A Scottish Pub for All Ages
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, January 25, 2008
The scene: Washington has dozens of bars that dub themselves Irish pubs and a few that are billed as English-style pubs , but as Scots around the world honor national poet Robert Burns's birthday with a meal of haggis and whisky today, I thought it was time to c heck in with the rare Scottish pub.
The Royal Mile Pub, a neighborhood tavern in Wheaton, offers more than 80 whiskys and a menu full of Scottish stews and main dishes. More than a typical drunken pub, the Royal Mile feels like a community gathering place. Monthly happenings include a book club ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" on Monday); traditional sea-chantey singalongs (first Tuesday of the month); a pub quiz (third Monday of the month); guest beer tastings (most Wednesdays); and a Sunday afternoon jam session of Scottish music for children and adults.
Actually, children are a given at the Royal Mile, whether during a Saturday night concert or Thursday happy hour. It has been that way since Ray and Joie Morrison founded the convivial pub more than 20 years ago. Their son Ian grew up at the Royal Mile, went to culinary school and is back running the kitchen.
The space: High, whitewashed walls and plenty of light make this the antithesis of typical dark-wood-and-brass pubs. Despite all the Scotch, the bar area is actually minimal. The L-shaped counter has only 14 seats, and it's not well-suited for standing. Most seats are in the dining room, which is decorated with old posters and tartan fabric draped overhead. When it's chilly out, the best seats in the house are near the fireplace.
In your glass: Scottish single malts dominate the menu, but blends, Irish whiskeys and bourbons show up as well. Eleven beers are on tap, but those hoping for a pint from Scotland will have to make do with a selection of bottles, including Harviestoun Old Engine Oil and the light, floral Fraoch Heather, whose 4,000-year-old brew, discovered by archaeologists, was made with heather flowers.
On your plate: This weekend's special Burns menu includes haggis and smoked salmon. Already have plans? Don't worry. Most of the dishes are on the menu year-round. The real star of the show, though, is the flaky beer-battered fish and chips. Morrison's chalkboard specials are less traditional, but it's hard not to be drawn to the Scotch egg: a hard-boiled egg wrapped in a thick mound of sausage, then deep-fried and served in cold, pate-style slices with a sweet, chutneylike pickle sauce. Perfect with a pint.
Need to know: Thursday is the night to visit, as the Royal Mile opens its menu up for a whisky tasting. All Scotches are served in half-ounce glasses instead of the standard two-ounce pour and are priced accordingly. Most tastes are $2.75 or $3.95, though you'll pay $12.95 to discover the beauty of a Macallan that has been aged in fine oak for 21 years. (That still feels like a bargain: A bottle costs about $250.)
Different regions and styles are featured every Thursday: On Jan. 31, it's Ardbeg and Lagavulin from the Lowlands. Need advice? The bartenders have tried most of the Scotches, and in-house expert Dan Welch leads a tasting once a month. Specials are available in the bar and dining room.
Nice to know: The pub has live entertainment every Saturday night, which could be a middle-aged garage band playing Willie Nelson and Chuck Berry covers, a pair of Irish musicians or topical comedy by the Gross National Product troupe.
Price points: Scotches generally cost between $6 and $10 for a two-ounce pour unless you want to get fancy, and then they can top $40. Beers are generally $5 or less.