In my late teens and early twenties I spent an inordinate amount of time hanging around with people with way more hair than me, wearing scruffy leather and listening to music at head-splitting volume. Beer was involved on a regular basis.
It was great.
Central to this lifestyle was a pub in the centre of Birmingham called the Costermonger. Well, I say "pub" - technically it was a pub in that it was licensed to serve alcoholic beverages. But if you were expecting it to confirm to the romantic ideal of public houses - horse brasses, cheeky barmaids and pints of foaming ale in front of a roaring fire - you'd have been bitterly disappointed. And ever-so-slightly scared, too.
I mean, look at this picture of it here. That's the outside. That's the picture they want to project to passers-by. Not exactly welcoming, is it?
Intimidation was the key. It was in a basement, for starters. I know this worked wonders for 'Cheers', but at the Costers, nobody knew your name. Although they might have been interested in your blood type. It was dark. In fact, the Costers went beyond dark and came out the other side. What they must have done was to consider the appropriate amount of lighting to illuminate the available space, then divided that number by ten. The steps down to the bar were reasonably well lit, so the denizens within could check out new entrants, a bit like a rather-less-safe version of the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars.
Everything at the Costermonger was accompanied by a soundtrack of heavy engineering being carried out in a battle zone. It was unremitting. Anything with discernable lyrics was introduced as "One for the ladies."
Safely ensconced in the heaving mass of near-humanity, you'd then fight your way to the bar to be served by creatures with wilful piercings, Yakuza tattoos and/or both. The male bar staff were even scarier. A pint of fizzy yellow liquid would be the perfect way to start the evening. But pretty soon you'd need to visit the Scariest Toilets in Christendom. Mere words don't help to describe the horror. To this day I still wake up from time to time, like a Vietnam veteran, with flashbacks concerning the Costermonger loos.
Looking back, the Costers must have featured fairly highly on the 'Walk in smiling, walk out scratching' scale. But I bloody loved it. I adored every scary, loud, sweaty, cramped second I spent there. It was great. It was my place.
I drifted away from the Costermonger over time. I started listening to different types of music, I mixed with different people. I started going to different places.
And now, some twenty years later, I'm properly grown-up. I know how pensions work. I'm fully versed in different varieties of wine and can tell the difference between ciabatta and foccacia bread. My idea of a good pub is definitely going to involve decent seating and sanitation.
But when I heard, a few days ago, that the Costermonger was going to close for good, a little bit of me died. These days I would be more likely to crowdsurf a Slipknot gig than I would be to go to the Costermonger. But nevertheless, part of my youth has gone forever.
It doesn't matter how respectable you get, apparently. You can still hark back.