Lost in Pond: British-Style Pubs – Why America Doesn’t Quite Get It Right

British-style Pub

As the British invasion of the United States continues to gather momentum, so too does the head count of British-style pubs. Typically marketed under the tagline “authentic”, such pubs are becoming a popular hangout for the 25-40 demographic throughout major American cities (and even some minor ones).

Indeed, for those British expats (and Americans, come to that) who do not have a cable subscription, these pubs are often an essential part of a football/soccer fan’s weekend.

But just how authentic are they? Well, as a British expat residing in the Midwest, I have  experienced admittedly few establishments that truly recreate the decor, ambiance and character of those back home.

While there are notable exceptions – such as Nicholson’s Tavern & Pub in Cincinnati – most pubs this side of The Pond tend to rely on harmless stereotypes and British imports to really hit home their message!

To that end, I have seen it all: framed photographs of Winston Churchill; flags of the United Kingdom (as well as the Republic of Ireland); toilet doors bearing the words “lassies” and “lads”; menus featuring images of Big Ben; football scarfs; fish and chips; Newcastle Brown Ale.

And amid all of these cliches, amid the paraphernalia, you find – almost without exception – a certain Americanness inside: an abundance of TV screens; neon signs; NFL shirts (yes, you read that correctly).


Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate the sentiment: as an avid Manchester United supporter, I’m not sure I would have seen many of the games without places like The Chatham Tap or The Claddagh Irish Pub. But the Englishman in me longs, with ever-increasing desperation, to step foot once more inside the genuine article.

When I think of British pubs, I think of slightly worn interiors with only a small complement of natural light. The bar selection should comprise not just of local beers and London Pride, but of Danish and Australian lagers. Indeed, the word lager itself should be present on the drinks menu. The gent’s loo would be that little bit more odorous and would bear a great deal more graffiti in its stalls. And there would be a pool table – one with British rules.

Oh, and a dart board. There must always be a dart board.

So to any aspiring Anglophile proprietors out there, remember that authentic means authentic; that Americans deserve to experience the raw, worn-in and warm (say that after 6 pints) atmosphere of a good old British public house. Cheers!

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  1. avatarPat says

    Is Newcastle Brown Ale a “cliche”? I’ve always enjoyed it. What do people in Newcastle/Gateshead drink?

    • avatarMike says

      Personally I have always preferred Double Maxim as a better bottled beer but I am from the Boro so may be biased there.

    • avatarMartine says

      Yes it’s a cliché, I will drink it on occasion if there’s no Real Ale available – there’s nothing wrong with it, but Newcastle Brown Ale is now considered a world beer and can be found pretty much anywhere. It’s just like the stereotype that Australians all drink Fosters, when ofcourse they don’t; Novocrastians and the like don’t all drink Newcy Brown, certainly back in the ’70s and ’80s it was popular due to its cheapness and availability among pit workers in Tyneside, but now I’d say it’s more of a run of the mill beer just like Carling etc.

  2. avatar says

    The Elephant and Castle in San Francisco is very authentic, and ticks all the boxes mentioned; dart boards abound. The food at the Pig and Whistle in SF is very authentic and delicious, as are the lager and beer selections, but they do tend to play too much local sports on the telly. The Red Lion in Winter Park is very authentic as well, with darts tournaments weekly ( the upscale nicer side of Orlando)

  3. avatarBruce says

    I couldn’t agree more. I can’t tell how many “pubs” there are in the Dallas/fort worth area that aren’t even remotely a pub. I do however work at a real British pub here in Fort Worth. Is owned and operated by a chap from Nottingham. It’s small, dark, not very clean, the door are rickety, the dart boards are worn, the beers aren’t ice cold and we are the longest running pub/bar in Texas that has had Fullers ESB on draft. If you are ever in town pease come have a pint at ye olde bull and bush. First pint is on me.

