If in the bar of your dreams every centimeter of wall (and ceiling) space is covered with banks of televisions flashing seizure-inducing commercials unblinkingly stared at by backwards-capped man-children guzzling plastic pitchers of thin macrobrew between failed attempts to scream over the top of deafening sports commentary, then you’re in luck because there are still about 2,000 places that fit that bill in Hollywood alone. If you enjoy waiting 45 minutes for a man dressed as a 19th century Canadian lumberjack to rub a mason jar with the entire contents of a spice rack then you’re similarly set.
On the other hand, if the happy haze of your drunken hour involves sitting in a cozy corner, enjoying a round of ladyboys and perhaps playing a game of darts (or pool, skittles, dominoes, cards, or trivia) — then you’re going to have to either broaden your horizons or let your dream die because sadly, The Cat & Fiddle is closing on 15 December after 32 years in business — and English pubs in the Southland are becoming rarer than rain during a superdrought.
If you’re able to travel, you can visit pubs not just in the UK and Ireland but (I’m told, because I’m not able to travel) Australia, Canada, New England, New Zealand, and South Africa. Sadly, pub culture has never really taken root in the semi-arid soil of SoCal even though we generally welcome all non-natives. Sometimes you’ll see a name like Pig N’ Whistle and wrongly assume that it belongs to a pub. If you’re less cautious, you might find yourself in a place like Dillon’s Irish Pub, where being a green-schemed Hooters rip-off with chilled Guinness on tap has apparently made the owners think that they’re running a public house.
Meanwhile, bikini bars, hostess clubs, izakayas, pijiu wu and bodegas (not to mention coffee bars,lingerie cafes, and teahouses) all seem to be flourishing and I’ve enjoyed drinking at all of them (actually, I still find the hostess experience somewhat unnerving). I, for one, would rather be in a bar (with my head on the bar) and if it’s at all possible, in a place where air smells of malt vinegar and scotch and the ambiance makes me feel like it’s raining outside — since that’s the next best thing to actual precipitation.
Pubs aren’t the only drinking establishment that is threatened, it should be noted. Gay piano bars, saloons, and tiki bars, once covered the land but are now threatened. Pubs though are critically endangered — just one notch above “extinct in the wild” and watching them close isn’t easy. Until 2011, I regularly passed afternoons inside Royal Claytons. They promised to re-open soon three years is as long as I hold my breath. Tom Bergin’s in Miracle Mile closed in 2013 but thankfully re-opened. If you know Santa Monica you might assume that it’s a safe place for pubs but skyrocketing rents have driven much of that city’s English-American minority into exile. When they leave, Anglo-catering businesses do to, like Tudor House which closed in 2012 after 50 years in business.
Hopefully the Cat & Fiddle will find a new home. The current location, after all, is not its first. When it opened in it was located up the hill in Laurel Canyon, near the Canyon Country Store. It was there opened in 1982 by Paula and Kim Gardner, who met one another in New Orleans where Paula was working at a clothing store called The Cocky Fox. Kim Gardner was a musician who played in Ashton, Gardner & Dyke, Badger, The Creation, Garwood Pickjon, and my favorites, The Birds. Sadly, he passed away in 2001 but Paula and her daughter Ashlee have continued to operate it mostly unchanged since for the thirteen years since and it was always a popular spot for Amoeba employees to find solace or even employment in at least one instance.
Public Houses and gentrification have both been around since ancient rome and it is unlikely that either will vanish from this any time soon. Cat & Fiddle is reportedly being pushed out by their landlord (Jesse Shannon of Atlanta-based Branch Properties) who has found a tenant willing to pay thrice as much rent as the pub, which means we’ll probably get a soulless corporate chain or worse — an urban taco fabricator. My fingers are crossed for something better but I also realize that crossing one’s fingers has never been effective at changing outcomes although I suppose a prayer to Saint Morrissey or the apostle Tim, both of whom I’ve seen relaxing in the beer garden, couldn’t hurt.
Meanwhile, if you like pubs it’s imperative that you donate to your local charity. There are the aforementioned Santa Monica pubs (The Britannia Pub, The Cock ’n’ Bull, The Daily Pint, O’Brien’s, and Ye Olde King’s Head), The Red Lion (a German gasthaus with pub-like atmosphere which not-coincidentally began as an English pub) in Silver Lake, The Tam O’Shanter in Atwater Village, Irish Times in Palms, The Whale and Ale in San Pedro, Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena, Casey’s in the Financial District. I haven’t yet been to them but perhaps a mission to Molly Malone’s in Beverly Grove, The Fox & Hounds in Studio City, The Robin Hood in Sherman Oaks, Timmy Nolan’s in Toluca Lake, The Auld Dubliner or Murphy’s (both inLong Beach) is in order. Orange County, I’m told, is home to Durty Nelly’s and The Harp Inn in Costa Mesa, Muldoon’s in Newport Beach, Branagan’s in Fullerton, Patsy’s Irish Pub in Mission Viejo, andThe Olde Ship British Pub & Restaurant with locations in both Fullerton and Santa Ana. If there are any decent pubs in the Southland, let me know and don’t wait until they’re gone to tell them that you love them!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.