The Next Wave: Pumphouse Pub
Bear Republic Long Table dinner at the Pumphouse Pub (l to r: Norm Eng, Tom Orange, Rob Angus of Beerthirst and Chef Daniela Iaci, Micah Noble, Tony Iaci of Pumphouse Pub)
Think of a neighbourhood pub in BC and it’s usually not that difficult to predict what you’re going to find – a wide selection of industrial lager, lots of fried food, a pool table, and televisions. They largely follow a cookie cutter business model that offers Joe Average some macho time with the mates during the week, away from the wife and kids. Come the weekend, it’s time to take the missus out for a little treat of sweet drinks, spinach salad, and live music, maybe splurge a bit on Keno for a chance to take that trip to Vegas or Maui on the winnings.
While the eighties time warp still appeals to many (don’t you just miss the days of indoor smoking?), the bland-as-Bud pub experience is resonating with fewer and fewer people. Weened on multimedia, the younger generation is looking for more stimulation. Newer establishments are doing a better job of providing visual excitement, as well as offering the latest trendy food items – edamame, poutine, yam fries, pulled pork sandwiches, sliders, and wraps. The increase in competition means neighbourhood pubs are finally getting an update.
Although the presentation may have changed, it doesn’t mean pub owners and staff actually care about what they are offering. Too often, it’s merely executing a tarted up version of the “what sells” script. The burgers, calamari, chicken wings, fettuccine, fish & chips, nachos, pizza, and steak are still there, albeit with some Asian acknowledgements for the latest in ethnic (Thai!). Only now, in addition to a more cosmopolitan selection of industrial lager (hello Stella, goodbye Blue), you can also wash them down with Granville Island Honey Lager, Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, Rickards Red, or Sleeman’s Cream Ale.
This is the new lowest common denominator. Initially, it might spark a temporary jump in business, but the novelty will wear off, soon to be followed by gimmicks and promotions that offer enough marginal appeal to bring in semi-regular customers just a bit more often. Maybe it will be enough for them to stay in business for another 20 years; maybe not. Fortunately, the new craft beer enthusiasm spreading out from the large urban centres seems to be changing this. Some establishments are seeing craft beer as an opportunity to differentiate themselves and embracing it with gusto. One such place is Pumphouse Pub in Richmond.
Originally opened in 1979, the Pumphouse Pub could have been your average neighbourhood pub with well-worn indoor-outdoor carpeting, heavy wood furniture, oak & brass bar, macro beer mirrors and meaningless bric-a-brac, permeated by the smell of stale beer, popcorn, and middle-aged men. Instead, you are greeted with a warm ambiance of brick, wood, and a shimmering glow from the large stone fireplace if it’s a chilly night. The firefighter photos and memorabilia weren’t made in a Chinese factory. They come from the original pub owner who was a retired local fire chief. And as you notice more of these details – like the extensive craft beer selection and food quality – you realize the Pumphouse is not your average local watering hole.
What really distinguishes the Pumphouse from the many mediocre establishments is that they have a passion for what they are doing. Their staff can actually speak to customers knowledgeably about beer! Their monthly Long Table dinners, hosted in conjunction with beer importer, Beerthirst, are a means to educate 16 of their patrons at a time about craft beer and showcase the possibilities of food pairing. Here is a recent example that featured beer from Bear Republic of Sonoma, California:
Seared Pork Belly, Amber BBQ Sauce, Bacon, Potato Hash
Pairing: Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale
Marinated Jungle Chicken wrapped in Pandanus Leaves
Pairing: Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Salt & Grains of Paradise Crusted Beef Tenderloin Skewers
Pairing: Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
Salted Caramel Pot de Crème
Pairing: Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout
More than just a pub, the Pumphouse shows people how to have a greater appreciation for food and drink – something you would associate more with fine dining, but without the stiffness or expense. This is what appeals to females and younger people, which attracts a more diverse clientele for a more vibrant social atmosphere, even when a game isn’t on.
Photography by Brian K. Smith.