It’s a man’s last refuge!” barked a stocky, middle-aged man to me as we sat on the outdoor patio of a pub in Brisbane, Australia. It was a hot and sticky February evening, typical for the time of year, and I was being enlightened as to Australia’s smoking ban and the “old days” of pub culture.

The man continued to vent his frustrations, not so much about the smoking ban or other restrictions, but more about how any threat to the sanctuary of a pub was seen as an invasion into the free right of any man to escape the stress at home or at work and relax around friendly faces and a cold pint.

I agree. It’s not uncommon that I myself will stop in at the pub on the way home from work to cap off the day with two pints. It’s great to go with friends, but even a newspaper and my ale are really all I need to debrief after work.

In times of stress the pub can also come as a great relief. Mind you, getting out of the house for a quick pint down the road as opposed to endlessly drowning your sorrows in beer are two different things. In no way am I promoting alcoholism. A quiet drink while I collect my thoughts and observe life through the pub window has many therapeutic qualities to it. It clears my mind while helping me relax and defuse.

I can here my critics now, “But Dallas, you can do the same thing in a cafe with a latte!” Wrong, a pub has one very important component a cafe doesn’t have: a bartender.

Oh, it’s easy for me to write on and on about the full bodied, dark, flavourful ales pouring out from bottomless kegs, but I don’t want to forget about the human aspect of what can make or break a great pub and the experience there. Whether we’re celebrating or stewing in defeat, the bartender can change the whole mood.

This person can be our best friend; a poor man’s shrink, if you will. I’ve had some great conversations with bartenders, and the good ones will listen and maybe offer up some of their own advice. You might not have an epiphany on your barstool, but at least you’re getting feedback from a different point of view. Bartenders at busy establishments usually know a lot of people as well. Get friendly with your local barkeep and you may just find yourself with your foot in a door you once thought was impenetrable.

I’m a big fan of sitting on a stool up at the bar counter and chatting. If I’m there alone I enjoy talking to other patrons too. If you’re abroad, it’s a great way to meet some of the locals and get a real glimpse into real lives in the city you’re visiting. That was my goal when I was bored one night in Brisbane. Clad in nothing but a sleeveless shirt, flip-flop sandals and boardshorts — while my Canadian compatriots back home were bundled in parkas and long underwear — I left for an evening stroll to the Edinburgh Castle pub where I met my disheartened Australian, frustrated with new laws interfering with his precious pub time.

The pub can be very much a part of ones lifestyle without becoming an alcoholic. More people ease their worried mind with a pint than you think — there are a lot of closet winos out there.

It’s different for each person. For me, the pub has been a meeting place for good times, great conversation, insight and a break from a stressful day. It has also served as a location to witness England encounter some devastating losses and even a few wins!

Andy Capp never had it so good.