  4. avatarKim says

    Yes to all you’ve said.
    I did my postgrad degree in England and had to be brought back to the US kicking and screaming. I miss my Exeter local something fierce – as well as all those fantastic local southwest ales.
    There’s a relatively new chain of pubs here in “New England” called British Beer Company. They still have the omnipresent big screen television set, usually with a Red Sox game showing – though they did have Premier League on one screen. On the plus side, I can get Hobgoblin, ESB, and London Pride there, and on a pump instead of a tap. The pies are better than I expected, but I need to teach them some things about roasted root veg.

  5. avatarMG says

    You left out the concept of it being “a local”, freedom to bring your dog inside in most non-urban establishments, a decent ploughman’s (with BRANSTON), and a proper Sunday lunch – at a very favorable price – of roast and two veg. And quiz night. There really, really, really has to be quiz night.

    Being an expat is hard work, and never more so than when in search of a friendly pint……………

    • avatar says

      Laurence’s wife here. I can vouch that his hometown local (the Jubilee in Grimsby) was like that, and we’ve been to more than one quiz night with his parents. It’s always a good time and something I really wish we did more of here in the US.

  6. avatarLisa says

    If its any consolation most American themed diners in the UK are less than authentic, from the ever present full English on the menu (served with beans, mushrooms and a tomato) and the absence of pancakes, waffles or French toast (or God help them if they offer them, they are unpalatable) to the scant portion sizes, the decor is about all they get right.

    At the end of the day a business has to cater to its local clientele, and most Americans would find a traditional pub atmosphere a bit… musty… and British clientele would be downright outraged if they didn’t find a full English and milky cup of tea on an all day breakfast menu.

  7. avatar says

    Thanks for the comments, guys!

    Pat: perhaps Newcastle Brown Ale is less a cliche and more of a staple.

    Elizabeth: your information will help me more than you could ever know. I am planning a trip a trip to SF (and other places) to tour America’s British style pubs.

    Bruce: “small, dark, not very clean, the door are rickety, the dart boards are worn, the beers aren’t ice cold”. Now THAT sounds like a pub.

    Kim: If I’d have lived in Southwest England, I would miss it too. Devon is my favourite place from that neck of the woods.

    MG: Now that you mention it, I miss all of those things too. Especially quiz night and Sunday lunch. Enjoying the two at the same time was always fun.

    Lisa: I have to agree. I feel a post about American-style establishments in England coming on.

  8. avatarKarl says

    I have been to British style pubs in Boston,they didn’t look very authentic to me,beside the beer they called ale wasn’t like ale at all because it was heavily carbonated and freezing cold,ale should never be carbonated and should be served at cellar temperature around 53f,so needless to say I wasn’t impressed at all and then the pints came is smaller glasses.

  9. avatarMary says

    As someone that’s been raised in America, I have to ask: Without multiple screens, what do they do when more than one popular sporting event is on at once?

  10. avatarPam says

    I hate to have to say this but will anyway : as a British ex-pat living in the U.S. for over 30 yrs. I still have yet to find a truly authentic British pub that is more “upscale” in decor/ambiance/food etc. – I personally do not want one that is shabby/scruffy/unsanitary/& unauthentic. In want comfort/gourmet REAL English pub grub (NOT frozen crinkle cut fries)/clean loos/nice decor/good selections of beers & ciders ON TAP at correct temperature/darts boards etc.separate from main dining room & decent pub music. I know they’re out there somewhere, most likely in Orlando-South Florida/Southern California where most of the Brits like to congregate. If I could afford the $$ would buy one myself but…… So far have encountered Ploughman’s Lunch with soapy supermarket American cheddar & stale Keiser rolls, frozen fries & ghastly greasy “Shepherd’s Pie” +other not made from scratch “British” food. Shame shame shame.

  11. avatarLOU says

    Trying to find an authentic English pub in the US is like looking for real Mexican food in the UK. It’s like looking for an all-night taco stand at Blackpool’s North Pier.