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Today the phrase "hair of the dog" refers to a hangover cure, but it originated with the theory that the bite of a rabid dog could be treated by placing a few of the dog's hairs in the wound. Sticking dog hair into a rabies-infested gash probably works about as well as slamming back a few beers when you're hung over: Go ahead and dehydrate yourself further and make that gory headache worse, dumbass. And both of those things probably work about as well as a British pub in Denver serving Pakistani food. Which is to say, not very.
2052 Stout St.
Denver, CO 80205
Region: Downtown Denver
The British Bulldog occupies a century-old building that once held a boxing club, then became the beloved Punch Bowl, a burger-and-brew spot. It spent a few unsuccessful minutes in the '90s as Punch Bowl Baja Bistro, turned into the Stout Pub, and then was transformed into the Bulldog in 2006 by Isaac James, a native of Pakistan who was the joint's food-and-beverage manager and collaborated with line cook Thomas Cortez to create an eclectic English/Pakistani fusion menu.
When Little Pub Company purchased the place in 2008, it kept that menu. Little Pub is owned by Mark Berzins, and since 1994 he's been busy as hell snatching up local bars like a kid grabbing warm cookies off a plate. His company now owns nineteen pubs, ranging from the Bulldog to the Icehouse Tavern, Patrick Carroll's Irish Pub, the College Inn, Gibby's Sports Saloon, Salty Rita's, the Irish Hound and the Elm. When Berzins buys an established bar, he tends to make minimal changes — and also refrains from splashing Little Pub's name all over the place. He doesn't advertise, instead funneling cash to local charities — and right back into the communities his bars serve.
And quite a community has rallied around the Bulldog. When I stopped by around 8 p.m. on a weeknight, there were fixies lashed to the patio railing and a few hipsters with black-rimmed glasses smoking and chatting about trivia — it was quiz night. As I opened the heavy wooden door, I got a whiff of old fryer oil, fusty whiskey and balmy curry spices. I grabbed a seat in one of the vintage booths, whose backs are painted with woodland scenes — a Depression-era trade by artist Noel Adams, who's rumored to have bartered his work for eats and booze. My server spoke with a glorious, halting Boston accent and had a desiccated sense of humor. He also had bad news: The kitchen was out of samosas, which I'd enjoyed before. So instead I ordered a starter of chips and curry and one of fried pickles, along with a pint of Strongbow hard cider. The beer menu is relatively small but brawny, with 1554 Black Ale, Paulaner Munich Lager, Hibernation Ale, Fuller's London Pride and Titan IPA — one of Great Divide's hoppy pearls, smacking of citrus and pine and delivering a slightly sweet finish. Colorado beers are some of the finest in the country, and anyone who says otherwise can sod off.
Slide show: Inside the British Bulldog
Even without the samosas, I was looking forward to supper. Mainstream Pakistani cuisine is a multicultural blend similar to Indian food but more meat-heavy, with a definite Asian influence, some Muslim culinary traditions and lots of aromatic spices: cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace. Traditional British fare is definitely modern-era joke fodder, as it tends to be under-seasoned and understated. But it's often also underrated, since stolid standards like boiled or fried potatoes, roasted beef, battered fried fish and hot bread are comfort foods that should be valued as much for their inexpensive and filling qualities as for their preparation. This odd mash-up in an old Denver bar seemed to have a fighting chance of being more than a novelty, so for my main meal, I'd gone with a plate of naturally starchy, barely seasoned bangers and mash; an aggressively spiced aloo gosht salin — lamb and potato stew with a touch of tomato; and saag paneer, warmly spiced creamy spinach with dices of fresh white cheese.
The meal got off to a bad start, though. The fried pickles were an undersized portion of chips rather than the promised army of spears; the sparse breading was already peeling off, and the chilly, limp circles were swimming in a pool of musty-brown fryer grease. A side of thin, uninspiring honey mustard dressing did nothing to disguise the disaster. The chips portion of the chips and curry was great: a large basket of hand-cut fries just the way I like them — limber with crisp ends, not too oily and very lightly salted. But the curry dip was dry and crusty along the edges of the cup, and difficult to dip into — and once I succeeded, I discovered that the dull, brick-red mess of mashed eggplant innards was heat-spicy to the point that it made my nose run and Speed Racer sweat beads pop out on my forehead and behind my ears. I don't mind heat, but without an underlying flavor profile, it was just empty entertainment; I could barely taste the profusion of wilted, chopped flat-leaf parsley or the spoonful of arid diced-tomato garnish.
That's too bad, I remember them having surprisingly solid Pakistani food a few years ago. Sounds like it went downhill (at least, that half of the menu did).
So we open with a discussion of hair of the dog, then we move into unappetizing descriptions and picture the looks like some part of the dog all right but it for sure isn't the hair. These reviews just get better and better each week. At least it doesn't take up too much of my time because I'm still skipping most of it.
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