AS a former student in Edinburgh, I’ve had a few pub crawls in that fair city.
But for their Fringe show this year The Thinking Drinkers have come up with a new wrinkle – a pub crawl that takes place in one room.
“Yes, not easily achieved!” laughs Tom Sandham who, along with Ben McFarland, makes up the alcohol expert duo whose entertaining and informative shows about booze always sell out.
“What we’re trying to do is celebrate the drinking establishment, including the pub, because we live in an age in which people spend more time communicating by swiping on silly screens than by actually getting together and talking face to face.
“The drinking experience and pub experience has always been a convivial and social experience, and there’s lots of scientific research to show that in these environments people bond in a better way and it’s good for your mental health to go out and talk to people and share things.
“Also, our assertion is that these bars were the scene of great, important moments in history, from the ancient Greek symposiums to the Victorian gin palaces, the Wild West saloons and obviously the great British boozer.
“Bars have seen some great moments – whether it’s the Founding Fathers planning the Boston Tea Party or the ancient Greeks planning the first Olympics – because people share ideas when they come together and have a drink and let their guard down a little bit.
“They don’t have so many inhibitions so they’re a bit more creative in their thoughts and that needs championing, particularly at the moment because it’s slightly doom and gloomy.
“We remind people there are 52,000 pubs in the UK but they’re closing at a rate of 19 a week and really we are in danger of losing what is an iconic imbibing institution in the UK.
“If people are passionate about localism in their food and drink they should be passionate about it in the community, and the pub is the hub of that community.
“Our high streets are being taken over by coffee shops and nail bars, so let’s go to the pub and remind ourselves life’s not all doom and gloom.
“We understand there are problems with alcohol if you abuse it but people shouldn’t be ashamed to have a drink. What do I look for in a pub? The same as most people, hospitality.
“By definition the local pub was the focal point of our social lives because everyone was welcome, you’d all go in there and treat it like a second home. Historically pubs have been all sorts of things, from greengrocers to post offices. It was the same in the Wild West where they were the first buildings in these frontier communities, and we’re losing a little bit of that.”
I could see myself in a Wild West saloon, throwing a cowboy across the bar into that big mirror that seems to be there solely for that purpose if all those films are to be believed.
“Yeah! Brilliant places. Not quite as lah-di-dah as some of the cinematic interpretations would have you believe, some were rough and ready, but they were court-houses, cat-houses, they gave us crisps – they were invented in a saloon bar by a man called George Crum in 1853.
“The first martini was served up to fur traders and prospectors in the town of Martinez, cocktails were served in Wild West bars – there’s a lot of factual and social history behind something like a Wild West saloon but people just think of cowboys slamming down whisky and gunfights!”
So everywhere throughout history has had their version of the drinking establishment?
“Exactly, assuming they were a drinking nation. You got the café bars of Paris and we’ve had a few different iterations ourselves.
“The UK is the most exciting place in the world to drink because we’ve got so much variety in our establishments.
“We do the best hotel bars, the best cocktails bars and also the best pub experience. There’s a drinking environment for everyone and that should encourage people to get out of their living room and stop drinking cheap supermarket lager.
“We’re backing a petition to reduce beer tax because the price of a pint is becoming unmanageable, and the benefits of these establishments far outweigh the idea that people should be stuck at home drinking.
“And as ever, we encourage people to drink less, drink better.”
The Thinking Drinkers’ argument is that without the good ol’ battle cruiser (boozer), there’d be no Dickens classics, and no discovery of DNA.
“Dickens was inspired to write one of his novels in the Garrick club in the West End of London. He asked for a martini and the barman said, ‘Olive or twist?’ – boom-boom!” laughs Tom.
“No, he was a huge gin fan and wrote extensively on the gin palaces and was a member of the Garrick where he’d drink cocktails.
“Did he directly write one of his novels in a bar? That’s uncertain but he certainly drank in many and after his death they discovered lots of cognac which he used as a way to unlock the creative juices.
“And in 1953 Francis Crick ran into the Eagle in Cambridge, which is where he used to drink with his colleague James Watson, to announce in front of the pub that they’d discovered DNA.”
In their new show the TDs, as I like to call them, also warn of the rise of “neo-prohibitionists.
“We need to be careful! Prohibition was the biggest mistake America made before, well, you know who,” warns Tom.
“It facilitated the rise of organised crime, it was bad for the economy because they lost a huge influx of tax and were spending millions on trying to smash the bootleggers, and it was bad for health because alcohol was being made badly in bathtubs and what have you.
“It was a failed experiment and you’ve got to worry because Trump’s a teetotaller – though he actually had his own Trump Vodka which was pretty dreadful stuff and didn’t succeed.
“It’s all about balance. You don’t want to drink like a lunatic but you don’t want to say to people they can’t drink at all, because it tastes nice and has a lot of history behind it.
“We don’t make many things in this country now but we make great beers, great gins, great whisky and we should celebrate those endeavours.”
Apart from the boys being great company, their show does include the tempting attraction of five free drinks.
As Tom says: “Part of what we do is introduce people to interesting drinks from around the world and this year we’ve got Diplomatico rum from Venezuela and Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin from Australia.
“There’s also Ketel One vodka which is Dutch. We’re using it to talk about the Wild West because it was actually launched in San Francisco, a short journey from where the first martini was served, and the Dutch were some of the first settlers in America.
“We have Lagunitas’ 12th Of Never, a craft beer from northern California which is where the global craft brewing revolution started and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
“We hand-picked that because we do a bit about political uprisings in the pub, and the Irish Rebellion kind of started in a pub nicknamed ‘The Confession Box’ where they were all drinking Jameson.”
The Thinking Drinkers: Pub Crawl is at Underbelly Ermintrude until August 26. For tickets and information, visit www.edfringe.com