LIKE MANY FAMILIES on vacation, mine spent much of our recent two weeks in London debating how we would spend our holiday.
My wife, the culture vulture, was fond of touring museums. My younger son, 18, preferred visiting castles and checking out nightspots with his older brother, 22, who has been studying in London this summer. Meanwhile, I kept slipping away to the pubs, learning the beer-drinking habits of Londoners.
Of the half-dozen London pubs I visited, my favorite was the Nags Head at 53 Kinnerton St. in the Knightsbridge area just south of Hyde Park. Tucked into one of London's many quaint narrow streets, it is a pub devoted to the traditional belief that good beer and good conversation can make a lovely time.
The first time I settled into one of the toadstool-style seats at the Nags Head bar, I felt at ease. Kevin Moran, the proprietor, pumped me a pint of Adnams' Extra, a classic British bitter.
This ale was served at a slightly warmer temperature than the 42- to 44-degree brews we get in most Baltimore bars. But the weather in London is generally cooler than it is in Baltimore (it was in the 70s during the two weeks I was there; I missed the 90-degree heat wave). So the temperature of the beer seemed right for the setting, and its flavor - full without being filling - was outstanding.
It was a pint of pure pleasure. It made me rethink the contention of Bill Oliver, owner of the Wharf Rat restaurant and Oliver's brewery in Baltimore, that beer does not have to be cold or artificially carbonated to be delightful.
Along with the superior beer came interesting talk. I am partial to a place where the pub owner introduces himself and shakes your hand, as Kevin did.
We soon found we had a common enemy: cell phones or "mobiles" as they are called in England. They are banned in his pub. "It is so rude. You are talking to someone face to face and this machine rings and the conversation is interrupted," Kevin said.
I nodded in agreement. When Kevin added that just because a phone rings doesn't mean you have to answer it, he struck a chord dear to my heart. I was feeling, as the British might say, very "matey" toward him. I had another pint and walked back to the apartment, or flat, a few blocks away, where we were staying.
A good English pub, I was told, is one you can walk to. I was told this by Frank, who is a patron of the Nags Head but who lives miles away in the suburbs.
He takes a train into London and hops on "the tube," the subway, to move around the city. I never nailed down Frank's occupation, but he seemed to know a lot of skilled craftsmen and he promised another pub pal that he could locate some "joiners," or carpenters, to work on a refurbishing project. Frank noted that there is a tube stop, Knightsbridge, a short walk from the Nags Head.
I put the short-walk principle to use a few days later when I found myself near Westminster Abbey, the half church, half national museum that is a burial spot for many British notables.
I had already toured the abbey, but my wife was going back for a second visit, this time with our younger son in tow. I had an hour or two to kill before rejoining the family for a tour of the nearby Houses of Parliament, so I walked around the corner to a street called Storey's Gate, where I found Ben's Bar.
This was a bustling, modern pub. When I read the receipt for my glass of beer, I learned that this establishment, like many in England, was affiliated with a larger corporation, in this case, the Regent Inns' line of pubs.
Surrounded by men in dark suits who were talking about government policy, I sipped a Fuller's London Pride, then compared it to a glass of Adnams' Bitter. They were both smooth, palatable and not very high in alcohol.
I could see how, if I were one of those men in dark suits, I could get in the habit of "popping in for a pint." When I asked the bartender, Francois, which of the several brands of bitter he recommended, he laughed. "I am French," he said. "I drink red wine."
While pubs serve food, I didn't do much eating when I visited them. I did have a pleasing pint and well-prepared pesto appetizer at the Orange Brewery at 37 Pimlico Road. Being from Baltimore, I couldn't resist going to a pub located on Pimlico Road. The London version of the street is lined with antiques shops and was a short walk from one of what I began to call "my tube stop," the one at Sloane Square. It is also not too much of a walk from Buckingham Palace, which is where tourists who like marching bands go to see the changing of the guard.
I was introduced to fish and chips (deep-fried fish and thick-cut potatoes) at Zetland Arms off Old Brompton Road. This pub, I gathered, has become my older son's pub while he has been studying in London in a Boston University program.