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Elephant and Castle, A Boston-Based, British Pub-Themed Chain at Federal Triangle and near Farragut West


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"A Brit would say that we’re “Bang On” – excellent, just right."

This quote comes from the 2003 annual report of the Canadian company that owns Elephant and Castle pubs, one of which looks like it's about ready to open at Pennsylvania and 12th, NW, in the old TGI Fridays space. (If it hasn't already. I walked by about 2 weeks ago and it looked close.)

"We completed a strategic review of the brand in early 2003 and used this to design and implement a series of brand enhancements, ranging from the look of the menu to the staff uniforms. We are proud to offer timeless pub comfort – but timeless certainly doesn’t mean static – and we must continue to be ‘Bang On,’ relevant to an increasingly sophisticated and demanding guest base."

I wonder if their servers will need to wear "flair?" Red phone boxes and photos of the queen do not make a great pub. And I'd sooner be tied to a maple tree and molested with moose antlers if I thought this place would serve ANYTHING close to a cask conditioned ale LIKE THEY DO IN AUTHENTIC BRITISH PUBS!

"We will continue to evolve the brand to not only retain our current guest base, but to attract new guests. We need to remain “Bang On”, fresh and competitive. It will be our goal to maintain and build upon our status as the premier authentic British pub concept in North America."

So they're going to be like Sine and Bennigans...only British! It's bad enough that Americans have to Disney-fy everything and send it all over the world. Now the Canadians are doing it? Actually, it serves us right to get it sent right back at us.

/rant

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Why so negative?  It's just another formula restaurant.  And it's been open for a week.

I’m negative because it represents yet one more example of dumbing things down for Americans. I’m negative because they utterly miss the concept of the British pub. The pub is a neighborhood fixture that represents the community it is in, the people who work there, and the people who frequent it. It is not prepackaged in a corporate office and plunked down in a place where people are crying out for a “warm, friendly smile.” A real pub should be local. In fact, they’re referred to as “the local.” And even if they’re corporate owned, odds are good that it’s run by a family, making it a quasi-family business.

From what I can see online, there is nothing British about Elephant and Castle. (Perhaps I'll at least pay a visit to confirm.) It’s as Canadian as apple pie. And it preys upon people who think that the British go around eating nothing but fish & chips and bangers & mash. Meanwhile, some authentic British pubs are pulling in Michelin stars: The Fat Duck outside London and The Star at Harome outside York. (Yes, they're an exception.)

I hope that sometime someone will actually re-create the concept of a British pub in DC, and adhere to the authentic as best as possible. Washington deserves better. It’s clear that you can take a foreign concept and transplant it here and be true to the concept. You don’t have to dumb it down to the Elephant and Castle extreme. Bistrot du Coin is perhaps the perfect example of how to do it right. Although not perfect, even Les Halles next door to Elephant and Castle is another example.

Perhaps, someday, more people will be interested in buying from local producers and supporting local restaurants and bars. Maybe someday there will be more members in Slow Food than there are in Chi Chi’s Chicken Fiesta Club. Maybe someday there will be success in booting McDonald’s out of a foreign nation for ruining their culinary heritage. Maybe someday pigs will fly. Preferably Jacques Gastreaux’s smoked butt onto a plate near me!

Edited by CrescentFresh
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And their most heinous crime is pushing off fake "cask" Fullers to an unsuspecting public. Basically serving regular ol' keg beer through hand pumps to create the illusion that they are serving a cask-conditioned product. Granted this is more of an issue with Fullers and their marketing here in the states, but E&C could actually get cask beer to serve from local suppliers if they really wanted. Click here for more indignation.

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And their most heinous crime is pushing off fake "cask" Fullers to an unsuspecting public.  Basically serving regular ol' keg beer through hand pumps to create the illusion that they are serving a cask-conditioned product.  Granted this is more of an issue with Fullers and their marketing here in the states, but E&C could actually get cask beer to serve from local suppliers if they really wanted.  Click here for more indignation.

