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El Pub Inglese

It was the Ambassador’s idea, not mine. I’d sworn that I would never open another bar in Ecuador.  Apparently he had learned that the house next to the British Embassy and across the street from the prestigious Hotel Quito was for rent and he suggested – only suggested mind you - that it would make an excellent English pub.

It was then that I recalled a recent conversation with my good friend Peter which had been conducted over ample glasses of Scotch. He had confined in me that unless an alternative opportunity came up; he would be leaving the country when his contract with tea plantation where he was employed ended.

The next time Peter arrived from the plantation, a journey which took him two days of arduous travel to reach Quito, I put the proposal to him. He loved the idea but, like me, he had no money to invest in the venture. Our Lack of funds was almost the end the venture but fortunately Peter’s former manager kindly offered to loan us the necessary 3000 US dollars.

Edu, the Chilean owner of the premises was eccentric to say the least.  She had
ensnared and married an unwary Ecuadorean diplomat when he was in Chile. On one occasion she embarrassed him by showing up at the foreign ministry wearing her pyjamas.

Negotiations were conducted in her bedroom and on her bed, where she normally entertained her toy-boys. The deal agreed was as strange as her bedroom;  which, including the wooden floor, was painted black with a pathway of fluorescent white footprints painted from the doorway, across the floor, up the wall over the ceiling and ending above her bed. 

The Ambassador had no objection in us naming the bar; "The Ambassador’s Arms" and would even allow us to use his coat of arms for the pub sign. But the local authorities had other ideas. It was at a time when the government were concerned about the rash of non-Spanish names being used. There was even a ban on the Indians christening their children with names such as, Alka-Selser, Coca-Cola or Aspirin and Ambassador’s Arms came into this category.

In a flash of inspiration Peter came up with the name El Pub. What does that mean, we were asked? Short for Publico in Spanish, answered Peter. Amid lots of tittering the name was officially accepted. Publico  to them signified toilet.

El Pub Inglese opened but after stocking the bar – the furniture and kitchen equipment were included in the rent; the owner at some time having converted the ground floor into a restaurant, with sacking covered walls and chairs – there were no funds to spare. Here again Lady Luck stepped in disguised as Big Jim Anderson. BJ was an oilfield hand and he drank only Jack Daniels bourbon, of which we had none to offer. Slamming about 1000 US dollars on the bar, he ordered us to make sure that, in the future, we had Jack Daniels when he came to drink and we should let him know when his credit ran out.

 It was thanks to customers like BJ that we survived the first couple of months. However, it would take more than this brief account to name all the other generous characters and good friends who passed through the doors of El Pub over the next few years.

Instinct must have told Dientes  that it was customary for an English pub to have a dog because this tiny, starving mongrel abandoned the streets and moved in as our mascot. Dientes, teeth - so named for a set of molars which appeared to big for his  mouth – became very popular with the customers, making up with personality for what he did not have in looks.

With the British Embassy being located in the building next door and many of its staff being regulars, it did not take long for El Pub to become known as the Embassy Annexe. On one particular afternoon  Dientes came trotting into the bar with a piece of paper tucked into his collar. It was an order for two gin & tonics, despatched by Pam and Jean, two of the wilder embassy secretaries.

El Pub was small. There was seating for thirty in the restaurant area and the bar itself was tiny; at its fullest it would hold about thirty drinkers. Despite or perhaps because of  its pokiness and the bizarre decor – walls covered with sacking material  inherited from the owner - it had its own charm. There were few bars who could boast of a guest list as varied or customers as interesting as El Pub’s.

As well as the diplomats, drillers, ex-pats, visiting businessmen, journalists, FBI agents, DEA officials etc. we also had more than our fair share of Old School boys and Sloane Rangers. Usually these were doing South America as their forebears had done the Grand Tour of Europe; without financial concern.  Singular characters as Anne Lambton, the wayward daughter of Lord Lambton and one of Andy Warhol’s favourites; Mark Shand  the Duchess of Cornwall's brother; Andrew Fraser, youngest son of  Lord Lovat gave as good as got when they were matched drink for drink or in badinage with some of the tough oil-field boys.

One morning (6 Aug 1976), Stan Hall, a regular turned up before opening time with another thirsty customer. Peter was reluctant to let them in until Stan introduced his friend - Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

During a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the Hotel Quito, a couple of minor Saudi sheiks wanted to hire El Pub for a private party, regardless of price. They were amazed when we turned them down. They could not understand why our customers were more important to us than their money.  The next evening they were back in the bar drinking vodka tonics when they got into conversation with Scotty Rodgers, an original character, raconteur and a spoon playing maestro. Scotty had spent half of his life on oilrigs in the middle-east, separated by Muslim law from his first love – whisky. When Scotty realized they were drinking alcohol, he flipped-out. I have still to hear a public dressing down so beautifully and eloquently administered as the one he gave those  two sheiks. To save face they declared him persona non grata in Saudi Arabia, to which he replied that being banned from that country was the highest honour he had yet been awarded.

Such hilarious incidents were the order of the day and when we hired an incorrigible Austrian by the name of Gerhard, whose personality packed the bar and whose escapades became legend, the pub took on new dimensions. He was the only man I know who drank himself to an early death and thoroughly enjoyed it – RIP Gerhard.

As we opened from Midday until early the following morning, we could not expect Gerhard to be permanently behind the bar, so we took to hiring good looking girls who were looking for work while backpacking through Ecuador. The combination of a preposterous Austrian and some dolly Brits with their ample bosoms did nothing to diminish the pub’s popularity.

(Extracts from Wildcatting Times, by Bryan R.Thomas)


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