The history of gastropubs
The restaurant world has a tendency to bat around buzzwords and phrases that do not make immediate sense to those who aren’t in the know. Often, the concepts behind these words are actually pretty interesting. One example is that of the gastropub, a cross between a bar and a restaurant. These places typically serve artisanal beer, wine, and spirits, along with a full menu of interesting dishes, most of which are variations on the typical food found in casual eateries and sports bars. Gastropubs are commonly found these days, but where did this idea originate? Let’s explore the history of this culinary movement!
Food and alcohol have long held the reputation of being a great pairing. Elite restaurants predicated their sophisticated dining experience on elevating this combination to new levels, while casual diners were left with average beer, mediocre food, or both. This was especially true in England, a country that up until very recently was not renowned for their dining or cuisine. But as critically acclaimed restaurants from other countries’ cuisines began popping up in London in the late 1980s and early 90s, the onus was put on English restaurateurs to elevate their home country’s fare, as well. Among the first to do this were Mike Belben and David Eyre, who, in 1991, took over a London pub called the Eagle and resolved to serve great food in a casual atmosphere. The concept was a smash hit, ushering in an era where most pubs began to serve hot food in addition to cold goods. Thus, the gastropub was born.
Although it brought about a revolution of sorts in England, the States didn’t catch wind of the gastropub until 2000, when Chef Sang Yoon took over Father’s Office, a Los Angeles craft beer bar that was founded in 1953. Essentially the first of its kind in America, and not even intending to be a gastropub per se, Father’s Office, now under the direction of Chef Yoon, offered the same enticing combination the Eagle had nearly a decade prior in London: outstanding food in a casual setting. With its understated look and anti-restaurant service (the waiters don’t take your orders) juxtaposed with high-quality dishes and drinks, the gastropub caused quite a stir in the LA dining scene, garnering praise from critics and customers alike.
A similar place opened up on the opposite coast just four years later, when Ken Friedman founded The Spotted Pig in the West Village of Manhattan in New York City. The Spotted Pig offered bar food classics (think burgers and sandwiches) with refined twists, alongside more adventurous dishes that you might otherwise only find at a high-end restaurant. On top of that, the establishment offered craft beer, a carefully curated wine selection, and house-made cocktails. This sparked a movement in New York City whereby other gastropubs began to pop up, each with their own take on the model.
The gastropub as an eatery concept received the recognition it so rightfully deserved in 2006, when The Spotted Pig received a prestigious star rating from the Michelin Guide!
New York Develops a Taste for Gastropubs [The Washington Post]