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YORK – where “the gates are bars & the bars are pubs”



As some of you know, I was recently in UK. My last blog featured the fabulous afternoon tea at the Milestone Hotel, but if you follow me on Facebook, you know I began the journey home last Saturday. First stop, Seattle, where I have been experiencing really bad jet lag. Which is why I have not posted a blog in so long.

Between sipping tea and departing for home, I traveled up to the City of York. Above is a map of England from London is marked in pink. If you follow the east coast to the north, you can see York, just above Leeds. [Sidebar: Most maps don’t show York, but they do show Leeds. Leeds is possibly a more significant city for business, but York is far more worthy from a historian’s perspective.]

York’s written history begins with the Romans who established Eboracum in 71 A.D., but this site where the Ouse and Foss rivers converge shows signs of habitation as early as the Neolithic period. There’s a great timeline at However, a picture can be worth many words, not to mention a Google search. This picture of the walls near Nunnery Lane is from Wikipedia Commons. The City of York is one of very few cities with a complete set of medieval walls. Actually, I think it is the only city in UK that still has its walls. You can imagine that as cities grew, walls were a bit inconvenient. The Victorians knocked city walls down with great enthusiasm, but York was a poor city and could not afford the demolition. This turned out well in the end since it makes the city a great tourist attraction. You can walk on the walls when you visit.


At various points along the walls, there are gates called barbicans. During the Middle Ages, someone entering the city could be stopped within the barbican to be inspected. Hence, the saying above. In the City of York, the “gates are bars.” Below is a picture of Michelgate Bar (also from Wikipedia Commons). Michelgate Bar one of four medieval entrances into the city. The Bars were also good places to display the heads of men executed for treason and various other crimes.

So, we have now explained why in York gates are bars, which leave the question of why the bars are pubs. In the U.S. certain drinking establishments are referred to as bars. Therefore, people looking for alcoholic liquid refreshments often seek out a bar. The English look for a pub, short for “public house” where they like to order a “pint” of beer, among other beverages, and settle in for good conversation.

The Punchbowl pub in Stonegate begins its history with ties to the seventeenth century Whig Party. At that time, the Whigs drank punch and the Tories drank claret, so the name Punchbowl meant something then. “You namby pamby claret drinkers, keep out. We manly men are drinking punch here.” [Sidebar: Punch was the first popular mixed drink to include distilled spirits. More entertaining information can be found at ] Today the Punchbowl is noted for its fine selection of ales and a food menu that features traditional classic pub meals like Sausage and Mash or Shepherd’s Pie, as well as more modern selections such as the Wild Boar & Chorizo Burger. I went for the Fish & Chips, which I truly enjoyed. You can check out the Punchbowl at

I’ll tell you a bit more about York in another blog. In the meantime, “cheers.”

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

One thoughts on “YORK – where “the gates are bars & the bars are pubs””

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