That is so wrong. Some time ago, I had a pint of hand pulled Newcastle at Finn MacCools on 8th SE. It didn't taste right at all, and I wonder if this may be a reason. Should be the subject of another thread, though.
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I had lunch at Elephant and Castle today, and nowhere on the menu were they advertising "cask" beer.

Based on a cheeseburger, fish and chips, and a walkaround (inspecting plates as I went), the food was as you'd expect: industrial and inoffensive, something you'd expect to find at a Hard Rock Cafe. The atmosphere was no more like an authentic British pub than you'd find at King's Dominion.

The main drawing card, however, is the selection of beers at reasonable prices: 18 beers on tap, and 30 by the bottle. The dozen-or-so single-malt scotches are another asset, as is the pleasant outdoor patio. If you can get over the corporate-fake British pub schtick, this is a fine place to sit and have a couple of beers outside.

In summary: if you're confined to this block, go to Elephant and Castle for beer and scotch, and go to Les Halles for food and wine. Yes, I know Les Halles has gone seriously downhill in the food department, but I'd still suggest eating there instead of here - at least the food at Les Halles has something approaching personality, and the wine list remains one of the best in town.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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As I noted in my initial post, I kinda felt obligated to go into this place if I was going to rant against it so forcefully. I did go, a day or two after my initial post. Sat at the bar and ordered a Fullers ESB from their hand pull. I have to say that I think it's criminal to serve the beer in this manner. It is exactly as TedE notes -- standard Fullers keg beer served in a fancy manner. I tried a pint of the Fullers IPA afterwards, hoping that it might taste different. No luck. In fact, it was worse than the ESB and I sent it back and had them pour a Boddingtons. At least that comes off the nitrogen (I think) and it had a smoother creamier taste.

So, everything is as I expected. Until I look at these two guys at a table in the bar talking to each other and overseeing everything that's going on. I think I recognize one of the guys. I tell my companion, "I bet you that the guy over there with the beard is the head dude of Elephant and Castle Incorporated." Sure enough, it was. I recognized him from reviewing the company's annual report the night before!

I eventually asked an employee to confirm that this was, indeed, the guy from the corporate office. It was. So I asked if it's possible for me to speak with him. Rick Bryant, President and CEO of Elephant and Castle kindly sat down with me to talk.

I gave him a little background on how I recognized him from the annual report and that I was curious about the concept. I made it plain and clear that I am a great fan of quality beer, and that every time I've stepped foot in Great Britain, the A-1 plan had always been to drink beer and hang out in the pubs. (I'd like to think that I've played some small role in the Yorkshire economy). I told him I was concerned that Elephant and Castle is a place that claims to be authentic, but doesn't meet what I consider to be that standard.

Bryant explained to me a bit of the background on the company. Straight party line that you can read for yourself on their website. Although he did indicate that he's not a marketing person, and he knows that some of what's done is based on the marketers recommendations.

Washington, DC, he says, is their biggest site in terms of square footage. (I vaguely recall he said this property is about 7500 sq. ft. and they normally look for a 5000 sq. ft property.) He says that the most important thing for Elephant and Castle is the food. He says they've learned (and I heard this from brewpub owners 15 years ago in Massachusetts) that having great beer and lousy food will not last. Food has to lead the beer.

We then started to talk about beer and the British pub concept. (Although I did not ask where he's from, Bryant's accent is clearly from that side of the pond.) He told me he's a great lover of beer. He's quite proud that Elephant and Castle is able to bring to DC a great selection of beers at an affordable price. (As DonRocks notes, too, in his post). He's proud of their relationship with Fullers. (If I felt like being antagonistic, I'd have challenged him there, but I did not want to go there so I dropped it). We talked about real ales and he rightfully noted that it's next to impossible to ship real ale a great distance. Moving a keg of real Boddington's an hour out of Manchester is sometimes pushing it. And importing real ale from England is possible, but tremendously difficult to do properly. Elephant and Castle is not prepared to undertake that venture. I applaud him for not trying to do something that probably does take the effort of a sole proprieter and not a corporate entity.

