Pub Culture: Where Brittania Rules
Is it possible to recreate the authentic feel of Britain in Southern California? The author goes on a search for true ...
A drop of moisture glides down the side of a pint of Boddingtons beer as it sits on the dark wood bar. Nearby, a steaming plate of battered cod and chunky potato fries rests on a tray, ready to be served to an awaiting customer. The wooden beamed walls surrounding the bar are adorned with maritime artwork, photos of British naval heroes and Irish pub memorabilia. A Union Jack hangs majestically from the ceiling. It is not difficult to determine the location of this scene—the tall red telephone box outside gives it away; welcome to a local British Pub.
It is not necessary to be an anglophile or expat to enjoy the tastes that Great British food has to offer. For Brits in La Verne, or simply Americans harboring a taste for the cuisine, there are British pubs nearby.
The Olde Ship
The Olde Ship, a traditional British pub, has locations in Fullerton and Santa Ana, both managed by Jackie McGuiness. The Santa Ana pub was the first to open in July 1990, with the smaller Fullerton pub following in April 1993.
The tempting aroma of fresh fish and chips can be smelt several yards before reaching the Harbor Boulevard shop. For those reared in England, this smell conjures up memories of local fish and chip shops, or “chippies” as they’re colloquially known.
The first thing noticeable is the realistically aged building—pubs in Britain are notoriously old buildings, some dating to the 1400s. The low ceilings and dark hardwood furniture replicate the traditional pub style without appearing tasteless or overdone. Old fashioned lamps create a flickering orange glow on the walls, and while the small mottled glass windows let in little light, the pub is not dingy—simply intimate and cozy.
Men and women perch on the bar’s tall wooden stools after a long day’s work and chat about life’s ups and downs. The barman ensures that every pint glass is kept filled—the long line of beer taps behind the bar guarantees a drink for every palate. There are no televisions with noisy sports games to distract the drinkers here; all that can be heard is the sound of amicable conversation between customers, mingling with warm laughter.
The Ship’s menu has a plethora of traditional British pub grub. From cottage pie, a dish consisting of ground beef in a tomato sauce topped with mashed potato; to cornish pasties, a pastry containing beef, onion, potatoes and carrots; and of course the hearty English breakfast, fried bread, eggs, bacon, hash browns, tomato, mushrooms and baked beans. All dishes are cooked with authentic British ingredients purchased from a nearby British grocer. Portion sizes are smaller than expected, when compared with a typical British pub meal; pub food is renowned for feeding two with one plate. Nevertheless, Olde Ship portions are certainly satisfactory. Prices range from $8.95 for a sandwich, to $17.95 for Lamb Shank—similar to England’s prices. The bar is fully stocked with a wide variety of wines and beers. Wine prices start at $4.50 for a glass of house red or white, and beer ranges from $3.50 to $5.95.
While pubs in England are perfect places to escape the bad weather, they are equally frequented in the summertime. With the exception of small city-center pubs, most public houses have a grassy area and/or patio out the back, known as a beer garden. These gardens are the No.1 place for anyone, with the lads or the family, to hang out when the sun is shining (which is quite a treat in England). Wooden picnic tables and benches are scattered outside, and often there will be a small area for children to play while their parents relax. The beer garden is just another dimension to the cultural entity of the Great British Pub. Sadly, it is tough to replicate the same experience across the pond.
“There are no televisions here,” says Ted Kingsland, alumnus from the University of La Verne, now an expert witness in Fullerton, “but there is always a crowd of people you can have a good conversation with.” An Olde Ship regular, Kingsland’s ‘usual’ is a pint of Warsteiner, and he is a particular fan of the cottage pie. “It’s just like the pubs in England, minus the dog lying in front of the fire place,” he says.
In Great Britain, the traditional pub is so much more than just a place to eat and drink. For a British person, the “local” is a part of life. The pub is a place to relax, perhaps even more so than at home, because it is a place to escape troubles and responsibilities. Unlike American sports bars or loud nightclubs, a British pub creates its own genre. You cannot classify a British pub with any other restaurant or bar; British pubs rarely have televisions, seldom play music—unless it’s a live band—and they don’t have dance floors.
What a British pub does have is the homey-feel, warmth, friendliness, and overall hospitality that is hard to find at other establishments. Each is unique, yet together, they share a mutual conviviality that causes the Great British pub to maintain its attraction throughout the generations.
Brian Massey, a real estate broker from Fullerton, enjoys the ambience at The Olde Ship. “It’s nice, quaint and comfortable and warm, especially when the weather is not so good,” he says. “You get an assortment of folks in here, a variety of ages, and it’s very easy to strike up a conversation with people.”
The Olde Ship pubs are not alone. Brit’s in Pasadena and Maggie’s Pub in Santa Fe Springs also offer British cuisine. Brit’s Pub on Colorado Boulevard unfortunately does not fulfill the criteria to be passed off as an authentic British pub. It is simply another restaurant-bar that just so happens to serve British food and display Irish beer memorabilia on the walls. The glass-fronted building and its Formica chairs are more reminiscent of a diner than a traditional pub. The high ceiling, fluorescent lighting and television set perched on the bar don’t help the image. The menu, whilst lacking in variety, does offer typical British dishes, and the Sausage Rolls—sausage meat encased in pastry and served with real Heinz baked beans—are delicious. The plate of salad that is served prior to the entrée is sadly another sign of how Americanized the establishment is. Brit’s is a suitable location to enjoy British cuisine, but for a person looking to experience traditional pub atmosphere, it won’t be found here.
Maggie’s Pub is impressive from the outside, looking slightly like it has been lifted from Disneyland with its elaborate fake olde-English architecture. However, once inside, it is plain to see that Maggie’s is far more an American sports bar than any type of British establishment. At least three large televisions are positioned around the room, and while the bar—stretching halfway across one wall—appears to be well-stocked, the distracting jukebox and bland layout scream “America.” The enormous interior is a basic rectangular shape, and it seems the pub has tried to cram as many tables and chairs in as possible, leaving little to be desired in the way of intimacy or atmosphere.
And the menu is disappointingly American. With items like buffalo wings, potato fritters and Philly cheese steak sandwiches on offer, it is easy to wonder why it doesn’t simply get rid of the Irish beer signs and red telephone box and stick to being an American bar and grill.
The menu’s few British dishes included fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash. There are other traditional British items listed in small print, but these have to be ordered in advance, which is baffling considering it calls itself a British pub. The final frustration of Maggie’s is the fact that it does not sell British tea. If you’re a Brit expecting to enjoy a good cuppa here, prepare to be disappointed.
At the end of the day there’s no beating a traditional public house in Great Britain. The atmosphere, the intimacy, the food, the overall hospitality are all hard to capture and recreate in another country, especially when British pub charm is steeped in English heritage and culture. The Olde Ship does its best to emulate this and does a good job of capturing the true essence of a public house, the heart of bona fide Britain.
As a British citizen, Rhian Morgan has been to a fair few pubs in the years since she turned 18 (the legal drinking age in Britain), and says she has fond memories of accompanying her parents to the pub as a young child.