In a British pub, what are the "public bar," "saloon bar," etc.?

From “The Moon Under Water,” George Orwell’s 1946 essay about his ideal (imaginary) English pub:

I hope I know what a dining-room is, but what do these other terms mean? Why is one part of a pub designated the “public bar,” when the whole establishment is a “public house”? How does it differ from rhe “saloon bar”? “Ladies’ bar” seems self-explanatory, but implies that women are not allowed in the other rooms, or else that men are not allowed in the “ladies’ bar”; was either ever true, in English pubs? And is a “bottle-and-jug” the same thing as a liquor store?

Theoretically, at least, the saloon bar would be somewhat better appointed than the public bar, with more comfortable seats etc., and the drinks would be a bit more expensive. I think it really marked a class division. The public bar was for the working class to get drunk cheaply, and the saloon was for middle or lower-middle classes to drink and converse. However, by the time I did most my pubbing, in the 1970s, the distinction meant rather little in practice, and probably even less now. I am not old enough to remember a ladies bar (although I do remember “ladies only” compartments on trains) but I think it probably means that only women were allowed there. I doubt that women were actually barred from the public or saloon bar, but the public bar especially might have been considered a rather “rough” environment for actual ladies (as opposed to women). They might have been at high risk of harassment there.

I am not familiar with the expression “bottle and jug” but I guess from the context it means somewhere where the pub could sell drinks for consumption off the premises. In my day this rarely, if ever, happened, and I think it may have been illegal by then. The British equivalent of an American Liquor Store is called an Off-License. This is because they have a license specifically for selling alcohol for consumption off the premises. Pubs have a different kind of license allowing sales for drinking on the premises.

I’m afraid I don’t know the distinctions, but I can tell you they’re not in use any more. I’ve never seen a “public bar” or “saloon bar” in pubs over here, and certainly no “ladies’ bars”. Occasionally you do still find some with real fires burning in winter, which is nice. I’d be interested what the difference is.

I’m not sure I agree with Orwell’s essay though - I find pubs with no music feel a bit dead unless they’re packed. And there’s a chain called Wetherspoons over here which apparently tried to model its pubs on the Moon Under Water, and it’s unanimously agreed that they’re pretty horrible (but so cheap you end up going anyway).

Wikipedia doing what it does best:

Public House"By the 20th century, the saloon, or lounge bar, had settled into a middle-class room — carpets on the floor, cushions on the seats, and a penny or two on the prices, while the public bar, or tap room, remained working class with bare boards, sometimes with sawdust to absorb the spitting and spillages, hard bench seats, and cheap beer.
Later, the public bars gradually improved until sometimes almost the only difference was in the prices, so that customers could choose between economy and exclusivity (or youth and age, or a jukebox or dartboard). During the blurring of the class divisions in the 1960s and 1970s, the distinction between the saloon and the public bar was often seen as archaic, and was frequently abolished, usually by the removal of the dividing wall or partition itself."

In London club rooms I have also encountered "Quiet Rooms"and “TV Rooms”, I found the quiet rooms populated by more serious drinkers, rather than poets trying to work out a problem with meter.

The distinctions between public and saloon bars are in part practical. The spartan public bar is somewhere you can go in grubby work – or walking – or hunting gear and not ruin the furnishings.

When I worked as an archaeologist it was not unusual to drink in a public bar for a lunchtime or after work swifty but to use the saloon bar of the same pub for an evening drink (birthday or such) after everyone had been home to get changed.

I’ve never seen a ladies bar, I’m probably too young! However even when I started drinking in pubs in the seventies unaccompanied women were sometimes unwelcome certainly I encountered certain rather backward establishments were women could not get served – so, effectively, unless you had a male companion you weren’t going to drink there. I’m guessing the assumption was that unaccompanied women were there to pick up men so a respectable pub wouldn’t have them in the place. The existance of a ladies bar implies that at that time it was recognised that respectable unaccompanied ladies might want somewhere to have a drink.

‘bottle and jug’ used to be an off-licence - somewhere you could buy drinks to take off the premises and consume at home. Selling bottled drinks, or decanting measures of beer or cider into empty jugs brought in by the customer. This practice still existed in my lifetime, I think, although I never witnessed it personally.

Not strictly speaking an Off-licence, since it’s part of the pub, but effectively serving the same function, I suppose. I know some pubs used to have hatches onto the street for the same purpose, where people could get a jug of beer to take home – I’ve read of servants or children being sent to get beer in that way, who presumably wouldn’t be allowed into the pub proper.

It’s still possible to buy drinks in a pub for consumption at home to this day (if you’re willing to pay the prices). In the 80s, “draughtpacks” were briefly popular – two or four pint containers supplied by the pub that could be filled with a draught beer of your choice to take home, or to whatever party you were going on to.

I just watched a travel show in Scotland where they stopped at a combination saloon and public house. Not sure if they used that terminology but it was definitely a divided establishment for the purposes of providing different atmosphere.

