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Dec 19, 2007 12:52 PM

Gastropubs -- played out? (moved from Los Angeles board)

Seems like everyone is getting on the gastropub bandwagon these days, places essentially imitating Father's Office in Santa Monica are popping up like mushrooms from LA to Phoenix. (Not to mention that the people behind FO are in the midst opening up a second location.)


Is it getting out of hand? Is the concept and, I daresay, the 'art' of the gastropub, being diluted? Are some of these gastropubbers taking themselves a bit too seriously? Can we stand more dry-aged beef gourmet burgers? After all, 'familiarity breeds contempt', no?

Or am I just a misanthrope? Your opinion is appreciated. Hit me.

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  1. I'd say that there's a pretty big appetite for them, if they're done right with decent food. The York is pretty popular, and I'm sure Father's Office 2 will be off the hook. Don't know if the Village Idiot is a gastropub or just a pub, but it's always packed too. If they come in at a certain price point, I think people are loving them. If they're too expensive or the atmosphere isn't right, then maybe not, but that's true of any restaurant. So, no, I don't think we'll see the end for quite a while.

    1. By virtue of the fact that people have been clamoring for FO2 to open and for Hungry Cat to re-open, there definitely is an appetite for "gin-joints with food".

      But there are plenty of those looking to capitalize on the phenomenon. The York (on York) fashions itself as a gastropub, but in reality, it's probably just a pub.

      2 Replies
      1. re: SauceSupreme

        You're right, as is the Village Idiot or 3rd Stop or the Redwood. I don't think the original British gastropubs would consider burgers and fish 'n chips to be terribly special. To me, this difference in these places is that the burgers and fish 'n chips are hopefully higher quality than at the old time places like Tom Bergin's or The Red Lion.

        1. re: SauceSupreme

          Hi Sauce,
          I actually would call The York a "gastropub" since it's the food that brings me back.
          I'm not usually on the hunt for a beer but the food is reason enough for me to be excited to drink one...that almost never happens.

        2. I would say it's a case of the term itself being overused, rather than there being an actual influx of such places. But I'm all for upping the food standard at bars. As long as I'm not going to get out of there for less than $50, I'd at least like to be somewhat impressed by what I eat with my booze.

          1. To me the gastropub (both here and in Britain) is what the French Bistro is to the French and what the trattoria is to the Italians; an affordable restaurant with a casual atmosphere and high quality, well executed and uncomplicated food.
            If we are becoming a more food serious nation in the tradition of say France or Italy then to me the gastropub should serve as an essential cornerstone to our American dining society. This can only happen as I see it, if it stays true to its roots however: independent, uses local produce and remains beer focused. Otherwise they’ll just morph into chains by a different name. Note: I suggested that the gastropub remain beer focused because I believe that today American craft beer is an affordable luxury that the equally price-pointed wines can’t really match.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Chinon00

              I hear what you are saying and agree with most of it.

              But gastropubs, in general, are not really 'affordable'. Okay, they're not the French Laundry either, but upwards of $10-$12 for a burger w/o sweet potato fries is not really affordable.

              1. re: vlad

                Sure, one man's "affordable" might be another's "pricey". However, I'd say that typically you'd spend the same money at a gastropub as you would spend at a T.G.I Friday's no?

                1. re: Chinon00

                  I think gastropubs tend to be a bit more expensive than TGIFs --- and better as well.

            2. I actually wrote about this very topic earlier this year:

              I know that in LA, "gastropub" is a very trendy term right now, but I don't think that the restauranteurs who use it are being particularly opportunistic. It's just shorthand for what they offer: good food and good beer in one place. Which I'm certainly in favor of :)

              20 Replies
              1. re: Papuli

                Thanks for the article, however I disagree with Gabe Byer's assessment:

                "[R]eally, the most important thing, even to most gastropub-eurs, is the atmosphere. Byer summarizes, “I think all you need…is to be a pub and serve better-than-average pub fare.” "

                I think that that could be a minimum requirement, but I'd personally expect more from a typical gastropub.


                1. re: Chinon00

                  Yup, like a rotating, seasonal menu, and/or an artisanal selection of beer, wine and spirits.

                  Again, Hungry Cat in Los Angeles is an unlikely example.

                  1. re: SauceSupreme

                    I'm a bit confused by your post. Are you saying that the Hungry Cat is not a good example of a gastropub? I visited their website and to me it wouldn't qualify for a couple of reasons:
                    1) Price - When you break the $20 threshold for an entree and $40 threshold for a bottle of wine you are a "restaurant" and no longer a gastropub.
                    2) Cocktail list - As above, to me this is something you'd find at a restaurant (and a "scene" restaurant at that) rather than at a gastro.


