Hi and welcome to Flags English Pub…… I am Ralph Johnson and my wife is Lisa, Wei Xiu Hui.
I arrived in Mianyang in 2003 and looked for a bar or pub. There were a few small ones. I met my wife in 2005 and we decided to open a pub and not a bar. A pub is where anyone can go and feel welcome. I started in business 28 years ago.
I designed the Flags logo 2 years before opening. I wanted to have my UK flag intertwined with the Chinese flag but a lawyer told me one cannot us the national flag in this way. So I added a dove of peace and tied the 2 flags together with a red ribbon. We registered the design and the name Flags.
My thinking was to design a place where if I were a customer and not the owner I would choose to drink there. At the time there was nowhere to drink cold beer nor in big glasses. Remember Anchang was not ‘bar street’ when we opened. We soon got surrounded with Chinese style bars. We were the first place to have see-in windows and have no sofas. No hiding corners but open-plan so most people could see what was happening all around them. And not so dark nor the music too loud. Also no Chinese beers nor bay jig or Chinese music. Not because I disliked this things but to make us as authentically British as possible. I like the idea of entering a different world for a few hours.
It was not easy finding items to furnish and decorate in a foreign style ten years ago. The main room looks very different from those first few months. Initially there was just the first room. The bar was the one at the end and short. Fortune gave us the chance to take over the 2 shops next door within 6 months. 8 rooms were knocked into what one sees today. We could now have a long bar, 8 foot pool table, Fusball and a darts corner. It also gave us a storage room ( we have a cellar down below) and far more seating. At one time we could seat 120 within our 200m2 area.
I designed the first room as if it were from about 1900. The pictures are from our art gallery and I had English style chairs and tables copied in oak. Gradually lots of bits added to the decor and even the walls were changed from pale green to gold to wine red. Even the frontage has been replaced twice. Amongst the pictures are several of my family. There is some order to the choice of the 90 or so framed prints.
The next room is supposed to be like a 400 years old pub from my local countryside… we have so many old pubs. It took a while for meto find the old bricks, timbers, doors etc. The floor as one enters was from an old house. The beams from a derelict factory. The doors cost 20rmb each: one I polished with shoe polish. There are some stones from an ancient house. One can find a 2000yo, stone horse embedded in the brick wall. The long table was also a door. Look for the keyhole. Total cost ? 50rmb ! Another door was cut in half and became 2 square tables.. 25rmb. Around the dartboard we used 5 or six doors to make panelling. Now a bit battered by errant dartists. believe it or not , the herringbone floor was pink sandstone to match the pool table. Years of ash and footprints have made it look ancient: and black. The pool table is a professional quality one from the same company who make them for international events in China. Beware.. the pockets are big but the central ones have awkward corners. ( The table has always been free). The rose panels were cut out from larger pieces and are to look like they are Tudor.. good Old Henry 8th. But his were 5 petaled and ours are… 6. Behind the table the door leads to a stockroom which will become a BBQ kitchen… soon?
Then there is the Red Room which is trying to look more modern. All the pictures are by American Artists. Salome is from the 1890s. Don’t look to closely at her. There is St John’s head behind her. The chairs are copies of a very famous German designer from the 1850s I guess Germans were smaller then. I am told red is romantic. I plan to make it a trifle brighter soon.
When we opened no-one sold foreign wines in bars ! Nor cold beer. At first the staff secretly asked customers if they wanted cold or warmer beer. Perhaps 98 of the Chinese said warm ! We stopped asking. We had big glasses… it took a while to find glass tankards with handles.The Chinese habit of finishing the glass; Gan Bei… destroyed a 100 glasses very quickly with their crashing glasses together. Now few do this at Flags. No bars had tequila, gin, vodka or rum before we started selling them. We refused to add tea to whiskey and added Jim Beam to Mianyang’s choice ( as a reaction to so much suspicious jack Daniels).
Beers. There was no foreign beer for sale except Coors; Budweiser ( not the real Czech one) Carlsberg and Heineken. Suddenly on opening we had 28 foreign beers from 12 countries. Then 40 which even confused us. For 3 years we had 630ml bottles of Carlsberg, Bud and Heineken for the same price as everyone else’s 330ml bottles. Of course we do not sell Coors nor Budweiser these days. Even Carlsberg is a bit watery for us. But we do have draught Tiger at 30rmb after 8pm and 20rmb before 8. We are certainly not an expensive place.
We were the first to have draught ( draft for Americans) beers apart from a few restaurants with Tsindao draught at 4rmb for a big glass. We had cars berg with a contract that only we could in Mianyang. And Weihenstephaner. I wrote directly to Weihenstephaner in 2003 asking to sell it and we were the first pub/bar in China to do so. It is the oldest brewery in the world, founded in 1040 ( yes, 1040). That same man I spoke to came especially to visit us 2 years ago. At one time we had 6 draught beers.
We used to do BBQ food made in our BBQ and wine bar down the road from the pub. But alas the buildings were pulled down for development. We will do so again.
The music is a bit eclectic. These days we mostly have videos from the west… 850 of them. Many are what we older generation call Classics. There are many more modern classic. I like Pink and even … better not say.
We often have BBQ evenings. I and my English friend, Tom, light the barbie at my garden complex. I make salads and lots more. It all gets eaten… 150 chicken legs last time ! We do have live music but the acoustics are not conducive for loud bands.
Some have commented we only have boys working. We used to only employ very tall sports students which attracted some. Usually they are students from 3 of the 6 local universities. Many have stayed until the end of their courses.
Flags welcomes anyone. Many parents come with their children as we have no trouble nor is it too loud ( there are some tables who would win at a loud table contest). We know we have had visitors from 83 countries… China number one of course. Who will be 84 ?
On the 16th of November Flags will celebrate 10 years since we opened in Anchang Road. It is also Lisa’s birthday and the day of my arrival in China !
thank you for reading this and enjoy your next visit to Flags.