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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Toast to the Churchill Arms

Only in England would a flower show have a prize for best bar, and only this English pub could deserve to win it.


The Churchill Arms, in Kensington, London

Photo: jpenglert

We used to spend a lot of time in bars. ‘Least wise they tell us we did!

No, actually we do remember a number of these oases: in Louisville, KY—Joe’s Palm Room,  the Outlook Inn, Dedden’s Highland Fling…; in Chapel Hill, N.C.—the Scoreboard, He’s Not Here, and Cat’s Cradle…; in South Chicago—the Cove, Jimmy’s, the Cornell Lounge…. These places we can remember because, having frequented them many dozens of times, we accumulated enough early evening minutes of clear consciousness to have survived the erasure of many more extended hours.

Bobby Ledford, singer of the house band at Joe’s Palm Room, occasionally wore a Hawaiian shirt, but besides that we don’t remember ever seeing a flower in any of these establishments, or for that matter, in any other joint. Were they there, just shoved down to the end of the bar on the far side of all those metal ashtrays? Truth be known, if there had been hyacinths in bloom—even “the wealth of glob’ed peonies”—the places we liked were too dark and smoky for anyone – anyone like us—to have noticed.

Which is why we were quite startled to learn of The Churchill Arms, recently awarded the Boozers in Bloom prize at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show.

In the Kensington district of West London, The Churchill Arms “is decorated with 85 window boxes, 42 hanging baskets and ten tubs on the ground.” Oh dear. Those “tubs on the ground” can pose quite an unsavory convenience in a bar, especially as the evening wears on. We remember one night in San Antonio…let’s move on.

Only in England, of course, would a Boozers in Bloom award be offered or, we think, earned. Churchill Arms proprietor Gerry O’Brien told the Publican: ““It’s only about three years ago since we put the plants up and up the windows because we’ve got no back garden!” And his Chelsea recognition? “ I could not believe it,” O’Brien said.  “When I heard I could hardly sleep that night.”

The Churchill Arms is named for Sir Winston, soldier and prime minister. Also heavy drinker and,  late in life, flower painter.

We know of a narcissus and a fuchsia named for him, also a sweet pea—only right, since he was a descendant of the Spencers. In the gardens of his estate at Chartwell, which sound lovely, a number of poignant inscriptions speak:

It does not do to wander Too far from sober men,

But there’s an island yonder, I think of it again.

from a poem by W.P. Ker


Inside the Churchill Arms, flowers and Churchill memorabilia

Photo: George deBaly

Among drinkers and their enablers, Churchill’s brilliant leadership during the Second World War is often marched out as evidence that alcohol, far from being deleterious, is actually a great blessing, not only to the drinker and his immediate circle, but to the nation, the world!

Churchill supposedly said, “I have taken more good from alcohol than alcohol has taken from me.” And many others, incapable of driving home much less leading a nation at war, have said so, too.

Congratulations to Gerry and the Churchill Arms on the award. If we’re ever in London, we hope to stop by if not drop in.

Oh, the Do Drop Inn in Louisville is another good tavern, highly recommended for dancers, as is The Concertina Bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (its juke box features a version of “Strangers in the Night” played on a saw). Neither one has flowers.

Posted by Julie on 06/26 at 01:23 PM
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