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Bar Review: Elephant & Castle

Submitted by on June 25, 2010 – 11:52 AMNo Comment
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1201 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC
202.296.2575
http://www.elephantcastle.com/

Hours of operation:  Mon. – Sat.   11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sun.     11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Best time to visit: After work, apparently

Elephant & Castle is described on its corporate website as a “British Pub and Restaurant concept.”  Many bar-goers and beer-drinkers may think twice about procuring their poisons of choice at a “concept,” but the success of the idea cannot be denied.  The twenty-plus establishments nationally seem to generally be thriving.

Named for not the nicest part of London, one observable connection to the venerable old imperial capital is the price of a pint.  Then again, this location (there is another in DC at 19th and I) is pleasantly set back from the heart of Pennsylvania Avenue, so one would hardly go in expecting three-dollar draughts.  As it is, the collection of beers on hand is respectable – primarily the usual-but-excellent imports from Great Britain and Ireland: Guinness, Harp, Newcastle, Bass, Smithwicks, and so on, as well as occasional imports from Belgium and/or Germany.  It is evident that the bartenders know how to pour a good beer, and that the beer is direct from the brewery – not a warehouse or other dank, uninsulated storage facility.  Consistency is an unspoken motto, both in the beverages and the comestibles.

For a country known for bland food, the “British Classics” on the menu are hardly post-war rations.  The standards are here – the fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers & mash – along with the usual assortment of bar appetizers.  Though the dishes are not inexpensive, they are generous.  There are also “Sharing Plates” including Spring rolls, chicken kabobs, and potato skins.  Three of those for sixteen bucks are a good way to complement a few Happy Hour beers with friends or co-workers.  And the H.H. beers – twenty-ounce domestic draught for five dollars – are not a bad deal, considering the domestics on tap include Sam Adams’ Seasonal, Loose Cannon IPA,  Blue Moon, and Sierra Nevada.  Other specials later in the evening, usually discounted bottled beer of one type or another, are less substantial but nonetheless worthwhile.  For flexible tastes, there will usually be some sort of bargain.

Of course, due to its location, this E & C draws mostly a suit-wearing clientele, and has done well at turning a potential generic and clichéd pub-chain into a serviceable semi-upscale bar.  It fills after the workday with a wide range of interns and old Washington pros, but naturally subsides into a comfortable drinking-and-dining facility as the employed make their ways home.  Regardless, the proprietors are aware of their location, and find it therefore quite easy to exert a hint of stereotypical British stiffness into the atmosphere – although whether this comes from the owners or, in fact, the guests themselves, may certainly be questioned.

So is the trend of themed pub-chains good or bad for beer fans?  It all comes down to how it’s handled, and public response.  Much of this is clearly subjective, but the end result will be decided by the patrons of places like Elephant & Castle – not by the management.

Pros: Good selection; reasonable specials; well managed

Cons: Has the potential to be crowded and stiff

Rating:3.5/5