugs and black market hooch and fags downstairs. Rajah’s pool hall and den of general craziness finally bit the dust due to a combination of police pressure and rivalry between local gangsters. Thank God Tommy's Bar still exists at the Art College and the wide variety of gigs it offers still widely appeal to the general, be it youthful, public. Its new manager Karl has maintained it as a hub for art, music and drinking, and yes, Underworld were formed there and Moby did play there when he was more or less unknown.
The days of the ad hock warehouse party have disappeared with health and safety regulations and greedy property speculators, so where do we go from here ?
Newly developed salon style forums have appeared, employing a fusion of alcohol and philosophical debate. Whilst these are admirable innovations, and are welcoming spaces for artists to exchange ideas as well as enjoy a relaxing drink, they are by their very nature, elitist.
Recently Canton Labour Club has seen a spate of exhibitions and live art events, as well as hosting artists’ birthday parties and art organisations’ do’s.
Yet even here we are relegated to the function suite as opposed to drinking alongside the locals.
But I do detect a rustling of a packet of crisps and the squish of a sodden beer mat.
In many pubs there used to be a sign proclaiming “no politics, religion or swearing”, to which the common retort was “bollocks”.