gas·tro·pub [ gástrō pùb ]
Like it or loathe it, the term is gaining traction.
It’s only been with us since the 1990’s when some of the more ambitious neighborhood pubs of London started expanding their menus beyond the standard pub grub of fish and chips and cheese sandwiches. The concept was a new one in a country where no one had ever mistaken a pub for a restaurant.
Pub. It’s a word that carries a lot of cultural weight in Britain. A pub is truly a public house; the public extension of one’s own living room, the place where neighbors go to argue politics, catch up on gossip, and celebrate special occasions. The oldest of the pubs are treasured relics that sheltered medieval pilgrims and gave liquid inspiration to the poets and playwrights of the Renaissance.
The restaurant-in-a-pub concept set off alarms among the old guard who feared for the traditional character of Britain’s pubs. For the rest of London, the gastropubs were an immediate hit, and have been credited with reinvigorating both pub culture and British dining.
Here in the U.S., we have no meaningful equivalent to the British pub. We have also never been sticklers when it comes to the lexicon of eating places. Establishments freely appropriate names from established formats so that we have a hodgepodge of auberges and brasseries that are indistinguishable from cafes, pubs, and bistros.
That’s why gastropub sticks in a lot of craws. Do we really need another word for restaurant? And if not, then what is being conveyed by the use of gastropub?
Gastropub is starting to give off a whiff of trendiness, of pretension. It used to promise genuine culinary one-upmanship; now it’s as if every kitchen that learned to put a burger on a brioche bun is calling itself a gastropub. As the name gained traction it lost meaning.
There’s already a new name and format on the horizon, and it’s a doozy. Bistrotheque. Like gastropub, it was first coined in London, and recently appeared on this side of the Atlantic.
The London-based blog Pubology takes you through the hairsplitting definitions of pub configurations.