Elephant & Castle

Patio/Rooftop, Bar
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Editorial Review

Veddy Good: Two English Pubs Join Crowd
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, October 28, 2005

IF I TOLD you an Irish pub was coming to your neighborhood, you'd have a pretty good idea of what to expect: pints of Guinness "on draught," Guinness mirrors and knickknacks on the walls, live Celtic music, perhaps bartenders and staff with lilting accents.

But what about an English pub? Probably English ales, darts, football -- that's soccer, mate -- on the telly. Dark, heavy wood? The Beatles, the Who or Oasis on the jukebox?

We've got dozens of Irish pubs in the Washington area, even two pubs that claim allegiance to Scotland. For whatever reason, though, English pubs haven't caught on, outside of horse country and the British Embassy, which has its own private Union Tap pub. Call it the revenge of the Irish.

This all may be changing, though, as two new "English" pubs have opened in recent months, each with its own vision of what an English pub can (or should) be.

First to arrive was the Elephant and Castle (1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-347-7707), part of a Vancouver-based chain with 26 pubs across North America, from Saskatoon to Boston.

As you'd expect, there's a formula at work here: a few items that scream England (a royal coat of arms over the door, a rowing shell with oars from Keble College, Oxford, suspended from the ceiling), a few mirrors and vintage-style liquor ads, and a display of jugs and pottery on shelves. The chain's logo is prominently displayed on windows, doors and menus, and set into stained glass above the long, wide bar.

Floor-to-ceiling windows take advantage of the view of the Old Post Office Pavilion, while high tables and soft carpets add a touch of the traditional. The room is pleasant enough, though a little bland, as if corporate didn't want to take too many chances with the decor.

(A back dining area strays a bit into the stereotypical McPub, with reproduction beer signs, stone arches over doorways and shelves filled with books that will never be read. I suppose they had a warehouse full of the stuff that needed emptying.)

Of the 20 draft beers available, six are British, as is the Strongbow cider. It's always nice to see Boddington's or Newcastle, but what's most remarkable is that Elephant and Castle has worked out a deal with Fuller's, the West London brewery noted for a number of award-winning beers. Special taps designed to look like (but not operate as) traditional hand-pulled pumps dispense low-carbonation versions of London Pride, London Porter and the ESB (Extra Special Bitter) -- no beer has won more awards from the England's Campaign for Real Ale than the ESB, a rich, malty brew with a liberal dose of hops and hints of tangy fruit in the nose and the finish.

All pints are available in regular (16 ounce) or imperial (20 ounce) sizes; I prefer the larger because it's served in a sturdy English nonic glass, which has a balloon-like bulge below the mouth. People who've never seen one will ask what you're drinking.

Elephant and Castle is truly a "local" for the downtown office crowd to hit after work or a place to grab a plate of fish and chips or tasty shepherd's pie before heading to the theater. Crowds die off on weekend evenings or weekdays after 8, but at least you won't have to finish up by 11.