In my mind, this was the beginnings of the concept of pubs (which is still short for public house, I think) in America. Public houses for travelers had been around much longer than that in Europe, of course.
Today, in America, the concept has changed. Now we have bars. In my mind, a bar and a pub are two different things. Bars in America evolved from the concept of public houses. The name of the game at first was the same as a pub: hospitality, fellowship, a place to unwind with people you knew (more or less.) Today, in America, there are still neighborhood bars, of course, and there are bars in small towns where people still know each other (more or less) but more and more American bars are just places to go to drink. Food sometimes. Friends sometimes. But mostly to drink. Sometimes it isn't very pretty.
The laws have gotten more and more intrusive until one can't really go to a bar anymore like one could years ago. The bartender has to keep track of how many drinks you've had and probably even will have to find someone to drive you home if he doesn't want to get sued. In America, those days of drinking and then dragging yourself out to your car are gone. That's a good thing. Time was the horse knew the way home, but fewer and fewer Americans drive buggies anymore.
Besides the regular bars, you have your entertainment joints where loud music is supposed to bring in more drinkers. And you have the food joints where the food is supposed to bring in families, and drinking is secondary. Oh, you have pubs in America, but they are by design. Patterned after English pubs and probably franchised. They offer "authentic" fish and chips and 137 kinds of micro-brewery wares. Tres chic.
To me, you have to search far and wide to find a real "pub" in America. I don't drink anymore to speak of, so I am not motivated to search - so maybe you CAN'T find a real pub in America.
That brings me to describing what I think a pub really is, Britishly speaking. I may be wrong.
1. It is a pretty old building. It has been there for a long time. It has seen generations come and go. A lot of old pubs with "atmosphere" have probably closed down in recent years, either due to not being able to compete or just getting fed up with new laws.
2. It is a neighborhood thing. People go there not just to drink, but to be with other people they know. Like the fictional Cheers in Boston, everybody knows your name. It is not just a place to drink. It is a club of sorts. It is a place to hang out. Strangers come in, for sure; I'm not saying it is a REAL club. Often the unknown faces are guests of regulars though, I would think.
3. Furnishings are wood chairs and high-backed booths and wooden tables. There are exceptions, but I don't see much padding and plastic covers in my American vision of an English pub.
4. Food. You can get a sandwich in a pub. Or some fish and chips maybe. Some have house specialties. Bangers and mash. Pasties. Things I have only come to learn about in the past couple of years. The so-called "gastric pubs" (what a horrible name) you can keep, I think. If I want to go to a fine restaurant, then I will go to a fine restaurant. I'll order a drink with my meal. I won't expect to sit on a wooden chair in front of a roaring fire in the winter and wash down my sandwich with heady stout.
If I had to come up with a one word description for "pub", I suppose it would be "atmosphere". If I just want to get drunk, I'll pick up a 12-pack of Bud Light on my way home from work.
I've never been in an authentic English pub, because I've never been to England. How far off am I?