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 We were called “200 years out of date” when we started, 20 years ago this October.”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.
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.