You'll notice several things upon entering a British pub for the first time, especially if your only pub experiences to date have been in the States: The pubs are clean, bright and welcoming. The food is usually quite good. And pubs are family-friendly places -- for the most part -- which makes sense, as "pub" is short for "public house." The whole village should feel welcome at a pub.
Pubs are places where anyone can go, grab a chair and possibly a pint and feel right at home. You can watch TV, catch up with friends, eat a filling meal and come in from the dreary weather like we're experiencing this week. While it's not quite as cold as an English winter (I'll tell you some time about vacationing in northern England in early February), the drizzly weather this week has made me think fondly of the British pubs I enjoyed across the pond.
Not all pubs are created equal, however. Most Texas pubs are more "bars" than "public houses," but the ones on this list are as close as you'll get to the real thing.
Olde City Pub, not for being terribly authentic, but for being supremely welcoming to all comers -- even smokers, as it's outside the Houston city limits -- and for offering a dozen different nooks and crannies to cozy yourself into while you tuck into a plate of fish and chips from the huge menu.
10. The Stag's Head
The food and service have slipped a bit here in recent years, but The Stag's Head is still my favorite place to hear an impromptu bagpipe solo at sunset. The massive central bar reminds me a bit of theater in the round, but it means you can always find an open seat and get a classic on draft whether it's Boddington's, Fullers or Newky Brown. The food menu offers a decent cottage pie and the option to add "real" Heinz baked beans to anything you order.
Clear Lake and Seabrook have dozens of great seaside bars, but it's Boondoggle's Pub I find myself frequenting most often down south. It may not offer the great views of other Clear Lake watering holes, but this one has the advantage of looking and feeling like an authentic English pub in its own, odd way. It also has the advantage of offering some truly tasty food, like pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven -- a damn sight better than the Totino's-style pizza rolls offered by most bars.
The jukebox at Hans' Biergarten used to be stocked with the best British music in town, featuring everything from the Stone Roses to Simply Red. These days, the old-school jukebox at The Ginger Man has taken its place, but it also features plenty of local Houston bands too. The massive beer list only offers a few British libations, however, and the food menu plays it pretty down the middle. The real draws here are the dark, cozy quarters and inviting patio.
7. Kelvin Arms
Technically, this is a Scottish pub. But that just means it's got a great selection of Scotch in addition to a nice assortment of British beers. More importantly, it -- like any good pub -- is loyal to its regulars, whom the pub treats like family. There's a big screen for watching games or matches, board games if you get bored, oversized chairs and couches to sink into and a suit of armor guarding the vault, a holdover from when the Rice Village building was University Bank in the late 1920s and early '30s, so the pub -- unlike many Houston bars -- has some history to it.
This brand-new pub in the Energy Corridor may not look like much from the outside, tucked into a stucco strip center under a dentist's office, but it has a great pedigree: The King's Head Pub was recently opened by British ex-pat Michael Holliday, who also opened The Richmond Arms and The Stag's Head. And not only is everyone welcome here, dogs are too -- on the big patio. The King's Head shows nearly every footie match and even offers the occasional "Scottish night" with all the traditional Highlands tunes you can bear.
The Richmond Arms is where you and half of Houston's ex-pat community show up to watch the UEFA finals at 7 a.m. on a Saturday and order lager with your full English breakfast. It's where you go to watch Manchester United v. Liverpool matches in full stereo, with supporters from both sides deafening you as you roar at the screen. But it's also where you go to enjoy a pint by the fireplace or see old friends. You can tell the regulars; they (and their families) are the ones in all the photos and old newspaper clippings that line the walls.
More a restaurant than a bar, The Black Lab (housed in an old church office) offers a huge selection of British pub favorites on its menu. West Highland cheese soup with Bass ale is a non-traditional favorite, while the "English specials" section offers dishes you can't often find elsewhere, such as steak and kidney pie and the colorfully-named bubble and squeak, bangers and mash and sole in its coffin. If you're just there for a pint, grab a seat near the fireplace and settle in. On nice days, the patio offers a charming view of the old church building's and ivy-covered brick walls and a UK-style red telephone box on the corner of Montrose and West Main.
A location in the ex-pat dense west suburbs of Houston means that The Bull & Bear is often packed with Englishmen, Irishmen, Scots and Welshmen -- all likely there for the massive selection of sporting matches The Bull & Bear screens daily. When a match is on, settle in at your table -- if you can find one -- and indulge in comforting pub dishes like chicken curry and a mound of chips or the best cottage pie in town. No tables? Score a seat at the long, well-tended mahogany bar.
A bit of Britain in Houston -- and a bit of India, too -- keeps us coming back to The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen in Upper Kirby. Indeed, it's the kind of place where you can get so cozy with a craft beer and a curry with chips, you might never want to leave. As with the No. 1 entry on our list, Indian food and British pubs go hand-in-hand. The Queen Vic is not only one of the best pubs in town, it's also one of the best Indian restaurants too, although its menu offers the best of many worlds: Goan curries and samosas keep company with mulligatawny stew and fresh Gulf oysters.
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1. The Red Lion
Craig Mallinson's pub is the one that all of my British friends swear is the "most authentic" in Houston -- authentic being a bit of an arbitrary term in the Bayou City. But it's hard to find fault with the homey feel of the booths and tables under Tudor timbers, the red telephone box near the entrance, the roaring fireplace, the half-Indian-half-English menu, the friendly bar staff and the Sunday roasts each week (making The Red Lion the only place in town you'll also get a perfect Yorkshire pudding).