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A taste of Britain

December 1996

north star pub
North Star Pub in Manhattan.
While more bars and brewpubs are opening every day, offering beer drinkers a variety of choices beyond compare, many good-beer fans want nothing more than to settle in at a friendly "local." Establishments classified as British pubs frequently offer the friendly atmosphere and fine beer they are seeking.

Given the growing numbers of British ales available in the United States, the number of pubs with red telephones out front and dartboards inside hardly seems surprising. The term "British pub," however, has come to be used much too broadly. "A lot of places hang a picture of the Queen on the wall, sell Guinness and call themselves an English pub," an owner of a Florida pub once told us. It takes a bit more to create an inviting British pub.

While British pubs flourish particularly in Florida and Southern California (where many Brits spend their golden years), you can find them everywhere. The George and Dragon in Phoenix has been busy since it opened early last year. The Sherlock Holmes Pub recently opened in Nashville. Sherlock's Home in Minnetonka, Minn., not only replicates a British hotel pub but dispenses "real ale" just like in England.

American versions of the British pub come in many flavors, but that's also the way it is in England. A crowded pub in London's Covent Garden on a Saturday night differs greatly from a small country pub where casks of "real ale" are turned on their sides and dispensed by gravity.

Some American pub owners have gone as far as to import every part of the pub's interior from Great Britain, including the waitstaff. Others are pubs in part because of what goes on inside them every day. Certainly there are many places with publike ambience. A British tourist once told us Carrollton Station in New Orleans, a small tavern/music venue serving mostly American beers, came as close as any bar in America to being a "true pub." Any pub that bans televisions and offers couches to sit on is on its way to capturing the pub atmosphere, that sense (to quote from one pub's matchbook cover) that "good companionship is the order of the day." In this list of a few of our favorites, however, we've limited ourselves to those pubs meant to evoke the British Isles.

510 Commonwealth Ave., Boston

Americanized British pubs have always served British ales, but not "real ale." Cask-conditioned versions of beers brewed in England simply aren't available in the United States. While a growing number of microbreweries and brewpubs are making beer to be served through a beer engine, many of these keg-conditioned beers are not what Britain's Campaign for Real Ale defines as "real ale."

At Cornwall's you can get the real stuff. Atlantic Coast Brewing of nearby Charlestown makes both keg and cask versions of its beers, and Cornwall's is one of a select few accounts that serves the "real ale" bitter and IPA. You can sip from a 20-ounce British pint glass, stare at the framed pub towels on the walls and imagine you're on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Cornwall's also serves a variety of British ales and American craft beers on tap.

The pub is below street level in Kenmore Square near Fenway Park, and a sign at the entrance sets the tone for the place: "Attention all Yankees fans: You can't wear your hat and we don't serve Budweiser." As well as serving a full lineup of pub foods -- shepherd's pie, fish & chips, etc. -- Cornwall's has a raw bar.

The Fox & Hound
107 Edinburgh S., McGregor Village, Cary, N.C.


The legend behind the pub reads: "It is widely believed that Professor Moriarty died while trying to kill his arch enemy, and constant pursuer, Sherlock Holmes. After falling from the cliffs at the Falls of Reichenbach on May 4, 1891, he was never heard of again in Dr. Watson's chronicles of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But 32 years later, from Professor Moriarty's deathbed confession, it was learned he had indeed survived the fall from the cliffs. Recovering from serious injuries sustained in his fall, and learning that Holmes was still alive, he abandoned his life of crime. Assuming a new name, with his brother James Moriarty, he opened a pub -- the Fox & Hound -- in the north of England. In 1991, upon the death of the last of the Moriarty heirs, the pub was sold in public auction, dismantled piece by piece and rebuilt in Cary."

The Fox & Hound is in an upscale outdoor mall. Exquisitely carved heads of a fox and hounds are part of the back bar, while the area in front of the bar includes large stuffed chairs. As well as offering British ales on tap, the Fox & Hound serves a keg-conditioned pale ale from Carolina Brewing Co. via a beer engine. A full complement of pub food is available in the bar area, with a longer menu available in the adjoining dining room.

Horse Brass Pub
4534 S.E. Belmont, Portland, Ore.

The Horse Brass has been the Pacific Northwest's answer to a British pub for 20 years now. The walls are filled with all kinds of stuff that owner Don Younger has brought back from trips to Britain, including coasters, beer signs, maps, and of course, horse brasses. A sign near the entrance reads "Welcome Yanks," and one corner of the pub is devoted to Winston Churchill. Another corner draws some serious darts competition.

