No Dogtanians, No Smurfs, No Oompa Loompas: Inclusion, Exclusion and the Otley Run
When Julius Henry Marx said “I don’t care to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member” there was a truth hidden in the jest. In fact there were a great many clubs in America at the time that would not have a self-educated Jew of working class origins such as Groucho as a member. On another occassion Playboy asked if he had ever been a victim of antisemitism:
Oh, sure. Years ago, I decided to join a beach club on Long Island and we drove out to a place called the Sands Point Bath and Sun Club. I filled out the application and the head cheese of the place came over and told me we couldn’t join because I was Jewish. So I said, “My son’s only half Jewish. Would it be all right if he went in the water up to his knees?”
I’ve never been a fan of exclusivity. I had no interest in joining the Kate Kennedy Club at my first university, a “gentleman’s club” that attracted, in my eyes, the worst element of the student body: pretentious, had-every-advantage-but-failed-to-get-to-Oxbridge-nonetheless public school types. To be a member you had to be both male and approved of by the present members, which tells you all you need to know. Not that working men’s clubs that don’t allow women in the main room are any better.
Pubs and clubs that filter at the door are also usually pretty anathema to me. We’ve all been the victim of the type of bouncer you get on Call Lane who will exclude two young men together (“No groups of lads”) or the one that refused to admit a friend of mine to a gay club for wearing a check shirt because he looked straight (he isn’t). I’ve even recently heard of a modern real ale pub in Leeds city centre that refused to admit an active CAMRA member to attend a branch meeting on the premises for looking too scruffy.
Pubs in particular should normally be open to all who are willing to pay for a drink. If “non-locals” get a frosty welcome, then that pub can’t blame the breathalyser, the smoking ban or cheap supermarket fizz when it closes down. I think that pubs should avoid dress codes as far as possible: people should wear what they want without having to answer to the bar or door staff.
The reason I was thinking about this was that I was in one of Leeds’ best pubs (Arcadia in Headingley, a regular haunt of Ghostie) the other afternoon enjoying a Kirkstall Brewery Three Swords (very nice) and reading the Guardian when a large group of young men walked in. Having sat here on a few weekend afternoons, I knew that they would be turned away at the bar and walk out swearing (either good-humouredly or with real annoyance), as indeed they did.
The problem is that Arcadia is near the start of The Otley Run; one of the most famous pub crawls in Britain, which supports a whole host of fancy dress shops in Headingley. It gives Loiners a little taste what it must be like to live somewhere like Prague or Riga that gets invaded by rowdy British stag parties every weekend. The video below shows Oz Clarke and Hugh Dennis doing it last year:
Every weekend in Headingley there’s a fairly constant stream of students, stags and hens trotting down Otley Road in fancy dress and usually knowing to avoid Arcadia, which would otherwise be the fourth pub (after Woodie’s, The Three Horseshoes and the New Inn). All the Buzz Lightyears, smurfs, pirates, oompa loompas, comedy scousers, sexy nuns, Lego men, 118 118 men and Wolverines have to wander further down to the Headingley Taps or Arc.
I’ve decided that I’m fine with Arcadia’s policy of excluding these groups simply for wearing fancy dress or being of a certain size because they would tend to take over the pub and be a pain for drinkers who are not on a 17-pub bender. It’s a question of exuberance more than anything: Otley Runners are usually good-natured, loud, happy and think that the fact they’re dressed as He-Man or Barney Rubble or a fvcking banana is the most hilarious and original thing in the world, up until the point that they’re dry-heaving in The Dry Dock.
It’s slightly different from the other forms of exclusion mentioned above (and I think justifiable) because you’re excluding people because of what they’re doing, not who they are (unless of course you’re an ethnic Oompa Loompa representing your identity through traditional dress). The next day they could come in with a few friends and a hangover and enjoy a hair of the dog, so long as they’re not actually dressed as Scooby Doo.
I would be happy for a favourite bar to ban stag and hen parties as a matter of course, except to say that I intend to have a civilised stag do and would hate to be prevented from getting into anywhere that has decent beer. But what about pubs that ban football shirts?