I did, however, give him a challenge. To me, I explained, the nature of a British pub is the "local" nature. Perhaps what can make DC's Elephant and Castle more authentic than it claims to be, is to bring in some local beers, and not necessarily think it has to be from the UK. I challenged him to bring in kegs of real ale from Dominion and Dogfish Head and serve them on the hand pumps. Serving local beers in their natural state would truly qualify as an authentic British pub gesture in my book. He asked me to describe the beers and how they compare to the generally malty ales found in England and the truly hoppy monsters he now has in the Pacific Northwest (they're based in Vancouver). I concentrated mostly on describing the Dogfish Head, with which I'm more familiar. (Great variety, from Belgian styles to hop monsters he's used to).

Well, he didn't rule out the idea. In fact, I believe he would consider it once the existing restaurant gets going for a while according to the corporate plan. He acknowledged that DC has very fanatical and knowledgable beer drinkers and he does want to cater to that. He says we're the opposite of Chicago, where his people on the ground there tell him that Chicagoans don't have great beer savvy like here. (I don't particularly believe that either, though. I think they have a real ale festival in Chicago each year. And Goose Island does one helluva business.)

When it all came to a close, he said to give the bar a chance, don't write it off just yet. And I won't. Rick Bryant was truly genuine in his discussion with me and I appreciated his candor and his ability to sit and listen to someone who made it plain and clear that he's got some issues with the place. We exchanged business cards and he said he'd like to hear more thoughts when he next passes through town again.

Based on the welcome reception I got from Bryant, I'm going to give Elephant and Castle more of a chance. I'll try the food, but most likely will stick to beer. (Most likely not the Fullers!) I know I'm totally against the whole idea of this corporate pub concept, but I'm willing to go to bat to see if Bryant's company is willing to be the first large-scale pub chain in North America willing to try the idea of serving local real ales in their bars.

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Way to go the extra mile, Paul. :lol:

I'm not sure Dogfish are going to be sending their best stuff to anyone else in the trade down here, though, given that they are going to start their own bunch of brewpubs in the DC area in the nearish future. First one was supposed to open in June in Silver Spring, but given that the site is still in the demolition phase I think it's probably on a "Ray's schedule."

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Based on the welcome reception I got from Bryant, I'm going to give Elephant and Castle more of a chance.  I'll try the food, but most likely will stick to beer.  (Most likely not the Fullers!)  I know I'm totally against the whole idea of this corporate pub concept, but I'm willing to go to bat to see if Bryant's company is willing to be the first large-scale pub chain in North America willing to try the idea of serving local real ales in their bars.

Hey CrescentFresh, it's good to see someone else who gives deep thought to beer.

I have a question for you. How does the Elephant and Castle corporate concept differ from pubs/bars in england. It's my understanding that many (most?) pubs in england were originally owned by brewers as outlets for selling their beer. Thatcher (I believe) deregulated the pub market whereby a couple of corporations stepped in and bought up thousands of pubs. while we have this quaint idea of the independently operated local pub in england, in reality (at least from what I've read) a lot of pubs/bars are very much corporate entities in england, 3 companies in england own/lease/franchise over 20,000 pubs/bars/restaurants. Is Elephant and Castle taking this business model and bringing it to the States or are they going for something completely different?

btw, I think I went to a Elephant and Castle in Chicago and it struck me as being very mock pub with bad food. ie: lets make a bar that looks like what Americans think an English pub should look like and throw fish and chips on the menu.

honestly, despite the sometimes questionable hill staffer crowd and heavy jukebox play of Def Lepard and Journey, places like the Hawk and Dove and Capital Lounge are much more like an American pub...heavy on locals, you know the staff they know you...food could be better and they could have more local beers, but both places have that locals atmosphere that to me seems inherent in a "pub"

Finally I agree with you that I would love to have a good bar that carried only locally (DelMarVA maybe eastern Pa.) brewed beers. Michael Jackson (beer guru not boy guru) himself states that the midatlantic region is one of the better brewing areas in the country. Some bars I went to in Philly seem to be pushing that more than in DC, carrying only locally brewed beers and very few if any large corporate beers.

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Hey CrescentFresh, it's good to see someone else who gives deep thought to beer.