In the eighties, there were still quite a few pubs with public bars and saloon bars. The saloon bar was for visitors, and the public bar was for locals. Even then there was a lot of overspill. The serving area would cross both rooms. There would be seperate external entrances to each bar, often right next to each other. The public bar charged slightly less than the saloon bar, but not if you just walked in there - it was a ‘local pub for local people.’ Still, when ordering drinks you’d have to remind a new bar person which side of the bar you were ordering from.

There are still a few pubs that have a similar division, but they’re very rare indeed - I’ve only been to two such pubs in the last ten years. Most pubs still have separate entrances for the public and saloon bars, but they’re not treated as such - usually one will be permanently shut.

I only knew one place that still had a ladies’ bar, and that was a private members’ club; it was a place for woman to go, and no men were allowed at all.Women were only allowed in the main bar in about 1978 or so in that club. A few pubs still had ‘ladies’ signs up that did not refer to places you’d go to pee (they did have their own ladies’ toilets, but that was an adjunct to the ladies’ bar).

In Orwell’s time, the saloon bar would have been for the gentry and the public bar for everyone else. The women would not have drunk with the men in any but the most disreputable establishment.

the modern term ‘off licence’ just means a shop that sells alcohol, but back in their day, pubs with a ‘bottle and jug’ had to have an ‘off licence’ - that is, a dispensation in the landlord’s licence to sell alcohol, specifically permitting it to be sold for consumption off the premises.

Hmm… I’ve always assumed that off-sales were allowed as a standard provision of the on-licence, rather than requiring a separate licence. The Wikipedia page seems to suggest that, too, though it isn’t clear. I wonder if it varied from area to area, when local magistrates controlled the licencing?

This is interesting – while many older pubs around here have had their public and lounge bars knocked through into one, there are still many that are divided. There are three within a five-minute walk of here, in fact.

As far as I can tell, they’re just two distinct categories of permission in licensing, and the licence holder may have just ‘on’ (most restaurants), both combined (many pubs), or just ‘off’ (Off Licence stores and supermarkets etc).

But I’m pretty sure an establishment with only an ‘on’ licence cannot legally sell ‘off’ (although there might be an exception for open containers filled from the draught taps). I do also remember being in pubs where they were very strict about making sure any bottle passed to the customer had been opened.

I’ve been to a couple of pubs popular with walkers which retain the split bars - with the public bar being more spartan to cope with muddy boots and wet jackets / labradors.

And some tourist pubs also do the same - The Pilchard Inn on Burgh Island has a bar for tourists and the “front bar” reserved for locals/regulars and hotel guests.

“Proper” pubs have a “vault”, a “room” and a “snug”.

The vault is where all the serious drinkers, labourers and gameplaying types go(unless they have a “games” room.).

The room is where the spruced up drinkers go and the snug is where the more reflective drinkers will sit.

Or at least that was the case when I used to frequent them regularly, which admittedly, is about 20 years ago. Apparently, they’ve changed a bit since then, although I sensed there was a change coming when I noticed the proliferation of plastic plants in the drinking environment.

“Old man” pubs around Wigan at least still retain the vault, room and snug distinction. There’s at least two pubs in my village with that divide.

(Incidentally, Wigan has a pub named the “Moon under water”, for perhaps obvious reasons.)

I remember in old episodes of Coronation Street from 1960 there was a fine example of a Snug in the Rovers Return pub.This was a tiny enclosed bar with barely room enough to seat the three old biddies that regularly roosted there: Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst.

Most old British pubs of that period and earlier had a tiny Snug, a well-appointed Saloon Bar, a crowded and noisy Public Bar and a Bottle and Jug for off-licence sales. Those were the days of class division on the trains too. The upper classes (if they deigned to take the train at all) and the upper middle-classes travelled 1st Class, the lower middle-class 2nd Class, and the working classes and other assembled oiks travelled 3rd Class.

You knew your place back then and if you didn’t you’d be damned sure to get a sharp reminder. I’d say that was all history now had I not seen Her High and Puissant Majesty Queen Elizabeth II recently on TV strutting about as if she owned the country. Oh wait a minute, she does.

I didn’t mean to imply that the rooms were no longer separate - they usually still are. But the distinction between public bar and saloon bar no longer exists (well, hardly at all) in terms of clientele, decor, price or anything - they’re just two rooms.

“Second class” was abolished in the early part of the 20th century and for many years you just had first-class and third-class. The latter has now changed to “standard class”

FTR for most Americans the word “saloon” specifically brings to mind rough drinking establishments as imagined in movies about the old West. But an older meaning of the word is the same as “salon”, or a large-ish, comfortably furnished public gathering room found in a hotel or on a ship.

“Saloon” also used to be a term in the UK for a sedan car; maybe it still is. I was aware of this, but otherwise I might have been perplexed when reading Ian Fleming’s stories where Bond’s American counterpart shows up in a “smart black saloon”.