Windy City, Non-windy Beer (Part I)

British pub in the Second City

A news story originating in Britain in December 1956, reported:

A replica of an English pub will open in Chicago this month to show Americans the attractions of this characteristically British institution.

The great beer writer Michael Jackson (1942-2007) wrote in the 1970s that the pub was more than just English, yet not quite wholly British; this ambiguity is reflected in the statement above.

But this post is about the pub in America. The article describes how the landlords of a Streatham, Greater London pub, the Sussex Tavern, travelled to America to host a replica pub in Chicago.

The pub would operate in a hotel at a convention of American travel agents.

It was planned as an annual affair. The pub came festooned with authentic trappings sent from the old sod: china hand pumps and spigots (likely just for show though?), dart board, board games, pictures, horse brasses, beer mats, and more.

For beer, imported British brands were offered, probably bottled only although this is not clear.

Frederick and Kathleen Esgen, seen here pulling beers smilingly in Streatham, hosted at the replica pub. It was called, not Sussex Tavern but Nag’s Head, after a pub of that name near Hastings, Sussex.

The real Nag’s Head obligingly sent its own pub sign to adorn the Chicago simulacrum.

I’ll bet more travel agents than not got down a couple, two, three beers at the Nag’s Head each night. Dollars to donuts lots of stories were exchanged over the bar, not a few I’m sure viz. the Second World War, ended just 12 years before.

The account states the Esgens were to take a cross-country tour after the convention, appearing on radio and tv to promote British tourism and hospitality.

In a similar development, just before and after WW II the British pub appears as an exhibit at various trade fairs and expositions, American and Canadian. In Europe something similar occurred, the English pub at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair is a good example.

I described here how another replica went down a treat in Toronto the Good (?) even earlier, 1949.

These promotions were launched by careful organizational work. In a more complex consumer society, marketing the English pub naturally took more active cooperation with British-based interests.

For the Chicago replica, London-based Whitbread brewery played a large role. It owned the Mackeson and Fredrick Leney and Sons mentioned in the press account, as well. It was a Whitbread party, in other words.

Outside brewing the British Travel and Holidays Association participated as well.

Yet, the long-standing appreciation of the English hostelry in the public mind here cannot be discounted. One can promote to the nth degree, but if a receptive audience is lacking, success is less certain.

The Midwest is a mix of many ethnicities and social backgrounds. Still, there can be no doubt a receptive audience awaited opening of the Nag’s Head in Chicago.

The old English inn, the comfortable nook where darkish beer, oak, brass, and copper contrive to work a certain magic, is irresistable to the North American.* When enhanced by a soft south London accent, as in the Nag’s Head Chicago in 1956, the sundae had a cherry on top.

A Briton wouldn’t put it that way, but I can.

Part II follows with a film of the Nag’s Head in Chicago.

N.B. The Sussex Tavern was located at 668 High Street Streatham, a Whitbread house of course. Originally it was the Brass Farthing. The pub endured to about 2002. It became offices, and is now a restaurant. For details see here at What Pub.

The Nag’s Head, for its part, carries on in charming St. Leonards, Hastings, in seaside East Sussex. It is now an Admiral Taverns property. For details, see here.


*Of course, too, the travel agents would have hailed from all over the United States, a factor surely in the decision how to feature the pub to Americans.



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