I have a question for you.  How does the Elephant and Castle corporate concept differ from pubs/bars in england.  It's my understanding that many (most?) pubs in england were originally owned by brewers as outlets for selling their beer.  Thatcher (I believe) deregulated the pub market whereby a couple of corporations stepped in and bought up thousands of pubs.  while we have this quaint idea of the independently operated local pub in england, in reality (at least from what I've read) a lot of pubs/bars are very much corporate entities in england, 3 companies in england own/lease/franchise over 20,000 pubs/bars/restaurants.  Is Elephant and Castle taking this business model and bringing it to the States or are they going for something completely different?

Tweaked, I really don't know the answer to that. It's very true about the brewery ownership of pubs in England. It's what leads to the term "guest beer," when beers aside from the owner's brews were offered in that location. It's also indeed true that many of these pubs have been acquired by multi-nationals. That's a natural extension for what is happening to a number of the popular beers in the UK.

On the one hand, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's given us in the states much more access to British beer. Hell, years ago it used to be that the only one you could find was a bottle of Bass. Now we've got dozens to choose from on tap alone. Not served in the traditional manner, mind you, but I'd take a Boddingtons pub ale over 90% of the other stuff I find on most taps in America. (Cask conditioned Bass, by the way, is extraordinary!)

But as I noted earlier, even if a pub is corporate-owned, it's very often family operated. And that makes a big big difference.

honestly, despite the sometimes questionable hill staffer crowd and heavy jukebox play of Def Lepard and Journey, places like the Hawk and Dove and Capital Lounge are much more like an American pub...heavy on locals, you know the staff they know you...food could be better and they could have more local beers, but both places have that locals atmosphere that to me seems inherent in a "pub"
That, to me, seems much more like what an authentic British pub should be. But the one thing that drives me crazy is, as you note, the music. Why do places here always have to have music, most likely blaring? It doesn't quite encourage conversation. And then everyone has to yell above it making noise levels worse.
Finally I agree with you that I would love to have a good bar that carried only locally (DelMarVA maybe eastern Pa.) brewed beers.  Michael Jackson (beer guru not boy guru) himself states that the midatlantic region is one of the better brewing areas in the country.  Some bars I went to in Philly seem to be pushing that more than in DC, carrying only locally brewed beers and very few if any large corporate beers.

I don't expect that he'd get rid of the large corporate beers. Let's face it, that's where the bread and butter is. And in a tourist town like this, people are going to want to see something they have comfort with.

But I've sent a letter to Rick Bryant from Elephant and Castle to thank him for speaking with me. In it, I note that taking one of the many taps at the DC location and converting it to a local ale could only add value to the restaurant. After all, with all the beer choice they have there, they're not going to lose customers by swapping one tap in such a manner. In fact, they'd likely attract customers looking for such a product. It would also give them a distinct competitive advantage over Fado and Sine, which I think are one and the same. Elephant & Castle as it is now, is no different and just divides the existing market share. Adding a local real ale increases the market share for these concept pubs, and Elephant and Castle would get the entire increase. At least that's how I see it.

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I love malty English ales, which in my opinion, are far superior to hoppy American-style ales. I am also a huge fan of the Fullers line, which is not at all easy to find in D.C., in the bottle, or on tap. I'll have to check the place out.

Old Dominion re-badges many of their beers as house brands for any number of local establishments. It would be interesting to see places like this work out a deal with Dominion to pump their delicious real-ale.

And speaking of Old Dominion, their Oak Barrel Stout is VERY good on tap. Too bad you have to go all the way out to Ashburn to get it that way.

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Revisited Elephant and Castle a couple of times recently. First visit was just for beer. Keep trying the depressurized Fuller’s off that beer engine and it’s still nowhere near as good as the cask conditioned IPA I had recently had John Harvards. That and the glass they served it in smelled like detergent and I had to have them repour.

Second visit included my first dining experience. Opted for the fish and chips, because it seemed so bloody obvious that that’s what I was supposed to try. It was half decent. The decent half were the chips. These aren’t Belgian/Franco –style frites here. They may as well look like Ore Ida steak fries. But they had a snappy enough crispness on the outside, and an incredibly tender fluffy inside. (I just pictured Charles Nelson Reilly dressed up in a Fig Newton outfit.) The malt vinegar took away some of that crispness, but I guess that’s expected when something dry meets something wet.

