Just like those who put “Irish Pub” in their name are the least likely to be, “English” is a far cry from an authentic British pub. English does offer a handful of English ales on tap, Premier League “football” on the high definition tellies and the obligatory fish & chips, but is otherwise more of a River North after-work meat market than a quiet, convivial pub, but the young Near North crowd that descends in droves on the joint—and those who leer at them—wouldn’t have it any other way.
Once threatened to be knocked down in order to build yet another condo highrise, the Veseman Building now housing English, once Furla Photography (now at 121 N. LaSalle St.), is an Art Deco architectural treasures with its off-white, terra cotta facade that dates back to 1930, though the original building dates back to about 1880 and is thought to have been reconstructed when LaSalle was widened in the 1920s. Thankfully, owners Daniel Alonso & Adolfo Garcia of “Eat Well, Drink Better” moved into what was formerly vacant. English is located on the west side of LaSalle, between Hubbard & Kinzie and just south of the bipolar OTB, Stretch Run.
“The Veseman Building is an unusually colorful and finely detailed terra cotta-clad building designed in a sophisticated version of the Art Deco style and, as such, is an exceptional example of small-scale Chicago commercial architecture. Terra cotta glazes in pastel hues are used extensively throughout the building to highlight Art Deco ornament.”
Outside the pub, “English” is scripted in red neon calligraphy, making for a rather nice sign. Step through the plate glass door on the north end of the building and you’ll encounter a maitre’ d stand just to the left of stairs leading up to second and third floors. Why you need to be seated in the main bar is a curious thing, as the room consists of a long wooden bar that runs the length of the south wall, opposite a plentitude of wooden cocktail tables. Grab a table in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking LaSalle that are kept open in summer for the best spot, though sitting at the bar allows you to peruse the chalkboards illustrating half a dozen English ales as well as the other usual suspects on tap. Behind the bar, you’ll find provocatively dressed barmaids, who favor the color black, flitting from one end to the other offering a level of service that, to the untrained eye, appears to be somewhat brusk and laggard – until, that is, you suffer from the brutality of inefficiency from tableside service that can only be the result of inexperience, understaffing and a general disdain for attention to detail.
Columns framed in dungeon-like iron, circular light fixtures and walnut flooring round out an otherwise fairly minimal decor in the main room. Head upstairs to the second floor and you’ll find an additional bar, three free pool tables, walls adorned in glistening terra cotta tile, and a pair of large sepia photographs of no particular consequence. The third floor also features a bar and is rented out for private parties during the week and opened on weekends to handle overflow traffic. The restrooms with their bathroom attendants are located on this floor (often closed or inaccessible) as well as in the basement, near the coatcheck, so plan ahead for Mother Nature calls and you’re shooting stick on the second floor as the bouncers may or may not let you back in. Yelp is full of horror stories about private parties held here, so consider yourself forewarned and reminded to get any catering promises in writing, signed by the owners in blood, should you choose to host your shindig here…
“It’s the kind place where photographers roam the floor corralling girls together so they can take pictures of them, where girls wear mini-skirts and flip flops despite single-digit temperatures outside, where stripe-shirted meat heads start fights (yes there was one), and where you’re unlikely to find an unpopped collar on a warm summer day.”– excerpt from “Three Floors of Douchebaggery” by Kevin A. on Yelp (January 13, 2009)
Overall, the bar is vaguely English and kind of like an after-work Globe Pub but with a Kerryman-like vibe, smaller beer selection and aspiration to be a “gastropub” or three-star restaurant. English does have an intriguing selection of mini-burgers or pub “sliders” that consist of Guinness-braised pork belly, foie gras, Angus beef, filet mignon, crab cakes, turkey & mushroom, and buffalo chicken, all ranging in price between $3-5 each. The red curry mussels made with “English Ale” (though we don’t know which one) are surprisingly good. Such Anglo standards as bangers & mash and fish & chips are offered alongside gourmet options that include filet mignon, seared duck breast and the “certified” Angus burger. Surprisingly, the place also serves brunch on weekends, highlighted by the banana rum waffles. All of the above is described as “American Bistro with Old English flair.” You can wash it all down with a handful of English ale on tap, including those from Duchy Originals, St. Peter’s and Fuller’s, as well as a handful of red & white wines by the glass—yet, most order a martini instead. Watch out for the shot prices, and ladies and metrosexuals: check out the Pimm’s Cup, which reminds us of our favorite, the White Horse Trading Co. in Seattle, even though they unnecessarily add in Tanqueray Rangpur, fresh mint and a cucumber slice.
“It was kind of like McGee’s and Rockit had sex and English was their resulting love child. And I like Rockit and I like McGee’s. They just have an obnoxious kid is all. It happens to the best parents.”– excerpt from Matt L. on Yelp (March 1, 2008)
After the dinner crowd is swept away, DJs spin retro 70s-90s songs played LOUDLY, and there’s little room (or appetite) for any dancing. Don’t be surprised to find a line out the door after 11pm on weekends. All in all, English attracts people who like taking two hour lunches and don’t mind instructing the waitress how exactly to make their martinis (step by step), married men who come to creep out those other than their wives, Paris Hilton wannabees, girls with (sometimes real) ta-tas with a penchant for flashing, and an unlimited supply of Lincoln Park Chads with untucked shirts and spiky hair.
English gets a lot of love from the after-work crowd, as well as Chicago Scene Magazine & Time Out. Others consider English to lack character and to be more of a Lincoln Park meat market with overpriced pub grub with a self-described “neighborhood vibe” even though this part of River North is more commercial and touristy than one of the city’s many unique residential neighborhoods. We like it when we’re thirsty after a hard day’s work in the Loop, though English does make us miss Red Lion Pub even more… Who knew that gastropub meant overpriced food & drink served in a forgetful, tortoise-like manner? Regardless, if you like English, you’ll probably also dig Eat Well, Drink Better’s other holdings further north: The Central, Angels & Mariachis, Green at Grant Park, and Grand Central. For more information, check out the English website. Oi-right, guv’na!