Thursday, October 23, 2008

RIP : The Rock Tavern

There is a good chance that my attendance at the Rock Tavern's Friday Night Quiz tomorrow will be my last ever visit to the pub. Unless a Russian Oligarch or a Saudi Prince can step in at the last minute and buy the place, its doors will close for ever on Saturday night. Martin and Lesley have had to give up their fight to keep the business going, and in the current bitter business climate the identification of a potential buyer must rank alongside the Second Coming in the list of miraculous probabilities.

I cannot let the passing of the Rock go without comment: I have spent too many happy evenings there enjoying decent beer and excellent company. More than most statesmen, more than all aristocrats, it deserves an epitaph. More than many colleagues it will be missed. Sadly missed.

Above all the Rock was just a little local pub. It was nothing grand : the metalwork didn't shine, the chairs had seen better days and it attracted dust more successfully than it attracted customers. There was just the one bar and the room had somehow to accommodate a few tables and chairs, a pool table, a dart board, and an over-sized television. It had no great architectural merit (although the splendid Ramsden windows were rightly recorded by the Brewery History Society), nor did it pride itself on a wide range of beers and wines. If you were lucky there were a couple of lagers and a draught beer available and a supply of little bottles of wine. It did advertise food, but few had ever seen it served. It had a darts and dominoes team which just about managed to keep going, it had a popular karaoke, and - of course - it had its Friday night quiz. And it had its regulars.

Being a pub regular is a feeling like few others in life. As you walk through the door you know your favourite drink is already being poured. You can stop and talk to any one of a dozen or so other people who you have the privilege of knowing simply because you are a regular. They are not relatives (OK in my case some of them are), they are not work colleagues, they are not neighbours. They may not share your interests, your beliefs, your likes and dislikes, your experiences or your hopes and fears. They share nothing other than a common meeting place and a willingness to share friendship. And this is what makes this type of local pub unique. Go to the Rock and you cannot bury yourself in your Guardian, you cannot take refuge behind your Neighbourhood Watch poster, you cannot fence off "us" from "them". There is a commonality of spirit which any religious congregation would aspire to, should aspire to.
Once closed, such doors will prove frighteningly difficult to open again. Once lost such friendships will prove almost impossible to find again. Those who would like us all to sit at home drinking our cheap supermarket booze and passively watching a series of fake celebrities pout and preen on the television will smile with satisfaction this weekend. Me, I will weep a little.


  1. Even down in Oxford we are devastated by this news. We looked on The Rock as our local too! Who will ever hear Edwin's unique rendition of 'Wandering Star' now?

  2. I've suggested (to not impressive reaction) I record and issue a CD for my fans.

    Anyway, so the "Rock" has gone... but the customers haven't. Where are they all meeting up now?


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...