John B Keane: Gaining access to pubs after hours

The art of trying to get drink after hours is on the wane. There is the tricky business about booze with meals and meals with booze and there are special extensions in various dance halls and various other places so that, in the first place, getting drink after hours is not nearly as difficult as it was.

The art of trying to get drink after hours is on the wane. There is the tricky business about booze with meals and meals with booze and there are special extensions in various dance halls and various other places so that, in the first place, getting drink after hours is not nearly as difficult as it was.

Then if one is resident in a hotel one can drink away till dawn without fear of interruption and even if one isn’t a resident it is almost impossible to tell the difference between a resident and a non-resident.

In my day it was simple. Residents were dressed better, had an affluent and superior air about them and were clearly a distinguished minority, or if you like, they were the more privileged classes, whereas nowadays any eejit, like ourselves, can be a resident by merely signing the book and such is the general affluence of the times that not even the best-trained and most experienced detective could tell the difference.

Long ago when I was a young man, getting a drink after hours while not insurmountably difficult was nevertheless so ritualistic and time-wasting that it might be better described as a ceremony.

Different methods, of course, had to be used for different pubs. If I might be forgiven may I say that there were drinkers for pubs and pubs for drinkers. In my early days drinking porter neither I nor my companions had any business trying to gain access to the more sophisticated publichouses or better-class hotels.

No. Our only hope lay in the run down watering-places. Unless, of course, we were known to the license or to his doorman.

A pub without a doorman in those far-off days was unheard of. Doormen were identified with certain pubs and it was a wise man who kept them in his hands. Drinks were brought for them and they were always treated with respect.

Their opinions were listened to despite the fact that their opinions might not be worth a damn. That was neither here nor there.

You never knew when you might want them. If the guards were on a rampage and if the publican had ordered his doorman to be extremely cautious and to admit none but reliable clients the doorman could pick and choose so it was well to be on the right side of him.

The hardest night on which to get a drink was on Sunday night. The law forbade drinking after eight o’clock and those who made the laws could afford to drink at home or in clubs so that no-one cared for the man on the street except the publican who was forced, if he wanted to survive, to open his doors to regular customers.

Some pubs of course were safer than others.

These were the houses where the better-off members of the community did their tippling.

They were excessively discreet about it all and when you passed by you would never imagine that there was any drinking going on. Even the civic guards respected this discretion and, signs by, they were seldom if ever raided by the said civic guards.

One was also pretty safe in a pub where a guard was a customer. However, when the guard departed the place was no longer a sanctuary and it was wise to go when he did. The most dangerous pubs were those who were owned by man with no influence.

It was widely believed that because they had no influence the owners of these pubs deserved to be raided regularly for the good of the country as a whole.

Then each pub, where the doorman was not visible from the approaches, had its own knock. Some of these were entirely without originality and several had the same.

In fact, the usual knock in most pubs was four good raps at the back gate or possibly if access was to be gained from the front three taps with a coin on the window.

Other pubs, responded to certain whistles through the keyholes and others had most elaborate Open sesames which were known only to a very select group. Only some hostelry which was well-in with the reigning political party could ignore the special knocks.

There is the story told about a civic guard who raided one of these pubs by mistake. When asked who was at the door he replied; “Guard on publichouse duty.”

The door was opened and a well-known political figure appeared to ask the guard if he liked mountain scenery. Of course, that sort of thing couldn’t happen these days.