The Horse Brass boasts 42 taps, featuring Oregon's finest as well as British ales, and about 70 bottled beers. Not many pubs can claim to have served keg-conditioned beer for more than 10 years, but the Horse Brass has been doing it for 11. Be sure to try Younger's Special Bitter on handpump, made by Rogue and named for Don Younger's brother, Bill. This is the place to go for well-made traditional English pub food, including Scotch eggs, steak & kidney pie, ploughman's lunch and fish & chips.

North Star Pub
93 South St., Manhattan

The British-American Chamber of Commerce once labeled the North Star the best pub anywhere. Some British tourists drop their bags at their hotels as soon as they hit this side of the Atlantic and head directly here. The pub is in South Street Seaport, a historic district on the East River, with cobblestones leading right to the door. It looks exactly like a London pub, from the wood and signs on the outside to the bar with the Victorian snob screens inside.

The pub doesn't have a cellar, so no form of "real ale" is offered, but the lineup of British keg beer is solid and is always served fresh. Unlike some ersatz pubs where owners labor under the misconception that pub food is supposed to be mediocre, here the food is excellent and a value, particularly for Manhattan. The North Star usually has more than 70 single-malt whiskies to choose from.

Old Toad
271 Alexander St., Rochester, N.Y.

Rose & Crown
873 Monroe Ave., Rochester, N.Y.

A Rochester resident once wrote us, "I figure if you can't get to England the Old Toad is the closest place I can get to be in an English pub." When this pub opened May 8, 1990 (the anniversary of V-E Day), everything from the ceiling down came from England -- even the waitstaff of students in their junior year of college. The menu includes shepherd's pie, bangers & mash and other items you would expect in a pub. And the beer menu includes "real ale." Setting out to dispense cask-conditioned ale just as it's done in England was even rarer in 1990 than it is today. The owners sent the bar's manager to England to learn to cellar the beer properly, bought firkins, added a temperature-controlled room just for the cask beer, and convinced regional breweries to put "live" beer in the casks.

The Old Toad has been so successful it spawned a second pub serving "real ale." The Rose & Crown is one of more than a dozen Rose & Crowns across the country, although none are related. It's a popular and ancient pub name, commemorating the War of the Roses, fought between 1466 and 1485. This one replicates a "back street boozer," and there are darts and board games (even chess tournaments). Comedy nights are the last Friday of each month, and the pub hosts theme nights. One earlier this year was Monty Python night, featuring a Spam bake-off.

Prince of Wales Pub
106 E. 25th Ave., San Mateo, Calif.

Small and cozy, with a gas fireplace, a bar that seats eight and a smattering of tables, the Prince of Wales is a gem. In this age of "bigger is better" when it comes to new bars, it's refreshing to find a place where the maximum occupancy is 50. The decor lends the pub a comfortable intimacy, with a low ceiling, dark wood, tablecloths on the tables and flocked wallpaper. Pictures, pennants, coasters and newspaper clippings hang on the walls. The Prince of Wales is a sports bar with a satellite dish, but owner Jack Curry is a former U.S. darts champion, and the pub is home to the longest-running weekly open singles tournament in the Bay Area.

Beer choices include well-poured Guinness, some British ales and a few craft beers on tap, with a nice bottle selection. Food choices run a bit contrary to British pub staples, although fish & chips is a specialty. You'll want to try Jack's Texas-style chili, which has won national awards. Other choices include jerk chicken, burgers, meat pies and sandwiches.

White Cockade Public House
18025 State Highway 9, Boulder Creek, Calif.

Tucked in the redwood forests northeast of Santa Cruz, the White Cockade feels about as far from California as you can imagine. (For that matter, so does the Prince of Wales.) The Scottish pub is set in a log building with low ceilings, knotty-pine paneling and a wood-burning fireplace. There's seating for about eight in the barroom, with lots of clubby chairs around tables in adjoining dining rooms and patio furniture on the deck outside. The Cockade salutes World War II, with Big Band music sometimes on the stereo, WWII memorabilia in the barroom and a private aviators' club room in back. Expect to see a mellow cat wandering the premises.

Beers on tap celebrate Britain, with offerings such as Fuller's ESB, Felinfoel Double Dragon, Double Diamond, Blackthorn Cider, Guinness and Harp. The Samuel Smith's line is available in bottles. Food includes traditional pub fare, and if you're lucky, you'll be around when they're serving fresh salmon, landed by the landlord from his own fishing boat.

Here's a list of more than 100 British pubs in the United States.

More fine choices
- Corner bars
- Historic taverns
- British pubs
- Irish pubs
- 4-star spots
- Multi-taps
- German gems

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