What makes a true British pub or at least its geographically distant facsimile? Three key traits are constant in every good or great Brit pub I’ve frequented over the many years of my illustrious and assiduous drinking career: environment, clientele, and beer.
Clutching these three keys, I passed through the doors of some Fort Worth pubs last week. The results were a mix of pleasant surprise and to-be-expected disappointment.
The environment of a pub is everything in terms of first impressions and lasting memories. Typically, a pub has a commanding bar of dark, thick wood – all the better for leaning on while chewing the fat. Lighting should be inconspicuous; seating conspicuous by its variety: tables and chairs, bar stools, and room to stand. Accoutrements such as pool tables and dart boards are welcome fripperies.
Ye Olde Bull & Bush (2300 Montgomery St, 817-731-9207) is a great example of a successful facsimile. It looks right and even succeeds in the “feel” department — that unquantifiable sense that there is something welcoming about a space the first time you walk in the door. These are places of fast friends, great drinks, and inevitable return visits. Baker St. Pub & Grill (6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-377-9772), a Brit-by-numbers misstep, is not and never will be authentic. The Camp Bowie chain bar looks and feels like an American without a passport tried to imagine a pub from a catalog of flair: 50 pieces maximum. The Royal Falcon (3803 Southwest Blvd, 817-732-5999) achieves something beyond or other than pub. Its woodchip walls, stained carpets, and open-plan room deliver you straight to the heart of a Working Men’s Club. This is the apotheosis of working-class drinking culture — no frills friendliness with good, affordable beer. Jolly well done, The Falcon.
Pub clientele should be a strong pint of regulars with a thick foam of characters — those old boys always at the right end of the bar putting the world to their rights; the stolidly drunk guys who surely never go home; the shot makers, piss takers, and confidence fakers. The Bull excelled in this regard: from the barmaid (knowledgeable, chatty, and story-ready) to the slightly-too-young-for-this whiskey chugger held up only by the bar’s reassuring heft. I was implored to return the next night to meet Big John, the self-described most sarcastic bastard in Fort Worth. Back at Faker St, folks attempted unidentifiable karaoke tunes. Finishing the night at The Falcon, my merry band of drinkers encountered troupes of soccer players un-fresh from the field and couples and friend groups of all ages with varying degrees of body-ink coverage. The barman was a friendly sort, sufficiently handsome for the female pubgoers but not so much so that the guys were annoyed.
Ultimately, beer selection and quality are the pub-maker or pub-taker. The Bull nailed it, boasting a good variety of English beers on tap with local crafts all served in 20-oz glasses. British-sized pints. Imperial. Imperious. To nitpick, the Fullers ESB was a little too cold to release its full chewy sulphur, but that’s me looking for fault. It is a Brit thing. I could lend no more of my hard-earned cash to Taker St than to purchase one putrid 16-oz pint of Boddingtons – an English bitter dubbed “The Pride of Manchester.” The Falcon follows the beer example set by The Bull, though, falls short in pint size – all good though in the selection and quality departments.
There are some solid pubs in our town. I will probably go back to The Bull and The Falcon but only after the burghers of Fort Worth un-strap their oxygen masks long enough to outlaw smoking in all public spaces. That, my friends, is another article altogether.