Cotillion Ales, Animal Style

by Bill DiDonna

When I lived in Brixton pursuing an alt-noise music career, The Prince Albert was my local. The pub was presided over by Pat Burke, a fierce and friendly woman who spent as much time doling out justice as pouring pints. Brixton was electric in the ’80s, a primarily West Indian neighborhood with a large dollop of poor white artists, and while there was tension, it was nothing compared to the all-out crime carnival I had left behind in New York. The Albert was the locus of my life in London, dark and smoky and filled with young schemers and wizened pensioners ready to tip a warm pint on a cold night. Coming back stateside, I have always found myself looking for a true British pub when I’ve landed in a new town.

There are 55 UK-style pubs in greater Los Angeles reviewed on Yelp, 56 if you count the Tilted Kilt, a breastaurant chain started in Vegas by a man named Mark DiMartino. He could be British I guess. There are a lot of Brits in L.A., enough to support every one of these spots if zero Americans ever showed up, but show up we do. Forget The Beatles, the pub is the UK’s great export to the world. Showing sports we don’t quite understand, food we don’t necessarily want to eat, and beer that until quite recently we didn’t want to drink [before you congratulate yourself for downing that Ommegang Three Eyed Raven last week realize that Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite are the three top beer brands in America outselling the next 22 top brands combined]. The UK Pub is still a place where we want to be—maybe it’s the accents. When the venerable Cat & Fiddle closed in Hollywood, the uproar was equivalent to a banning of yoga pants in public.

Fortunately there are some excellent versions of the pub still extant. Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena is a personal fave, not too kitschy, serious soccer fans, solid fish and chips and, of course, beer.

There is an arms race among certain brewers to craft the most potent beer in the world and BrewDog in Scotland released this salvo of extremism a few years back: a [literally] staggering 82-proof beer, the Sink the Bismarck!. Lucky B’s sold it by the shot; downing a pint of whiskey-strength beer in one sitting could be deadly to the uninitiated. It was a cause celebre among the malted cognoscenti.

Insanely strong beer is a niche market; the story goes that BrewDog was responding to Japanese brewery Hakusekikan’s release of a 56-proof Eisbock. Sink the Bismarck! initiated a frenzy of overly proofed brews, but they may have jumped the shark with the release of The End of the World, clocking in at a whopping 110-proof, this malted missile is further distinguished by having its bottles encased in a taxidermied squirrel. Sláinte.

On a more refined note, London’s Maestro Salvatore Calabrese has set up an outpost in L.A.’s eastern suburb, Las Vegas. Inside The Cromwell, [the very best place to stay in town, think stylish boutique hotel in the center of the strip with a raging rooftop pool-club], is this bastion of craft cocktail civility in the midst of people sucking down 30-ounce frozen margaritas out of plastic Eiffel Tower replicas. Rodger Gillespie oversees the scene at Bound; it is the only place to get a barrel aged Blood and Sand, a Boulevardier or a Corpse Reviver [#2, of course] as well as the Maestro’s now famous Breakfast Martini, with Orange Marmalade and a slew of espresso cocktails to replace that Red Bull and vodka you were thinking of getting at 2 A.M.