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Gastro-what? A gas-what-pub?

Beer waiterLast week I casually used the term “gastropub” pub in referring to a series of stories about beer and cheese in the Boston Globe and didn’t give it further thought.

Today Stonch writes about the Time Out search for London’s best gastropub, and this time I paused.

The word merits an entry in Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English. It usually appears in a context that implies it is a good thing. Yet I still wonder if it is a great word for those who want to boost the image of beer and promote the idea that fine beer is a fine match for fine dining.

According to Wikepedia:

A gastropub is a British term for a public house (“pub”) which specializes in high-quality food a step above the more basic “pub grub.” The name is derived from gastronomy and was coined in 1991 when David Eyre and Mike Belben opened a pub called The Eagle in Clerkenwell, London. They placed an emphasis on the quality of food served, though The Eagle was not the first pub to offer good food. Gastropubs usually have an atmosphere which is relaxed and a focus on offering a particular cuisine prepared as well as it is in the best restaurants. Staying true to the format requires a menu that complements the assortment of beers and wines the gastropub offers.

I appreciate the link to gastronomy. I understand that gastric (as in distress) and gastro- are different. It even appears the British wine-types have bought into the term.

But say the word out loud.

To a 10-year-old. Who’s enjoyed good food in more brewpubs than the average American. And watch her scrunch up her nose.

14 Responses to Gastro-what? A gas-what-pub?

  1. SteveH August 14, 2007 at 12:59 pm #

    Um, are you suggesting your readers are 10 year olds? 😀

  2. Stan Hieronymus August 14, 2007 at 1:58 pm #

    At the risk of bragging on our 10-year-old, she understands the origins of words better than most (already her school’s defending Spelling Bee champion).

    It didn’t sound like her kind of pub to her.

  3. Stephen Beaumont August 14, 2007 at 3:49 pm #

    “Gastric” and “gastro” are actually not at all different. According to my Collins English Dictionary, “gastric” is defined as “relating to, near, or involving the stomach,” while “gastro-” is simply a combining form for “stomach.” Further on, we have “gastronomy” listed as being from the Greek gastronomia, from gaster, meaning– yes, you guessed it — stomach.

    Try as I might, I can’t think of a thing wrong with the word gastropub, other that its occasional misuse by establishments that don’t come close to meriting the descriptive.

    And while we’re at it, what do you think about Victoria, BC’s Spinnakers, which describes itself as a “Gastro Brewpub”?

  4. Stan Hieronymus August 14, 2007 at 4:08 pm #

    S – It is the sound of the word that throws me.

    I prefer bistro (and it appears that you do as well).

    Perhaps Spinnakers can win me over to the terminology next May-June, since we plan to stop there on the way to Alaska.

  5. Boak August 15, 2007 at 3:46 am #

    The real trouble with a lot of gastropubs I’ve seen (I rarely go in) is that they don’t bother with a decent beer selection. Or think that having Heineken, Becks, San Miguel and Peroni counts as a decent beer selection. I wish reviewers would pick up on this more but it’s a rare review that even mentions what beer they have available. Surely if you don’t care about the beer, then you’re not a gastroPUB.

    Don’t like “bistro” – probably because it’s too close to “Bisto” (a brand of instant gravy granules – totally unappetising!) Maybe that’s why it’s not used much in the UK!

  6. SteveH August 15, 2007 at 5:20 am #

    “I prefer bistro (and it appears that you do as well).”

    Gastro Bistro? 🙂

    BTW, I wasn’t dissing your 10 year old Stan, mostly following my fiancee’s oft comment to me, “What are you? Six?” And yeah, I still laugh at Bugs Bunny, so gastro isn’t going to sway my opinion all too much. A beer selection of Heineken and Beck’s, well – that’s another subject.

  7. Stonch August 15, 2007 at 7:30 am #

    I don’t like the term because I resent the notion that a pub that serves good food is somehow a totally different beast to a pub that doesn’t.

