Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stay, finish your beer.

BLUE along with HOUND is one of my favorite stories from the Canon. For many reasons, but mostly for the atmosphere, and the congenial pace at which the story flows.
And, as a craft beer lover, the following scene is probably my favorite image from the story;
"In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the Alpha Inn, which is a small public-house at the corner of one of the streets which runs down into Holborn. Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord. “Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese,” said he. “My geese!” The man seemed surprised. “Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker, who was a member of your goose club.”
“Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them’s not our geese.” “Indeed! Whose, then?” “Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden.” “Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?” “Breckinridge is his name.” “Ah! I don’t know him. Well, here’s your good health landlord, and prosperity to your house. Good-night.” "

Oh, please, oh, please! Stay and finish the pint together! Stay and talk about the season, the weather, Mrs. Watson. Anything, just stay for a little while!
Holmes and Watson together, out for a pint. A warm, snug pub. A jolly holiday atmosphere still hung in the air. London by gas light on a cold winters night. Who amongst us Sherlockians do not wish to be privy to such a moment in Canonical time. Outside of maybe sitting around the fire with the two of them at 221b, this for me would be my pick spot.

We don't very often get to see Holmes and Watson out for a social moment together in the Canon. Matter of fact I can't think of a time when we do. Those moments are suggested, or at least we imagine they are. There is always only the promise of such moments.

Even when we find the two in Baker St., any moments imagined as quietly social are soon interrupted by a case. The hint of a social interlude is always only suggested.

Even in BLUE where Watson drops by to wish Sherlock compliments of the season, the quiet moment of two friends getting together for no other reason than shared friendship never happens. Watson states that with the introduction to the tale; ". . .with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season." "With the intention". It doesn't even seem the salutation was ever even made.

But back to the pub scene.
Pubs were not as we expect them today. Pubs were for the serving and drinking of beer. You would not find the menus we expect today. A lower class social club.
Well into the late 19th century beer was seen as safer than water to drink. And while most families had brewed beer in their own homes for that reason (of a much lower alcohol percentage than now), that trend had slowly disappeared until pubs became the place to drink or at least get your 'to go' jug.
The popularity of pubs grew partly out of the governments need to suppress the popularity of 'gin houses' and what was thought of as leading to ruination and degradation of the working classes.

Many pubs, including the Canonical Alpha Inn, were separated into two bar areas; the public bar, and a private bar (sometimes called snugs). We know Holmes and Watson went to the private bar because Watson states; "Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer. . ."
The private bar would have been a section of the pub where someone could go who did not want to be seen by the other patrons; women, cops, priests, men on business, etc.
Many times they were separate rooms with separate doors (as it would appear the Alpha Inn was). Many just had glassed off areas that divided the two sections. Just areas for privacy and a little less noise.
Holmes probably used the private bar to have a discrete word with the landlord and not have to talk over the noise of the public bar. Maybe he didn't want to be recognized either.
Holmes and Watson, as mentioned above, used the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer.
We will never know if Holmes and Watson stayed and finished their beers for Watson suggests that they stayed only long enough to raise their glasses to wish the landlord good health.

I want them to have stayed long enough to talk about what had been going on in each others lives over however long it had been since they had seen each other. The private bar would have been the perfect place. At least I can imagine that Watson got in a few more sips of his brew while Holmes was involved with the landlord.
I want this scene to go on longer, in the spirit of the season.
But it was not meant to be. Instead they head off the to see Breckenridge where the atmosphere proves less than jovial.

No, in BLUE we are never going to 'see' Holmes and Watson share that moment of sociable companionship. No lingering over a pint.
Towards the end, once again, it almost happens; "If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature.”
But, alas, once again, we are ushered out of those comfortable digs without an invitation to stay just a bit longer.

I have had the pleasure of going to what is usually recognized as the location for the Alpha Inn, the Museum Tavern, for lunch when once in London. One more thing off of my Sherlockain bucket list.


  1. 'raising their glasses to wish the landlord good health' I would hope they at least chugged it. I'm from Wisconsin - we would have downed it on the way out. I can imagine Watson doing so (and a Robert Downey Jr. Holmes also!)

    1. If Watson didn't, you know he wishes he could have.