I suffer from Anglophilia. And there’s no pill, serum, or vaccine to cure or prevent it, unless you count a hot cup of Earl Grey tea and some Jammie Dodger biscuits — a temporary solution at best. Not that a deep affection for British things is bad. You just don’t want it to become too obsessive.
How did my love affair with the English (and for that matter, the Irish and Scottish) come about? I traced it to some obvious things: music, TV, movies, and of course, beer. In addition to California folk-rock and surf music, I dote on sounds forged in the U.K. — from the British Invasion bands to arty glam-rock a la Roxy Music and David Bowie to punk, new wave, and techno-rock.
As a kid watching episodes of the tongue-in-cheek London-based spy spoof “The Avengers” on the TV in our family recreation room, I was hooked on the wit, class, and high style of the program’s central figures: a couple of dashing MI-6 operatives named John Steed and Emma Peel. In case you didn’t get the dispatch, these Avengers were not spandex-clad superheroes with amazing powers — although Mrs. Peel did often wear a skin-tight leather cat suit and knew all manner of exotic martial arts, and Mr. Steed was mighty handy with that rapier in the handle of his omnipresent umbrella. And they conquered their enemies with panache to envy. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Diana Rigg, who played Mrs. Peel, was a significant boyhood crush of mine.
I was and continue to be dazzled by the deft work of British filmmakers on the big screen. In keeping with my youthful fascination with espionage, I revisited all of the James Bond movies with Sean Connery as Agent 007 over and over again. I reveled in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, a faithful adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel that offered a violent, bleakly twisted, chillingly prescient view of a dystopian near-future England. I laughed myself silly at anything from the Monty Python comedy troupe, and over the years, other equally clever, funny, and worldly feature films such as Withnail & I, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and 24-Hour Party People. And for the record, I’ll watch anything with that cockney icon Michael Caine in it.
Much of my interest in pop culture from the Isles might be due to its sophistication factor, real or imagined, that has proven to be exceedingly appealing to a coarse American fellow like me. This brings me to the subject of British libations and the pubs where you can find them. If you live on Russian Hill (as I do) and want that pub vibe, you can just amble down Union Street to Van Ness and drop into the tiny but welcoming Black Horse London Pub (1514 Union St.), squeeze up to the bar, and order a beer. You won’t be able to get a pint of bitters on tap, because, last time I checked, the beer choices were in bottles and cans and chilled in a tub filled with ice. That said, the place has all the friendliness and intimacy of a genuine British neighborhood pub, only Giants baseball takes precedence over soccer on the TV.
A more legitimate pub experience can be found in the avenues at The Pig and Whistle (2801 Geary Blvd.) where there will be pub food, draft beers (with a number of choices from the U.K.), and people playing darts — and soccer will be on the telly. Or you can drive down to Monterey, which seems to be a hotbed of British pubs with at least five within walking distance of the wharf. The one I have patronized on more than a couple occasions is The Crown & Anchor (150 W. Franklin St., Monterey), and it has all the requisite elements: a terrific selection of ales, porters, and stouts, including the expected Guinness and even Old Speckled Hen from good old Blighty (that would be Great Britain to you), great pub grub, and, of course, nautical trappings.
PROPERLY ENGLISH AT PROPER ENGLISH
For this part-time Los Angeles resident, there’s no better place to get that Anglo fix than The Cat & Fiddle Pub & Restaurant (742 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood), and it’s never better than when Trevor Miller and Harry Bridgen produce one of their monthly “Proper English” events at this most congenial pub. The C&F has quite a history, having been an L.A. landmark since 1982. Established in Laurel Canyon, it moved to Sunset Blvd. where it was located for almost 30 years, until it was reborn in its current locale. Early on, it developed a reputation as a watering hole for musicians and actors from Britain who were jonesing for a bit of home, as reflected in the veddy British food and beer menus and the décor. (Love the stained glass cat!) But the vibe really goes up a notch at “Proper English,” with live music — most recently, impressive tributes to Bowie and T-Rex’s Marc Bolan — and DJs spinning classic glam, punk, and Northern soul tracks.
Miller and Bridgen have been music promoters and DJs in London, New York, and Los Angeles. They started doing “Proper English” at a speakeasy-like nightclub in downtown L.A. a couple years ago, as a way to bring SoCal’s British ex-pat community together. Miller, whose hometown is Manchester, explained that the focus has always been on U.K.-centric music to celebrate the great nights they’d had back there over the decades. And now they’re presenting “Proper English” at the Cat & Fiddle, a most appropriate venue. The next one is set for Sunday, April 7, and it’s slated to be a tribute to the crucial punk-rock band The Clash. As an Anglophile in good standing, I can’t wait.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster