British Pubology

The Tavern

This topic, in contrast to many prior ones, looks divisive because it relates to the much-publicized gastropub phenomena. Everyone appears to have an opinion of them, with sentiments generally ranging from grudging approval to outright hatred. I’m switching over to the first-person tense for this post because even the definition of such a place of business is up for question, making it necessary for me to discuss them, to begin with. Your intentions may vary, but that is to be anticipated. There isn’t just one factor that makes a restaurant a “gastropub,” despite attempts to claim that things like providing homemade or hand-cut chips or having a chalkboard with daily specials are the only characteristics that qualify. However, maybe we could include them in a mathematical formula or checklist we create.

More food than liquids

If we consider the category of places we believe to be pubs, many could be categorized as gastropubs because they prioritize food above drink and vice versa. The canonical gastropub, which I would pick out as the first type, has given rise to a very distinctive style (which one can even see creeping into restaurant decor, to confuse matters further).

Even though they may not precisely fit a restaurant’s definition, they share traits like being set up for service. Many festive gastropubs will have a room, a few rooms, or even an entire floor set aside to serve customers. While some may have a few tables or even just a bar stool area near a shelf for drinking (especially during busy service hours like lunch or dinner), it still counts as a pub. For instance, The Running Horse in Mayfair, W1, may be dominated by tables set up for service, yet it is still a bar.

Why is a gastropub great?

Behind the counter of his bar, The Hinds Head is Heston Blumenthal. Featured Image: Karen Robinson

The current edition of Restaurant Magazine—for which, full disclosure, I write—carries the strapline “Can food still save the British pub? “and features a thorough examination of the gastropub business. Despite being a question that has been asked many times before, it is now more critical than ever.

We all know why pubs’ wet sales are declining (smoking prohibition, credit crunch, cheap alcohol from supermarkets). However, as they do so, the large pub corporations are further muddying the gastropub waters by investing in food — Mitchells & Butlers’ pubs now sell over 110 million meals annually. There are now hundreds of pubs hopping on the food bandwagon, presenting themselves as terrific places to dine for every model independent like the Anchor & Hope.

Which raises the question, what exactly constitutes a fantastic gastropub?

I believe that the gastropub should primarily do and be sure of things. The Cheese ‘n’ Biscuits blog makes it plain that there are rules. For example, the menu could have dishes like Lancashire hotpot, potted beef, oxtail pudding, and Scotch eggs, akin to those at The Narrow or the seriously excellent Hind’s Head.

However, not at a pub table. Souffles, skate wings, and sous vide cooking all have their place. Food should have a broad appeal and intense flavors and go well with beer. The selection of ales should be vast enough to make any CAMRA member’s liver warm, and this is where actual free houses have a clear advantage over pubs connected to breweries or massive pubco. Additionally, there should be adequate space rather than a few token bar chairs for those who merely want to drink and possibly get wasted.

Besides these fundamentals

Which, for better or worse, distinguish restaurants from bars; the more variety and originality, the better. One dismal aspect of gastropubs is the industry’s lack of inventiveness; as ideas, they consistently follow a formulaic kind of low-key, small urban gentrification. People naturally have various preferences based on who they are with and the day of the week. Where, though, is the variety?

For instance, 99.9% of chef-owners remove the pool table, the fruit machine, and anything else they deem to be a little too shabby as soon as they take over a pub. Why? Why eliminate entirely innocuous attractions that many locals enjoy if, as many owners argue, their gastropubs are not just businesses but social hubs for the neighborhood? Can delicious food be served in a space that also has a fruit machine, TV, or pool table? Or perhaps in a bar that also organizes weekly quiz nights or lives music?

The future of pubs is gastro.

Given their prevalence and appeal, it’s safe to claim that gastropubs go beyond the “trend” classification and constitute a distinct dining subgenre. But is it certain that they will remain popular? While gastropubs were becoming more and more well-liked in the US, several UK culinary experts predicted their extinction. The gastropub was considered obsolete by the Good Food Guide in 2011 and was afterward prohibited from all future recommendations. After editing the 2014 Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide, editor Rebecca Burr called for an end to the phrase in 2013, arguing that high-quality pub food ought to be the norm.

present-day gastropubs

There are a few distinctive characteristics of modern American gastropubs. The growth of the gastropub in America is mirrored by the country’s increased interest in craft breweries. It should be no surprise that gastropubs are renowned for their robust beer programs, which feature regional craft breweries and even cask ales. Signature burgers are frequently the headline menu item at gastropubs in America because pioneers Father’s Office and the Spotted Pig are famous for them. Additionally, charcuterie and many fried things can be found on menus that frequently emphasize seasonality. Many American gastropubs have also embraced the “small meals suited for sharing” approach.

In contrast to the British model, American gastropubs quickly become their breed. Father’s Office’s Sang Yoon explains: “I now believe that American gastropubs have an own personality. In my perspective, most establishments that identify as gastropubs run more like informal restaurants than as bars that also serve food.” While often referred to as gastropubs, establishments like Bloomfield’s stunning The Breslin function more like a restaurant than a bar.

Gastropubs

Even though gastropubs may be beyond their peak, new establishments with fantastic beer selections and terrific food served in a relaxed pub environment keep popping up across America. And that’s a good thing, according to Ryan Sutton, chief critic and data lead at Eater. The gastropub, according to Sutton, “has such a strong potential to be an entry point for Americans into cuisine that comes from more humanely raised animals than they’re used to, that is prepared with better technique than they’re accustomed to, and that comes from cooks and waiters who are hopefully better paid than they typically encounter.” The gastropub, not food per se, is the key to raising Americans’ interest in and spending on food.

In the end, gastropubs continue to reflect the preferences of modern American diners. It reveals that Father’s Office and the Spotted Pig, two trailblazers in the industry, continue to generate the most excitement, while Darden’s gastropub concept is still its top performer. Expect the existence of gastropubs to continue, despite the expanding fast-casual market.

Invasion of gastropubs in America

A gastropub revolution quickly made its way to America. Chef Sang Yoon had a single objective when he purchased the venerable Father’s Office bar in Santa Monica in 2000. “I wanted to provide good food in a relaxed atmosphere.” Yoon was influenced by the tapas bar, enoteca, and brasserie styles of European restaurants. Father’s Office quickly gained a reputation for serving excellent hamburgers, refusing replacements, and exclusively accepting walk-in customers. A second restaurant that serves a renowned burger and other dishes to large customers was established by Yoon in 2008.

Yoon admits to Eater that while he didn’t necessarily have a gastropub in mind, that is essentially what he accomplished. “Chef-owner Sang Yoon is fond of pointing out that Father’s Office is less a restaurant than a bar that happens to offer cuisine,” writer Jonathan Gold writes in a 2008 LA Weekly review of the second Father’s Office. Father’s Office doesn’t have waiters at that moment. Instead, patrons purchase meals at the bar, and a runner takes them to the table. “I always wanted a simple and subtle style where the individuals added the color,” says Yoon of Father’s Office’s aesthetic. Yoon has two restaurants and is still a pioneer in the LA dining industry.

Chef from head to tail

Although the phrase “gastropub” may have been created to describe the Eagle, the gastropub’s menu was heavily influenced by renowned British chef Fergus Henderson. Henderson founded St. John in 1994, and since then, its whole-beast cooking technique has been innovative.

Henderson’s straightforward yet perfectly prepared food has influenced the menus of today’s gastropubs, which are often hearty, comforting, and meaty. Henderson also encouraged cooks worldwide to experiment with “the unpleasant bits.” It is impossible to ignore his impact on menus. The ambiance of St. John and its 2003 sibling establishment, St. John Bread & Wine, also impacted because these were the first establishments to have the traditional kitchens and lively, casual dining areas that are so commonplace today.

Henderson describes the tension in his role as the father of modern British culinary thinking in an essay he wrote for the Guardian in 2014: “It’s intriguing that some claim that St. John invented gastropub staple “Modern British” cookery. We were called “200 years out of date” when we started, 20 years ago this October.” Numerous imitations of Henderson’s iconic recipes, such as his renowned marrow bones and parsley salad, can now be found worldwide.

