Illustration by Ed Fotheringham
What exactly is a gastropub? In 1999, when I left the white-tablecloth world of fine dining to take over Father’s Office, I didn’t really know. I hadn’t heard of London’s the Eagle, which is where the term was coined, nor had I any intention of making a burger or starting any trends. But I knew that I didn’t need to serve my food on bone china to feel accomplished and that, as a city, we were missing something.
There were plenty of great chefs in Los Angeles 20 years ago. It was just that tasting their food involved fancy clothes and significant cash. We’ve long had a wealth of low-cost gems like Zankou Chicken, the Apple Pan, and Langer’s. What we were lacking was the middle ground.
Then came September 11, 2001, and for the first time I noticed Angelenos from all walks of life huddling together and seeking comfort. The communal table was born; I had never seen so many places serving mac and cheese. That was the beginning of the gastropub movement—a trend that is predicated on the idea of comfort. It’s about celebrating the everyday with beer, not toasting to rare occasions with champagne.
More than a decade later L.A.’s dining landscape is flush with casual, fun eateries offering great food. It’s just what this city needed—and apparently what the world wanted from us. To earn respect as a serious food town, all we needed to do was serve more burgers and tacos. I only hope that now that we’ve found our groove, we don’t get stuck in it. It would suck to finally gain culinary cred only to blow it because every new restaurant is named for an animal, comes decked out in reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs, and boasts a signature burger. I hope we don’t become a cliché.