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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Music in Pubs

Have you ever ventured into a small pub, one tucked away on the corner of a sleepy street with the idea that you're in for a nice relaxing time with a book and a pint, only to be scared off by the excessive noise coming from the numerous gigantic speakers?

Music in pubs is something that I always pay attention too when I head out for a review. I like the pubs that keep the volume low enough that conversations can be shared without straining your vocal cords just to be heard by the person sitting across from you. These places put an emphasis on conversation, which leads to more drinking and helps promote social contact with your fellow humans. Pubs are a great venue to meet new people and I'm a big fan of that. Loud overbearing music can put a damper on this.

Now, my taste in music may differ from others, but I think many of us pub lovers can agree that some sort of music does serve some purpose in pubs. I was in a small pub north of the city one time that played the oldies station just loud enough to make out the words(1950's and such), and it was a perfect match for the overall atmosphere of the place. In fact, by walking in the doors and hearing the soft flow of Sinatra, as opposed to Avril Lavigne, it helped set a tone right off the bat. It reminded me of Sunday afternoon's spent at my grandparent's home as a small child. It was gentle, soothing and relaxing. Volo plays some weird funky music at a decent volume (at least when I've been there) and it seems to suit the overall atmosphere of the place. It works well.

Live performers on weekends is something I can also appreciate. After a long work week, it can be nice to visit a pub to be entertained by a talented (hopefully) local band. Many east coast pubs bring in live performers on weekends to entertain the after dinner crowd and while the music may be loud and distracting, it follows a tradition that has been taking place for generations. The Lower Deck pub has live music every night of the week, but your expected to find it there. If I'm out for the night, I don't mind checking out a new band or catching up with some old favourites.

One thing I'm not a fan of is the pubs that play the new age pop music inside places that don't resemble a bar or nightclub. There was a place in Toronto that I visited recently and walking through the door I could swear Justin Timberlake was performing live with amps blaring in every corner. The beat bounced off all the walls and scared me back my local. This is yet another reason I don't usually step foot into large chain-owned establishments that promote themselves as a traditional Irish pub. I mean, I don't think a real traditional country Irish pub would have Rihanna singing about Umbrella's coming from their sound system.

However, all that being said, when I go to a pub I'm usually going there to kill some time, read a bit, talk to friends, so I feel I can justify my stance of enjoying little to no music at all. If I head out to a pub after dinner for a night out, I expect to find the music a bit louder than the afternoon hours.

So what do you like to hear in pubs? Are you like me and prefer the sound of customers chatting over the gentle sound of quiet respectable music? Or do you like the live performances of local bands? Or lastly, would you rather hear the radio blasting today's new age pop/rock?


Grimes said...

That's a great point. Music can certainly make or break a pub. One of my locals has a juke box of music that fits the scene perfectly. Loud music (even if to my stylistic taste) in pubs that prevent decent conversation I find is often on slower nights of the week and the bartender is just doing it because they can, but is just unnecessary. Music is a necessary aside to the pub experience but is not the feature.

Troy Burtch said...

Grimes - you also made a great point that I was going to touch on - Bartender's controlling the selection/volume and playing music they prefer. There was one server at a certain pub (no longer there) who would crank up the music, must to the dismay of patrons who would actually complain, and he would turn the music back up when the people left.

For the most part, the pubs I frequent do a good job at letting the customers chat.


Mark said...

Pubs are all about creating a relaxed, comfortable environment, that promotes conversation.

Music is very important in all parts of my life, and pubs are no exception. Whatever music is played should be quiet, and "modern crap" has no place in a pub.

Equally offensive are TVs, especially when there are lots of them and/or when the audio is loud and distorted... although I've been to a few pubs where they have a single muted TV/projector running obscure cult/B-movies that add to the overall ambience.

Appropriate live music later in the evening is totally acceptable. I've been to some pubs that serve great beer and have crazy, loud punk rock a few nights a week (sometimes I'm the guy up onstage performing at these places), and it works because of the type of pub it is (primarily appeals to 20-30 year olds). My favourite local pub only has folk, jazz, blues, country and bluegrass for late-evening live music, and the PA is set quite low... again, it is appropriate for the type of crowd (20 - 80 year olds).

malcolm said...

Music is such an integral part of bar culture for me, but it's hit and miss around downtown T.O. I'm usually at the beer bars, and for example, Betty's has a great playlist but you can barely hear it, ever. C'est What plays the same songs over and over. I had a great night at The Local, where a customer plugged his Ipod into the PA. Discovered 2 great new bands that night.

woodpeck said...

Music type, volume and choice is HUGE for the atmosphere at pubs. it has to take on the tastes of the clientelle and of the owner. hopefully, those are on the same page. i think your post correctly points out when they are not. pubs are menat for talking unless their is a band playing. volume should reflect that.

Teena in Toronto said...

Depends on my mood but I usually like to hear Celtic and folk. Rock doesn't belong in a pub!

malcolm said...


Frank said...

I love the layout of the Old Triangle in Halifax. Three areas with live music in one, and a quieter snug area at the the other end. You are free to come and go and enjoy the music as you wish. Like Teena,I enjoy Celtic and Folk music. Theres no place better for that in Halifax then the Old Triangle. And they have Propeller Porter on tap!

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