Elvis Presley and the Irish Pub

by Nathan Stanley

From 1880 through the 1920s a unique phenomenon occurred. It was the blooming, golden age of the Irish and British pub, deeply influenced by heavy Victorian lines and woodwork, and refreshingly full of eccentric touches.

Music, painting and interior pub design all change. Artistic styles such as Baroque, Impressionism, and Pop Art evolve, sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly, but they always metamorphose. Although the charm of an old original pub in Dublin is a forceful, indomitable attraction, pub interiors move on. One direction turned into the Art Deco interior after the 1920s. These interiors featured less wood and more metal and plastic. Designs of bars in the 20th century often reflected artistic movements that were taking place in each of its decades, often increasingly devoid of detail; often of charm.

Then, suddenly, two terrible events happened: the Elvis Presley impersonator and factory-made replications of Irish pubs. In airports, suburbs, and throughout the world, highly marketed pub companies were doing for Ireland what Elvis impersonators were doing for Elvis.

Sitting inside one such newly minted Irish pub, next to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow two years ago, I got the same feeling I had when I visited the McDonald's in the same city. I thought of The Palace, the Stags Head pub in Dublin, and the Crown in Belfast (still not demolished). They seemed like another world of enchantment in comparison to the pub I was in.

We can forcibly copy an Impressionistic painting, or carve an Art Deco bar today, but they don't speak to us with freshness and revelation the way they necessarily did in the exciting time of their births. Although today we sometimes feel inundated by imitators and mass marketing, history teaches us that there will be new golden ages. Before the Beatles changed our musical world, it seemed as if we were going to be suffocated with the same repetitious rock and roll music of the 1950s forever, but whether people are ready for it or not, music, paintings, bar interior all change and evolve.

Watch out! Tomorrow there may be a new bar you walk into or a song you hear, and you'll ask, "How did I ever get along in my life without this wonderful, beautiful revelation?"

Nathan Stanley (creator of the back bar at The Local, Minneapolis)