In 1964 The New York World’s Fair featured a pub at the British pavilion called the British Lion, pictured.
The name is apt; the Lion, not exclusively of course, is a potent symbol of British identity, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, and Judeo-Christian belief. Britishness has evolved since the 1960s but the Lion rampant suggested these ideas internationally 60 years ago.
Indeed, the Red Lion remains Britain’s most popular pub sign.
What was Britain’s pub called at the 1939 New York World’s Fair? There wasn’t a pub as such.
Instead, there was the “British Buttery and Restaurant”. You can read its elaborate menu in a scholarly menu archive, here. The term buttery in this context means larder, or storehouse for ale or wine.
Buttery is now an obsolete term and probably was in the 1930s, but was useful as an “olde Englyyshe” allusion.
Also, since Prohibition had ended a mere six years earlier a euphemistic term was likely necessary to describe the part of an English eating place where you could get a drink.
By 1964 all such considerations were passé and so the British Lion public house stood at the Fair proudly in mock-Tudor and thatching.
A website on the 1964 World’s Fair, from which the image above was selected, sets out this explanation of the pub’s mission, taken from a 1964 information release:
The British Lion Pub is a careful reproduction of the popular British half-timbered gable roofed Tudor Inn. Inside, the dining room offers a substantial British and American menu at moderate prices. The walls of the dining room are lined with attractively displayed products of the British Isles and the bar in an adjoining room is stocked with the customary American beverages as well as British beers and ales. The atmosphere is traditional, comfortable and English down to the heavy oak bar and the dart board. Outside is a large terrace with gaily colored umbrellas, tables and chairs for eating from the reasonably priced outdoor food and counter bar. Also an English shop with quality imported souvenirs is on the ground.
To our mind, the building connotes 1600s England, 1950s rec room, and 1960s church design, but it must be remembered all such buildings were meant as temporary. Even with the most authentic features they were always a compromise – any such effort is really.
Hopefully, the effort did convey some aspects of the English public house to an American public eager for new experiences.
The Chicken a la King inclusion is probably a culinary-cultural in-joke, get it?
In 1939 only two British beers featured, both in bottle, Bass pale ale and Guinness stout.
In 1964, the then powerful, if not always loved, Watney brewing empire dominated the beer selection. The listing included taste notes presented seriatum, as you would read in a modern beer handbook.
Taste descriptions were rare for beer before the mid-1970s. Menus might describe wines that way but rarely beer. The other day I discussed a menu from the same era, from Wursthaus in Cambridge, Mass. It set out taste notes and comments on the wines, none for the beers.
For Americans in the 1960s beer meant pale, light, cold, and fizzy. The restaurant operator probably thought more information was needed to explain beers that would otherwise confound the fancier of Schlitz or Schaefer. (For mid-1800s Manhattan such explanations would have been unnecessary, but that was then).
I like the way the two stouts are contrasted: both are “rich and dark” but one has a touch of bitter, one a touch of sweet. In this way they sound almost as two peas in a pod. Quite apt as Irish and English stout are just about the same thing.
Red Barrel was later a contentious beer in English beer mythology. Here it sounds pretty good: “smooth” yet “pleasantly bitter”, and tawny in colour. Colour in brewing often impacts flavour, not just aesthetics. Red Barrel in this period was almost all-malt too, so what’s not to like.
The Stingo was a dark barley wine or strong ale, the old Burton type if not a literal example. I probably had a couple in the 70s and 80s. In fact I had a beer of this style yesterday at Cask Days’ beer festival in Toronto, made in Maine but enviably British in character: malty, fruity, rounded and about 11% ABV. A Burgundy of beer.
If that Stingo came close, the fairgoers in ’64 were lucky.
Watney lager was clearly blonde but what was Export Dark? I can’t recall a Watney beer with that name, domestically I mean. Maybe it was a dark lager.
At first I thought it was really Watneys Milk Stout or Cream Stout, but Watney already had a stout in the list. Unless it had two, one with the lactose, one without.
These beers would have impressed the New Yorkers. British was in anyway, The Beatles, Bond, Barstow. Why not add Bitter, for an alliterative jamboree.
Speaking of A Kind of Loving, English sweet stout seems to be on the comeback trail, there were a few in the 400+ line-up at Cask Days. Also, down the road from craft beer shrines Birreria Volo and Foley’s in Toronto is the Caledonian Scottish pub. Its beer list has numerous old-school favourites that make it a modern counterpart to the British beers at the 1964 World’s Fair.
The Caledonian has Tennant’s Stout currently, Sweetheart Stout back in Scotland I think it was.
New and old schools exist side-by-side, at their best they match up in the middle.
Note re images: the first and second images above were sourced from the websites linked in the text. The Watneys Stingo Ale image is from the invaluable Tavern Trove site, here. All property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.