Here’s the third and final (after “bestie” and “flummox“) entry in a series of posts based on words I only realized were Britishisms after reading Lynne Murphy’s book The Prodigal Tongue. They represent a sort of blind spot, or koan, for your humble blogger: if a word or phrase is prevalent in the U.S., how is one to realize that it’s of British origin? Sometimes I encountered it in the U.K. years before hearing it here; sometimes it just has a telltale whiff. Other times, you just have to rely on Lynne Murphy.

And so with “gastropub,” meaning, basically, a bar that purports to serve good food. If I had thought about it, I probably would have realized it’s British, as it’s the British who have proper pubs. In any case, according to the OED, it popped up no later than April 1996, when the (London) Evening Standard wondered: “Will stale pork pies and reheated bangers ever be axed from pub menus? The rise of the gastro-pub suggests that, one day, they might.” The term fairly quickly lost its hyphen.

It crossed the Atlantic in 2003. I can pinpoint the date (as well as the person who brought it over) because in November of that year, the New York Times reported:

April Bloomfield …, a 28-year-old English chef and alumna of the River Cafe in Hammersmith, just outside London, spent the summer in the kitchen of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., preparing for her new job in New York. She will be cooking at The Spotted Pig, a gastropub at 314 West 11th Street, when it opens in a couple of weeks.

After Pig, the deluge. Gastropub has made 315 appearances in the Times since then, including in a 2015 article about a Long Island sports-gastropub called Brixx & Barley. Instead of fried chicken wings,

jumbo wings … are marinated in pineapple juice, beer, jalapeño, cinnamon and other spices for about 48 hours, baked in a brick oven to render off the fat and grilled to order. There are about 15 sauces available, including maple sriracha, Jamaican honey and garlic Parmesan.

9 thoughts on ““Gastropub”

  1. Hunh! This may be because I live in the hinterlands of southwestern Ohio, but I first heard “gastropub” only in the last year or so, I believe, in a tweet from friend in the UK. And I laughed, because it sounded *so* endearingly British to me. So I was floored when, a month or so ago, I heard or saw an ad for a local restaurant calling it a “gastropub”!

    I had no idea the use of this word had become so widespread in other parts of the US!

  2. I wonder if the word was derived from ‘gastropod’ – a creature that eats through its foot, e.g. a snail.

  3. “gastropub” is a clear contraction of gastronomy and pub, but please remember that a pub isn’t a BAR, in the American English sense.

    “Pub” is a shorting of the legal category of a “public house”, meaning a place where it is licences to consume alcoholic drinks on or off the premises**. It is similar to “Inn”, a similar place with board and lodgings (popular when people travelled long distance by horse).

    Bar was used as a “trendy” name for a pub in London that didn’t serve food, thus “gay bar” would be a place to meet up with a partner for a drink, and not for, say, sushi.

    “Gastropub” arises from a previous generation of places that served “pub grub”, which to quote the ever wonderful Douglas Adams:

    “There is a feeling which persists in England that making a sandwich interesting, attractive or in any way pleasant to eat is something sinful that only foreigners do.”

    `Make ’em dry,” is the instruction buried somewhere in the collective national consciousness, “make ’em rubbery. If you have to keep the buggers fresh, do it by washing ’em once a week.”

    It is by eating sandwiches in pubs on Saturday lunchtimes that the British seek to atone for whatever their national sins have been. They’re not altogether clear what those sins are, and don’t want to know either. Sins are not the sort of things one wants to know about. But whatever their sins are they are amply atoned for by the sandwiches they make themselves eat.”

    (November 1984).

    ** Off Licencees to consume only off the premises.

  4. I think its use here also coincides with the smoking ban of 2007 – a lot of pubs started moving more towards serving food and marketing themselves as places to eat rather than smoke.

    Thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve heard the term “gastropub” quite as much recently compared with back then. And I think that’s probably a good thing. I think there’s an expectation now that a certain kind of pub will do half-decent food, an expectation that didn’t exist even ten or fifteen years ago.

  5. @timfootman – I take it the pub The Eagle cited, in the book extract linked to above, as the first gastropub is not the same one immortalized in Pop Goes the Weasel.

    Up and down the City Road
    In and out The Eagle
    That’s the way the money goes
    Pop goes the weasel!

  6. The two Eagle pubs are less than a mile apart.

    Subject of the rhyme, Shepherdess Walk, adjacent to City Road. Zoom in to the plaque on the wall.

    Gastropub, complete with cook having a cheeky beer outside.

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