Beer, but probably not enough of it. Photo: MilenaKatzer/Getty Images/iStockphoto
I lived in London for three years, and if we met in some happenstance way and were forced into small talk, and you asked me what I miss most now that I’m back in New York, I’d tell you the National Health Service, which provided me, as a freelancer, a personally unprecedented level of institutional support, which notably included the birth of my child, and which even more notably cost me nothing. But if I told you that, I’d also be lying, because the real thing that I miss most about London is that the beers are bigger.
I’ll leave it to a real English person to explain to you the full charms of a good pub — there are many great texts dedicated to the topic, and rightly so — but I’ll just quickly say: They’re peaceful in a way New York bars rarely even aspire to be; they somehow make it feel right to drink at any time of the day; no one ever feels too old to be at a pub; and, again, the beers are bigger.
In the U.K., the Imperial pint is always 20 ounces. There’s something about the size that feels aesthetically and spiritually correct. But in the U.S., a draft beer is usually 16 ounces. Maybe even a measly 12. According to Paul Jennings, a pub historian, the Imperial pint goes back at least to 1698, when a statute was passed “requiring innkeepers, alehouse keepers and other retailers of beer to use a standard measure in a stamped vessel.” As to what has been going on with our city’s little beers, he couldn’t really say: “I haven’t been to New York since 1986, but from my time there and earlier I can’t recall anything quite like an English pub.”
I became hopeful after recently noticing a small swell of English or English-adjacent restaurant openings in New York. Red Hook’s Good Fork reopened as the Good Fork Pub. Englishman Ed Szymanski and his wife and business partner, Patricia Howard, expanded off Dame, their fish-and-chips hit, and opened the meat-heavy Lord’s. There are also a number of newish taverns — Corner Bar, Ingas Bar, Smyth Tavern, and the Commerce Inn — and a tavern, at least to my eye, is a quasi-English pub. Gus’s Chop House in Cobble Hill opened in 2022 and practices another great English tradition, the Sunday Roast. They all joined Hawksmoor, the New York outpost of a London steakhouse chain that had opened in 2021.
Which led me to a question, or maybe it’s more of a demand: Sell me a real pint, you cowards?
I tried to find one and, at first, had no luck. Red Hook Pub’s co-owner Sohui Kim told me, “We thought about it but went with the 16-ounce glasses instead.” The Commerce Inn maxes out at 16, too, though they offer the option of an admittedly delicious-looking frosted mug. The folks at Gus’s Chop House did agree with me that a pint “sounds fantastic” but “unfortunately” they don’t sell them, either.
Still thirsty, I branched out to some English-adjacent establishments that have predated this current wave. The Shakspeare in Midtown East gets close: their cask beers — those thoroughly English, premodernity CO2-free beers — weigh in at 18 ounces, though they serve other beers at 16. The first reason, they explained, is due to the size of their kegs: They can get exactly 128 pours with 16 ounces. If they upped it to 20, they’d get 99.2 pours per keg. The other reason, general manager Austin Collins said, is because “16-ounce pints make it easier to manage drunkenness” — especially when the pours involve high-caliber American beers like double IPAs.
I was beginning to abandon all hope of finding a proper pint in New York until I happened upon Jones Wood Foundry on the Upper East Side, where cask beers come 20 ounces to a pour. Even better, explained general manager Andre Malinin, they price the cask beer at $12 per Imperial pint, though they should probably be more expensive. “It’s more like a hobby rather than business,” he explained. With understated pride, Malinin added, “You won’t find 20 ounces for 12 bucks” anywhere else in the city.
Perhaps not, but I did find another proper pint soon after. When I emailed Sinéad Naughton, the co-owner of the Churchill in Nomad, to ask if they serve an Imperial pint, she shot back with an authoritative, “Yes of course we do!! Is there any other kind of pint?!” On the phone she clarified they do the imported English beers in a 20-ounce mug with the rest served in the American 16-ounce size.
There. I’d found my grail. So — why did I still feel so empty? It didn’t click until I spoke with the aforementioned Englishman, Ed Szymanski of Lord’s. At his (great) new restaurant, he doesn’t do pints, or even draft beer. “It’s just me and my wife,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of money.” Lord’s is also not a pub, which is a tough thing to define. The pub, Szymanski explained, is not just a place to get alcohol: “It’s the crusty old man sitting in the corner. He’s there every day. He comes with the place.”
Then, it clicked for me: I wasn’t looking for bigger beer at all. If volume were my only concern, I could go to Fannelli or Margaritaville or any other wonderful establishment that’s willing to sell a drink the size of a small toddler. I was looking for a place where I could spend the afternoon drinking that bigger beer, and maybe two or three more. Quietly. Possibly alone. Guilt free.
That should have been the end of my chat with Szymanski, but we instead began to reminisce. “When I first got to the U.S., I was 21 years old,” he told me. “I would go out to the bars and drink ten beers a night and be like, ‘Oh, I used to only be able to drink seven of these.’” I told him I’d had it the other way around: When I moved to London, I felt myself to be the picture of restraint because I’d only order two or three beers over the course of a few hours, not realizing at first that I was underclocking my own consumption. We were having a moment of communal connection, pure and dumb, but a connection nonetheless. “Your way,” he replied, “sounds more fun.”