    In the British context, a pub which is heavily orientated toward food but nonetheless serves good cask beer is still a pub. You hear a lot of people complain that such places don’t welcome non-diners, but in my experience that isn’t normally the case.

  8. Stonch August 15, 2007 at 7:32 am #

    PS. I live a stone’s throw from the Eagle, which is still going strong. It’s not my favourite place in the area (so much competition), but I’ve eaten in their before (wonderful) and just had a drink there before (equally wonderful). Long live good food in British pubs.

  9. Stan Hieronymus August 15, 2007 at 8:30 am #

    One thing that struck us in the late 1980s in visiting British pubs – admittedly more outside of London than in – was that they had very good “home cooked” food. Such a lasagna for lunch and other choices that would be called “diner” food in the Northeast US.

    It wasn’t fine dining, but it was good.

    One of the things that bugs me about The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation is that the Sterns (who made “Road Food” a franchise) and Jim Leff (Chowhound) don’t get more credit.

    I think that’s because “good food” and “fine dining” are somehow seen as different.

    Now we’re way off the subject where I started – with a funny sounding word – but I might as well mention that I love the pairing of great meatloaf with cask bitter . . . or a German dunkel for that matter. Probably not considered gastropub stuff.

  10. Stephen Beaumont August 15, 2007 at 8:57 am #

    In my experience as a visitor, Stonch, the gastropub movement has had the effect of generally raising the level of quality of the fare served at the average British pub. I’ve certainly noticed a difference in post-Eagle London and can honestly say that I didn’t have a single bad meal while visiting Glasgow this spring. (Campbeltown, on the other hand, was a whole different story. A terrible place for food and beer, pre-summer tourist season, at least.)

    And I’m with you re: The Eagle, which I try to visit at least once any time I’m in London. I once arrived late enough that only beef tongue remained on the menu, and even that was delicious!

  11. Lew Bryson August 15, 2007 at 9:58 am #

    I’m with Stan: “gastropub” is just a non-euphonious word. I don’t like saying it, using it, or hearing it, any more than people apparently liked the combination “boutique brewery” back in the 1980s, a competing term for “microbrewery” that happily died out. Boutique brewery indeed…

    Are these places truly noted for their beer-friendly food and good beer selection? Or is “gastropub” simply a label slapped on bars/pubs with food so good that it surprises food and/or wine writers, the Devil take the beer selection? (Sorry, just trying to get things back on track…)

  12. Stephen Beaumont August 15, 2007 at 10:42 am #

    Then again, Lew, you live in one of those rare parts of the US where the terms “beer” and “good food” are not considered mutually exclusive. For the rest of us, gastropub is an indication of a place that (probably) has pretty good food and (maybe) a decent selection of beer. Such is not generally the case in many places, Toronto, New York City and San Diego included.

  13. Mark Tichenr August 15, 2007 at 12:18 pm #

    Steve, it’s funny how dichotomous good beer and fine dining are.

    My big beef has always been that a restaurant will feature a wine list the size of the US tax code, then offer Sam Adams, Bass, and Heineken for their beer selection. My main problem with local beer pubs is that all their food comes off of a Sysco truck, via a deep-fryer.

    The concept of a pub that knows beer, yet serves excellent food, is appealing to us beer geeks (the closest I’ve seen to this in reality is The Bier Markt in Toronto), but there’s that ‘bar’ stigma among fine diners (gastropods?). I think many pub owners are afraid that charging the high prices of fine dining will scare away their casual drinkers, and any restauranteur who focuses too heavily on beer will risk scaring away the hoity-toity yuppie snootbags who form the core of their business.

    Still, I don’t like the term ‘gastropub.’ It’s kinda snooty. Be what you are and let the quality of your food and the breadth of your cellar do the talking for you.

  14. Stonch August 16, 2007 at 6:19 am #

    None of us like the term gastropub – but we all like good food in pubs and think that beer and food go wonderfully well together. Good stuff.

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