Cafe Society

Why I hate the word "gastropub," again

I want to make myself absolutely clear here: I hate the word "gastropub."

Just to be sure, I'm going to repeat that: I hate the word gastropub. Got it, everyone? The word. Words are my business. I take them very seriously. And as far as words go, gastropub is a bad one. It is a clunky, stupid mish-mash of a word used to describe an eating establishment that ought to be called a restaurant -- and left at that.

I also hate the word "boite," because it is preposterously ostentatious and haughty and pretentious. In the English language, there are six synonyms for the word "flavor" -- a concept that I deal with a lot. Because I am picky and because I am stubborn, I won't use three of them. Why? Because I hate the words piquancy, tang and soupcon, and would rather stab myself in the tongue than use them without a healthy soupcon of irony attached.

It's the same thing with vegetarianism. I don't hate vegetarians (not as a group, anyhow), just their particular "ism."

While I don't hate gastropubs or the people who run them, I do wish they'd all stop using the word and call themselves something else. Like "restaurants," maybe. Or, better yet, nothing at all. Peter Karpinski of Sage Restaurant Group just opened a place in Portland named The Original and he decided to call the thing a "dinerant," which very nearly made my head explode. I hate the word "dinerant" even more than I hate the word "gastropub." And Karpinski? Far as I'm concerned, that guy is a genius.

Look, I understand the process of naming is an important one. I understand that, in order to be successful, a restaurateur must find some word that describes his place of business for the hordes of bone-dumb knuckleheads hungrily wandering the streets and walking randomly into hardware stores and flower shops looking for sandwiches. I mean, look at all those people who show up at the French Laundry in Napa every day carrying bags of dirty underpants. That must be so annoying. This is exactly why the guys at Fruition now call their place a CafeBistroDinerTeria and Frasca recently changed its name to Frasca Italian Food-For-Your-Mouth Place -- just to cut down on all the confusion.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because when Penny Parker recently mocked the word, the Gastropub Defense League (lead by Argyll owner Robert Thompson) got all up in arms again over something I'd written months back about the coming boom in Denver gastropubs: To me, the term "gastropub" sounds like the invention of some devil-may-care marketing dick who's never eaten anywhere but the local bar and just loves to complain about the crappy food in his city. One day, this nimrod starts thinking: "Gee, I really wish there was a decent steak to be had somewhere in my town. And maybe some of those little empanada things I saw Rachael Ray make on TV last night. Some gumbo. Foie gras. A nice piece of fish wouldn't be so bad, either. Maybe with a fresh salad? Ooh, you know what would be great? If they served all that right here at my neighborhood bar!"

Bam: Motherfucking gastropub.

That inspired some angry e-mails and comments, and notes that I needed to be educated as to what a gastropub really was. I found these particularly hilarious, because since "gastropub" is a made-up word, it would be the culinary equivalent of hosting a symposium on the definition of unicorns.

But let me repeat: While I may hate the word, it doesn't affect how I feel about the food. I reviewed Jonesy's EatBar a few months back. Jonesy's unabashedly calls itself a gastropub -- and I loved the place. Colt & Gray? Gastropub, and I drooled over the menu for weeks, giving the place repeated and vigorous public handjobs before the doors were even open. Argyll? Another gastropub. But I've looked over the Argyll menu again and again and haven't had a single unkind word to say -- because that menu looks good. I mean, pork belly with apple cider and sage reduction? Potato, leek and garlic soup? Alsatian choucroute garnie? Who wouldn't get excited about that?

But maybe I am backwards on this issue. So if Thompson (or any of you other defenders out there) feel like educating me on gastropubs (or unicorns), feel free to comment below. That's what the First Amendment is for, after all.

(By the way, the photos at the top and bottom of this post were taken of European gastropubs by a friend -- who does not see much resemblance to American gastropubs.)