Beer and trains go together (except in the engineer’s cabin). Vaults under St. Pancras Rail station in London were sized famously to hold barrels in the dimensions shipped down by the big Burton brewers.
Anheuser-Busch used the rails to ship afar its pasteurized Budweiser, helping to establish a national market.
Beer of course has always figured, except in Prohibition times, on club car menus, of which I’ve given numerous examples here.
An American rail line, Union Pacific, set up between the late 1930s and 1950s a Frontier Shack and a British Pub on its Denver and other runs. See my discussion here.
The American effort was a careful excursion into the consciously mythic. We were, by this time, in an advanced consumer society. Today it is called (by critics) commodification if not sometimes cultural appropriation, but these forms are an age-old expression of a commercial society, of free enterprise.
The urban food halls and shiny vintage trucks selling world cuisine bring new experiences to people; how authentic is your call, with the freedom to patronize or not.
In a former time, setting up a faux-Old West saloon on a streamlined steel wonder was the equivalent of our food halls and trucks. The equivalent of the Gay Nineties (in the old sense) design ethic of the 1960s and 70s. The equivalent of the chic-industrial look of the 1980s and 90s. And on it goes and will forever – when the bars open again.
Still, the one place you wouldn’t expect to see a nostalgic revival of period design is Britain, for the pub. I mean, they invented the concept, have always cherished it. When necessary, they evolved new forms: the 1930s roadhouse, to serve the expanding suburbs; the 1960s blocky structures meant to resemble the new office blocks they served; the ornate banks-turned-City pubs of the 1980s and 90s; the railway arch bar of today. (Another connection of beer and the rails!).
A similar but distinct idea was the theme pubs of the post-war era (see Boak and Bailey’s 20th Century Pub for a good elucidation). This invested the pub with a motif, as a focal point for discussion. It might be some feature of travel, the natural world, sports or entertainment, outer space, and the like.
Sometimes a pub was redecorated, not to exploit crassly a past vernacular but to restore simply its original look. A good example is the re-fitting of The Lamb on Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury. The work was first done in the 1950s and has to be among the most successful pub renovations anywhere.
But, especially in Britain in the mid-20th century, exploiting an “olde Englishe” look was not generally done, for pubs.
For those who know them, the original Davy Wine Bars in London were an evocation of the Victorian City wine bars. The barrels strewn seemingly at random, the sawdust, the faux gas lamps, the ranks of empty bottles – all an attempt to get at that. Pretty successfully, too.
For wine, somehow one expects it, just as London had the fashion for the French wine bistro 20 and 30 years ago. Wine does not have the heritage in Britain beer has, the special status.
Hence, no one in the 1950s, say, would build a mock-up of a Georgian pub or Victorian gin-palace. Why would they? They had the original versions – those not splintered by German bombs – and at most needed just to spruce them up.
So there were no fake old English country pubs in that era. Right? Not exactly.
A signal exception was the British Rail creation of “tavern cars”. In the late 1940s a noted railway designer, Oliver Bulleid, created these for express lines going south and east from London. The cars were decorated outside with a painted brick motif and strapwork. Inside they had leaded windows, real oak cross beams, a bar area decorated with opaque glass panes, and other paraphernalia to resemble a comfy country pub.
Some have stated he borrowed the basic design from a pub he knew in Sussex, others said it was West Country pubs he had in mind. The pubs were given bucolic or traditional names, The Green Man, the Bull, The Three Plovers, the White Horse. They even served draft beer, almost certainly keg beer, but still.
In the links below, my sources, you can see images of these, outside and in, and the narratives of railway historians explaining this absorbing detail of pub history.
The cars ran for 10 years, and were very popular with travellers. Around 1960 they were converted finally to club cars. (The original set up was two cars coupled, one the pub car, one a restaurant car).
So even in the land of pubs, even before the full restoration of the peacetime economy, such commodification of “England’s own” occurred. Not that it hadn’t opposition, as the links below explain. Official bodies that hadn’t participated in the design thundered away in the letters columns and the House of Commons.
They regarded the cars as kitsch, an abomination, exhibiting a “mania for the fake antique” (see first link, an Australian news report). A few design changes were made, not many by my study, and life and business went on very merrily for 10 years.
British Rail made the right call. The one the people wanted.
Note re image: Image above was sourced from the Science and Society Picture Library, here, and is used for research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.