Proliferation

Under the ownership of big restaurant chains and local businesses, gastropubs have prospered. It may not be unexpected that early proliferation occurred in England. The London-based ETM group, which runs several gastropubs, was established in 2000. The Guardian claims that by 2003 “Out of a total of 60,000 pubs, there are 5,000 gastropubs. Pubs that serve meals currently make up 90% of the total.” Anchor & Hope, a gastropub in London founded in 2004 by graduates of St. John, is a shining example of the industry’s expansion.

Gastropubs can be found around the United States, not just in popular dining areas like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. The hottest eateries in San Antonio, Columbus, Tucson, and Greenville have all been gastropubs.

From a London Trend to an American Phenomenon: Gastropubs

The gastropub appears to have most totally captivated the public’s attention of all the recent restaurant styles that have prospered, permeating almost every aspect of American dining. Eater asked Restaurant Editor Bill Addison for a working description of the modern gastropub, and he put it best: “I define a gastropub as a casual business, frequently loud, with a near-equal emphasis on great dining and drinking.”

While adding delicious cuisine to pubs may seem obvious, the gastropub hasn’t always been a staple of the dining scene. So how did they get so well-known? Will that acclaim continue?

Here is all the information you need about gastropubs, from the original London gastropub, the Eagle, to the American franchise Blackfinn Ameripub.

Origins

The historical pub tradition in England is responsible for the gastropub we know today. The modern pub sprang from the numerous beerhouses, taverns, and inns selling drinks to thirsty patrons for generations. There are about 7,000 pubs in and around London today, according to the long and rich history of English pub culture.

Pubs are sometimes associated with particular brewers and are recognized more for beer selections than cocktail menus. Plowman’s lunch, pork pies, fish and chips, and more modest appetizers like pickled eggs are regular menu items.

Introduction of the gastropub

Michael Belben and David Eyre, two restaurateurs, took up the lease of The Eagle, a pub in London, in 1991. According to their website, Belben and Eyre expanded the kitchen’s capabilities and “added a reasonable assortment of wine and a few rums to the draught beer and lager that was previously on offer.” The menu is constantly changing and is scribbled on a chalkboard. It features chowders, grilled whole fish and meats, sandwiches, and prepared dishes that frequently have an Italian or Mediterranean influence. With their publication named The Eagle Cookbook: Recipes from the Original Gastropub, The Eagle, which is still in operation today, firmly upholds its claim to be the first gastropub.

What makes gastropubs so popular?

Describe a gastropub. Is it merely a posh bar?

Not exactly. What precisely is a gastropub, and how does it vary from a “normal” pub? To emphasize the food component of this type of venue, the words pub and gastronomy were combined to form the phrase gastropub, which was first used in 1991. As described, a gastropub is a “restaurant in a pub” that prioritizes high-quality food and strong beer.

What dishes pair well with beer?

What therefore pairs well with beer? Grilled sausages are the star dish at Wurstküche, and they go great with any of the 24 imported beers they have on tap. This German/Belgian gastropub, housed in a plain, red-bricked structure in Downtown Los Angeles’ historic arts district, is everything but conventional. Wurstküche expands its menu to include a selection of sausages to satisfy every palate. This ranges from the traditional bratwurst to unique flavors like apricot ginger and vegetarian Mexican chipotle. Besides serving beer and sausages, Wurstküche offers a wide selection of non-alcoholic gourmet sodas, sides, and desserts. We adore how diverse their menu and customer base is. We had a great time when we were here. The food at the Grange is more varied, and pork is the main focus of the Public. The business models at World of Beer and The Tap are distinct since they only sell food brought by an outside restaurant.

The Wild Gastropub: Some of the Best Places to Drink and Eat Beer

It would help if you weren’t shocked to see more gastropubs opening up in different places around the US and the rest of the world. These bars are a fantastic combination for people who enjoy beer and casual gourmet food. Although naming the top gastropub in the US is virtually impossible, we can suggest a few standouts. Along with the places already listed, there are many more must-visit locations on the list as more gastropubs keep popping up. If you’re in Portland, you should visit the Sunshine Tavern, where they serve craft cocktails and specialty pizzas (with hen egg, sage, and Parmesan!). Many people would contend that Sylvain is the best location in New Orleans. Crispy pork belly, Louisiana popcorn rice, and buttermilk-fried chicken are some of their specialty dishes.