A Paean to Pubs

While in England last year, I finally got to try something I’ve been wanting to ever since I saw them on TV: spend an evening (or about 4) in a true pub.

In America, we have “pubs” that are basically bars with food, or family-style restaurants with alcohol. These are not the same thing. Our bars are either too sterile (you’re there to be seen to be there) or too dingy (you’re there to get drunk as quickly and as cheaply as possible). There’s a sense of overriding hipness and pressure to mate in the former, and a sense of futility and sadness in the second.

Oh sure, people try–there’s a decent pub-like place, which is sort of a mid-to-high-end restaurant with a pub inside, in Flint Hill, Virginia, with Boddington’s Pub Ale on tap. It’s still a bit clean, though.

What I really want are dark-wood-paneled pubs with brass rails (optional), a barman and barmaid, and a crowd of locals who gather there regularly as much for meeting friends from the neighborhood as much as for drinking. It’s not for social gatherings in the sense of pickup lines, and it lacks the squalling babies of the pseudo-Italian coffee houses that have sprung up like mushrooms after a storm in the U.S. recently.

I’d love to relax with some friends after work in such a place–sort of like the crowd in Cheers, but with considerably more class and less desperate alcoholism.

It helps that I’m a bit of a beer snob, and will actually request a pint of bitter (which actually aroused comment by some locals in Greenwich, and led to a night of buying rounds and attempting to speak Polish to the Polish barman and barmaid–a feat that was not helped by my lack of practice or the 4 or 5 pints I’d had by that time) (hmmm, what was I saying about alcoholism?). I also prefer cozy places…there was a slightly cheesy restaurant in Columbia, SC, where I went to school, that I nonetheless loved. Applegate’s Landing, I believe it was called, and it featured a Ford Model A as the salad bar, and a spinning water wheel inside. Nonetheless, the booths were cozy and each part of the restaurant was made into a human-sized subsection where you could see a few others but weren’t either forced to crowd around them nor felt like you were part of a warehouse.

Besides, who wants to ingest 30ccs of caffeine after work? At that point, I’m looking to wind down. The only bad thing about the pubs was that they were, by law, forced to close down at 11. Being a night owl, I was just getting started about then. I’ve heard that the curfew has been at least proposed to be extended, though I don’t know if Blair has attempted to ensure his reelection by actually doing it.

Then again, I do like a true biergarten on occasion…

To House Or Not to House

The Economist has a brief piece in the dead tree edition (not yet online) on why investing in housing isn’t always the no-brainer it’s meant to be. They list seven fallacies that housing advocates (which includes ever real estate agent and mortgage officer I’ve met, as well as friends who have assumed mortgages and want some company) frequently proffer.

Much of the article I agree with and mirrors the thinking that led me to conclude that now is simply not the time for me to get a house. Economically, I’m better off renting. Sacrilidge, I know. But basically, the stock market is just upswinging from the bottom, while the housing market, if not at the top, is near it. Getting out of one at the bottom to get into the other at the top is pretty much a fundamental economic no-no.

However, one point I have questions about. They argue that low interest rates do not necessarily make a higher overall mortgage a good idea. The reasoning being that our current low inflation makes the interest relatively more expensive. So a higher interest rate with greater inflation means the money you pay down the road is worth less, so each payment is relatively cheaper for you. A low interest rate with even lower inflation means that each payment is still more expensive for you, as other prices and wages don’t rise relative to your house payment.

Fair enough–but if inflation is at an historic low, doesn’t that mean that it’s a good bet it will rise? Locking in a low interest rate now means that if the inflation rate increases in the future, you’ll be better off than if you’d assumed that mortgage at a higher rate. Volker and Greenspan have been good, but it’s too much to expect that we’ll get that level of inflation fighting from here on out.

That being said, the article lists 6 more reasons why price declines in high housing price areas are not unthinkable–c.f. Tokyo for an object lesson.

Today’s news that DC residents thinking of a lifestyle change are considering leaving the area means that demand for housing is not a constant, even if available land is. (AAA sucks rocks, and their website isn’t updated, so typically there’s no link)

So, if you’re renting, relax. Use your cheaper rent (mine is at a minimum half of any potential mortgage payment) to save money and put it in the upswinging market. But I’d ask questions before knocking a low interest rate.