                    1. re: Chinon00

                      I would happily cite Hungry Cat as an example of an LA-flavored gastropub (the menu, actually, has more of a Maryland flavor by virtue of the head chef).

                      It's unfair to use price as a limitation, unless you're saying that the higher price point attracts a different clientele (which it does) that goes against what you're looking for in terms of a gastropub's atmosphere. So be it.

                      But as far as being cocktail-centric versus, say, beer-centric, that's in the hands of who's ordering. Let me know if you can find a place that'll serve Craftsman or Alesmith on tap and have the same quality in food. So no, it's not a beer bar, but it's far closer to a true gastropub than places like The York or 3rd Stop or Library, which are all just pubs. By the way, the beers that I'm ordering at the other places (say, Duvel or Delerium), I can still get at HC. I can also get Pabst Blue Ribbon at HC. In a tallcan.

                      1. re: SauceSupreme

                        I want to appreciate your point of view but honestly I just visited websites for The York and 3rd Stop and to me both are exactly what I'd consider gastropubs to be.
                        When you say "[they] are all just pubs", my response is, yes! For me a gastropub is definitely a pub but one that has heightened attention to its menu versus that of a regular pub (e.g. The York's pulled pork cuban sandwich with mustard aioli, gruyere, ham and pickle). Now a regular cuban sandwich definitely suggests "pub" but by utilizing aioli and gruyere in their's, The York has raised the bar (no pun intended).
                        Also, as for your "cocktail-centric" comment and I noticed too that the The York does feature a cocktail list. This is more of an LA gastropub thing I guess.
                        But when you say "[l]et me know if you can find a place that'll serve Craftsman or Alesmith on tap and have the same quality in food", many non-gastropub restaurants that I regularly visit (as well as many that I don't) feature excellent draft beer. As a matter of fact that is one of the bigger trends in the overall restaurant scene today.


                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Okay, I understand. I think The York is a very cool spot, and I don't mean to denigrate it in any way when I said it was just a pub.

                          From my point of view, I was looking at it from the angle where, if I removed the liquor license here, would it be the same place, and likewise, if I removed the kitchen, would it be the same place also. You were defining gastropub as pub first, then an elevated approach to pub food. Whereas I guess I was just looking for a place where both the food and the booze merited artisanal attention. Tomayto tomahto.

                          So if The York is a gastropub, then what's Hungry Cat? Do we just call it a restaurant with an excellent bar? A restobar? Mixolaurant?

                          I guess it all depends on what strays from the norm. The fact that HC focuses on mixology might be unique in LA, but it's the norm here in Portland, so you'd be right to call it just a restaurant. Likewise, if every pub you ever walked into had the menu of The York, you'd feel no need to qualify a pub as a gastropub.

                          1. re: SauceSupreme

                            Well a pub has a certain atmosphere; nooky and dark, cozy, warm and casual (no table cloths). Also, you never have to make a reservation at pub do you? And there should be a jukebox or a dj providing music. In other words there should be an open hostility toward formality. Yet within this context (this particularly funky and cozy context) one can be treated to a dandy chicken liver mousse, or a well truffled cheese or a steak topped with foie gras (and all reasonably priced as well).
                            So it is this contradiction of having wonderfully fussy food served in a thoroughly unfussy atmosphere that leaves me uniquely satisfied.

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Here is why I think, for example, Father's Office is a restaurant, not a pub. People go to and seek out FO, not for the plethora of beers they carry on tap --- but rather for the fantabulous FO burger. The beer is great, but does not serve as the focal point of the FO experience. The focus is on, most of the time, the FO burger. A true pub is where one goes to socialize and, paramountly, drink alcohol --- and maybe partake in some grubby fries or what have you.

                              In my mind, the patrons' focus on food foremost and drink secondarily, makes FO a restaurant, not a pub.

                              1. re: vlad

                                Are you drawing any distinction between a "pub" and a "gastropub" in your analysis? If you are then I probably agree with you.
                                When I spoke of a "pub" I was talking about atmosphere only. And again for me a "gastropub" must have a pub atmosphere with elevated pub cuisine (the result by the way could be a food focused place or a beer focused place).

                                1. re: vlad

                                  I don't think you can fault the establishment for the popularity of a certain dish. People might go to FO for the burger, but there is a clear emphasis on the beer, whether or not the patrons hold it in the same regard as the food.

