Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Save the pool table!

The foosball table, I regret to inform you, is in grave danger. Once as important to a bar’s success as a good jukebox, the tavern athlete’s game of choice is being hustled off to basements and store rooms by a movement that could ultimately jeopardize the pool table or bar TV if it goes unchecked: The neighborhood watering hole is being gentrified. Give it a better menu, hire a genuine chef to handle the kitchen, and suddenly it’s a gastro-pub. So long, foosball. And don’t even ask about the pinball machine.

The trend started off with great promise in New York. The prototype was The Spotted Pig, which reigned as my favorite restaurant after its opening in the far reaches of western Greenwich Village. This was truly a pub, and truly deserving of the gastro designation. It’s corn soup was the stuff of daydreams. And its gnocchi-like signature dish was something to build a vacation around. Then it became so popular that I couldn’t get near it, even at lunch. Not exactly the true pub it purported to be.

Later incarnations of the trend seemed more diner-bar than gastro-pub. The menu might have aimed far higher than nachos, burgers, chicken wings and sandwiches. But the execution was a different matter. And the ambience didn’t have that coziness of a pub. They were dressed up bars trying to ride the latest foodie fancy.

A visit last week to what claims to be Chicago’s first gastro-pub did little to revive the hopes that were kindled by The Spotted Pig. Called BB’s, it sported a menu of comfort foods ranging from tiny burgers to chicken schnitzel, mac and cheese, chicken pot pie and beef stroganoff. If the latter was any indication, the place earned a big check next to the gastro descriptor.

But it was no pub. Though it was described as a neighborhood bar, it would only fit the bill if Thurston Howell III lived nearby. Gastro-bar would have been a better description. Restaurant-with-big-bar would be closer to the truth. Ambience-wise, it just didn’t deliver the same low-key feel you’d expect after reading about the gastro-pubs of London, where the concept is an integrated part of the culinary array.

And—need I say it?—I didn't spy a foosball table.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm.. Your thoughts here have started my thinking about the differences between a Chef and a Cook, and the third species we'll call Reciepie-bound Microwaver / deep-fryer guy.

    We all think of a Chef as someone who is inspired by cooking in the same way as an artist is by thier art. They are saying something, going somewhere orginal with thier cusine.

    The second is interested in making food people will eat. They arn't interested in making a statement, they want to make "straightforward" food. They don't need someone to tell them whats in a BLT, or how to make a cheeseburger sub.

    I see so many chains / pubs / etc. that try to remove any freedom from thier cooks that they end up just serving pre-frozen / drop it into the deep-fryer food.

    I don't want my thoughts to be an insult to chains in general, but sometimes it seems that soo much food was made by a robot. How is this progress...

    As you can see, I don't really have a point yet, just an thought...

    -jb (college friend of Bret)