Do you remember the fifth of November? Here at On the Menu, we’re celebrating Guy Fawkes Day the only way we can over here in the former colonies: with large amounts of malt liquor, all in local pubs that highlight a taste of the United Kingdom and its closest neighbors. So settle down with a pint and some fish ‘n’ chips and hail Britannia all night long!
Mind the Gap
Our first stop across the pond was at Old Kings Road located at 532 1/2 State St. This pub’s large collection of all things British – Beatles memorabilia, photos of soccer matches, maps of London, even a picture of the Queen – gives a definite English feel to the place.
With five TVs, several tables and two rows of bar stools and booths, the atmosphere at Old King’s Road is more conducive than other local bars to enjoying a draft beer and discussing the latest happenings in Parliament. Besides its British ambiance, this pub might be a little different for the average barhopping UCSB student because of the diversity of its customers, which range from those celebrating their 21st birthdays to some patrons who are older than baby boomers. However, its friendly feel keeps all patrons as comfortable as possible, keeping Gauchos coming back to Old King’s Road weekend after weekend.
In addition to its fully stocked bar, Old King’s Road has 17 beers on tap. We sampled Strongbow English Cider and were pleasantly surprised, not only by the drink but by a policy of the firm that produces it: The company’s workers, who make the cider from the crops of a few fields in England, are given a pint of the cider every day. The sweetness of the beverage is perfectly balanced with rich undertones of sour apples, making Strongbow alone worth the trip downtown to Old King’s Road for a little taste of England.
Not a Load of Blarney
Next, we crossed over to Ireland – no plane or train ticket necessary – for a stop at the James Joyce Pub at 513 State St. The bar was a warm refuge on a cold day, complete with a fire roaring in the fireplace and a friendly Irish barkeep. We sampled a traditional Irish treat – commonly known as a Hot Toddy, but sometimes called Hot Whiskey – and found it a perfect fall mix of hot water, cloves and lemon. Though the beverage smells and looks just like tea, the addition of Irish whiskey kept us warmer than any cup of Earl Grey could.
The James Joyce’s unique atmosphere is a departure from the State Street norm – pubgoers happily toss peanut shells on the floor, a game of darts is always in the mix and live music plays almost every night. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays bring jazz to the bar, rock bands play on Wednesdays, live blues and more rock are featured Thursdays, and Irish music on Sundays emits an even more authentic Emerald Isle feel to the pub. The variety of entertainment draws a wide array of customers.
“It’s more authentic, has more character and is more Irish,” bartender Patrick Owens said. “It’s a real Irish bar.”
The James Joyce, which has been open for almost 11 years and is owned by Thomas Byrne, is fully stocked with every whiskey imaginable. They also offer a variety of beers, from stout to porter and everything Irish in between. The bar, which is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., offers both early-birds and night owls a relaxed atmosphere for enjoying adult beverages. Customers can also have a safe shag in the loo, as a fully stocked condom machine is located in the women’s bathroom.
Whether you come to enjoy the authentic Irish whiskey or to rock out to the pub’s extraordinary live music, the James Joyce offers something Irish for everyone.
Next was a quick jaunt over to the Press Room, located at 15 E. Ortega St., just a few doors down from the James Joyce. This English-style bar – evident from the English memorabilia that covers the walls – has a maximum capacity of just 49 people, making it one of the few locations this side of the Atlantic where everyone knows your name. The cozy, friendly environment with a British aura offers a welcome escape from the fast-paced feel of lower State Street, and according to the bar’s staff, this draws an extensive assortment of patrons to the pub.
“It’s first and foremost a neighborhood bar,” a Press Room bartender known as “Pickles,” said. “But it has an English tone – the owners are English and we get a lot of expats. It’s more a of a laidback bar with tons of different personalities; you could be sitting next to a millionaire and you wouldn’t know it. Everyone gets along.”
While most don’t go to the Press Room to watch American football, the barkeep will change the channel on one of the three TVs at the request of any customer. It is this sort of patron-oriented philosophy, according to the staff, that makes the spot so popular.
“The owners will wait in line when we’re at capacity. Fiesta’s an exception because we take care of our regulars,” Pickles said.
Since it’s open every day of the year, any Gaucho or Santa Barbara resident staying in town for Thanksgiving should head over to the Press Room for a jolly good time to compete with the joys of turkey. On New Year’s Eve, the Press Room celebrates the holiday twice – once at noon on Dec. 31, to celebrate the calendar change as it happens in England, and again at midnight Pacific Standard Time to honor the celebration on California territory.
Even if it’s not on a holiday, one trip to the Press Room will leave no doubt as to why its regulars continue to drink and socialize at the location year after year.
Luck O’ the Irish
For those who want an across-the-pond feel but prefer to stay even closer to home than downtown, Isla Vista has its own Irish pub just a few blocks from UCSB. Dublin’s- located at 910 Embarcadero Del Norte- offers several beers on tap as well as a wide assortment of other alcoholic beverages. Dublin’s boasts free pool, air hockey, friendly bartenders and a rocking jukebox. The spacious main room has both tables and booths, creating an excellent place to drink and talk among friends.
“We have excellent pub food and better atmosphere – it’s bigger and we have free pool,” Dublin’s bartender Tony Breen said. “Our bartenders are mostly college students so they can relate. You come on a good night and everyone can have fun.”
Besides the atmosphere and drinks, another highlight of Dublin’s is undoubtedly its all-you-can-eat selection. The pub’s fish and chips are one of the best drunk – or sober – munchies in I.V.
Dublin’s will soon be reinstating Tuesday karaoke night for all those Beatles- and Spice Girls-in-training. With one large screen TV and two smaller ones above the bar, Dublin’s is also a hot spot for the American tradition of Sunday football, as well as professional soccer for a more international feel. A large assortment of Irish artifacts, flags from countries around the world and occasional visits from foreign travelers add to Dublin’s global atmosphere.
“We have a more foreign crowd,” Breen said. “During the summer, you can find 20 Irish people in here.”
Dublin’s close location, combined with its great food and drinks, make the bar a great way to escape to Ireland – no passport necessary.
With all the opportunities to enjoy British and Irish bars in the 805, there’s no need to fly across the pond when you can stumble into one of these pubs and enjoy a pint!