                                  1. re: SauceSupreme

                                    I don't fault FO for the popularity of their burger. I love their burger as well as their other offerings.

                                    But I think its patrons implicitly define FO as a restaurant, not a pub.

                                    1. re: vlad

                                      But to reply to myself:

                                      Who really cares?


                                      1. re: vlad

                                        How do you know what "it's patrons define FO" as? There are fine dining establishments where I and others go to but only for drinks. Should we therefore define these places as simple "bars"?

                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          Like I wrote earlier, I think the patrons implicitly (and perhaps unconsciously) define FO as a restaurant b/c to my eyes and ears, most people go to FO for the burger.

                                          I could be wrong, and most people go to FO for the beers. But I don't think I am.

                                          Your second question hinges on what do most of the people go to do in any establishment. You may choose to only drink at whathaveyourestaurant, but most people probably go there for the food. After all, drinks are much more fungible than food is.

                                          1. re: vlad

                                            "A true pub is where one goes to socialize and, paramountly, drink alcohol"

                                            Are you suggesting that at FO there is virtually no significant alcohol consumption occuring and instead merely burger munching? I've never been so I'm asking for your informed opinion.

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              No, not at all.

                                              What I am suggesting is that people don't go to FO to drink beer, they go to FO to eat the burger and then have a beer with it. If they went to get beer at FO and have a burger with their beer, then it would be more like a pub --- but it isn't, it is more like a restaurant.

                                              1. re: vlad

                                                Ok, so we are speaking apple to apples I'll break down my understanding of the terms in question to you:

                                                1) Pub - A drinking establishment with a good set of taps and passable food. There are no reservations required, no real seating arrangements, no hand held menus, etc. There also might be darts (although fading in Britain), a juke box, or a pool table.

                                                2) Gastropub - Is similar to the above in terms of character and operation (e.g. dark, nooky, generally no reservations are required, open seating, etc). But unlike the above, the food is well beyond passable and is instead (at a minimum) heightened versions of pub food (e.g. blue cheese stuffed burger with pomme frittes). Also, a gastropub unlike a pub will usually not have a pool table or darts but might have a juke box.

                                                3) Restaurant - An eating establishment with assigned seating, hand held menus and which will at times require reservations.
                                                The food at a restaurant can be anything so the main difference between a "restaurant" and a "gastropub" isn't the food but is instead how the two are operated and their atmospheres. There is usually more of an emphasis on beer at a gastropub, but craft beer is becoming more and more of a fixture at restaurants in general today as mentioned before.


                                                1. re: vlad

                                                  I beg to differ with this assessment of FO, as there are a large number patrons of FO who are there for the beer. Observe the people around you the next time you sit at the bar area, which is more dense than the table area. Also, they pour a decent amount of wine, obviously nowhere near as much as the beer, but it's there also.

                                                  You can come back and argue that they're all drinking beer while waiting for a chance to eat a burger, and you would have a point with that, but you can't outright dismiss the beer element.

                                                  While FO has a large amount of foodie cachet, it isn't merely a foodie bar.

                              2. re: SauceSupreme

                                I rarely make beer or cocktails a priority (I'm a happy wine-o) however, if someone is in the mood to get together for "drinks" I am the first to scream "HUNGRY CAT" cuz I LOVE their cocktails and the food ROCKS!!! So, it's the best of both beer-loving friends are happy, my wine loving friends are happy, and I'm happy to ignore wine for an evening while I drink great booze while eating amazing food!
                                So...I would say gastropub because I don't want to go just for the drinks, the drinks make me want the food; I don't just go for food because once I start eating something there, I want a great drink to go with it.
                                And, like a pub, I don't feel like an asshole on the time I want to cruize in there solo for a drink and a bite; on the days that I want to drink and socialize, it's great that not everyone is obligated to order food...y'know, like a pub.

                                1. re: tatertotsrock

                                  "And, like a pub, I don't feel like an asshole on the time I want to cruize in there solo for a drink and a bite; on the days that I want to drink and socialize, it's great that not everyone is obligated to order food...y'know, like a pub. YUM!"

                                  I appreciate your point and do not wish to be difficult but I regularly and for a very long time have enjoyed meals and drinks alone at places that are definitely restaurants and not pubs or gastropubs. If I couldn't simply eat and/ or drink (and socialize) at the bar at so many different restaurants I'd never have the opportunity to experience so many great places.