I hate English pubs. No, that's a lie; I love Englisih pubs. I hate what Americans think English pubs are. My fellow countrymen all seem to think a pub is a sort of hobbit house with alcohol: dank, dark, places with tons of little dark cubbies to hide in, waitstaff who learned their British accents from Kevin Costner, and clueless Americans who go up and say, “I'll have a beer, please.” (Okay, that last part happens in actual English pubs too. Learn your beers, fellow Americans, and order a pint of bitter or mild or lager or stout.)
I seem always to have lived within stumbling distance of one of these ridiculous caricatures of an English local, and yet I couldn't tell you what their names are, because they're all completely interchangeable and I call them all the Dog and Bollocks.
The Olde Ship in Santa Ana is the first one of these bits o' Blighty that gets to keep its name; it's the closest approximation to an actual English pub I've seen since coming to the West Coast. The English bartender is actually English; the American bartender doesn't pretend to be English. It's a bright, convivial place, even if the extraneous E on the sign makes me want to get out a belt sander à la Lynne Truss and the décor is Haute Shippewrecke. The service is wonderful, the bartender shakes your hand, and they know how to pull a pint, a dying skill among bartenders.
There's Scotch and a full bar if you want it, but you go down your
local for beer. The Olde Ship has got a couple of unusual ales and the
usual assortment of British national brands (Boddingtons, Newcastle,
Strong's cider, etc.), but they also have a nitro tap that dispenses Old
Speckled Hen, an ale from Oxfordshire. It's a beautiful beer, as far
from American light lagers as it's possible to get. The Hen has had its
(strictly metaphorical) bollocks cut off in recent years, going from
5.2% ABV to 4.5% after it was bought out by the Greene King brewery, but
the taste hasn't changed dramatically, and there's nothing like a nitro
tap for a beautiful, dense head.