They give you two choices of fish: haddock and cod. I chose cod. If I try it again I’ll opt for the $3 more expensive haddock. Because while the batter was good (at first), the fish itself was what Wonder is to bread: Bland bland bland bland yuk. So to improve upon this blandness, a healthy shower of malt vinegar (at the table) was required. That made what had been a relatively good batter completely ineffective. Shame, because there was just the right amount of batter. All too often it’s caked on there with the thickness of a wool sock, but that’s not the case at jolly ‘ol E&C.

The place was mobbed that lunchtime. Didn’t have to wait for a table, but as I looked around, I didn’t see a single one free. Service was effective but inattentive. I guess that’s the fairest way to put it.

Y’know, if I wasn’t looking at posters for some cricket team and if I didn’t have a pint of Fuller’s in front of me, I’d have sworn I was at TGI Fridays.

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I’m negative because it represents yet one more example of dumbing things down for Americans. I’m negative because they utterly miss the concept of the British pub. The pub is a neighborhood fixture that represents the community it is in, the people who work there, and the people who frequent it. It is not prepackaged in a corporate office and plunked down in a place where people are crying out for a “warm, friendly smile.” A real pub should be local. In fact, they’re referred to as “the local.” And even if they’re corporate owned, odds are good that it’s run by a family, making it a quasi-family business.
How about this, then: Will it at least be better than the TGI Friday's that used to inhabit that space? Probably.
Honestly, Matt? I'm not counting on it.

Two and a half years ago, CrescentFresh was PrescientFresh. I made my obligatory second visit to this hell-hole, just to bring this thread up from the back of the forum. A pint of Smithwick's ($6), and I was ready to flee, noting that their list of beers is better than most corporate chains. Clueless service, paperboard Miller Lite coasters, upside-down plastic bottles of Heinz Ketchup on the tables, pub lipstick smeared on a TGIFriday's pig. Buh-bye.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Two and a half years ago, CrescentFresh was PrescientFresh. I made my obligatory second visit to this hell-hole, just to bring this thread up from the back of the forum. A pint of Smithwick's ($6), and I was ready to flee, noting that their list of beers is better than most corporate chains. Clueless service, paperboard Miller Lite coasters, upside-down plastic bottles of Heinz Ketchup on the tables, pub lipstick smeared on a TGIFriday's pig. Buh-bye.

Cheers,

Rocks.

There was an Elephant and Castle across the street from my hotel in Ottawa last week. The line to get in was out the door. It seemed odd since there were a number of much nicer places within walking distance, including several pubs. I do vaguely recall liking the one I tried in Toronto about 10 years ago...

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There was an Elephant and Castle across the street from my hotel in Ottawa last week. The line to get in was out the door. It seemed odd since there were a number of much nicer places within walking distance, including several pubs. I do vaguely recall liking the one I tried in Toronto about 10 years ago...

Is that the one near the bridge to Hull?

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A pint of Smithwick's ($6), and I was ready to flee, noting that their list of beers is better than most corporate chains. Clueless service, paperboard Miller Lite coasters, upside-down plastic bottles of Heinz Ketchup on the tables, pub lipstick smeared on a TGIFriday's pig. Buh-bye.
While E&C are so corporate as to make one's eyes bleed, the Londoner whose rants on the subject I perpetually have to listen to rates their fish and chips over Commonwealth's. Apparently their fish has the proper batter-to-fish ratio and the chips are significantly less wrong, although Eamonn's still wins out overall in the chipstakes. And they do have Fuller's on draft, although why someone in this town can't manage to acquire kegs of some variety of Young's is beyond me.
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E&C is expanding to Dupont, according to On Tap magazine. Place to be opening early March 2009 at 900 19th St, NW.
This location is really more downtown on 19th between I and K st (close to Farragut West metro). It looks like they are almost done with the construction. I'm sure they are hoping to get the happy hour crowds from all of the office buildings nearby.
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This location is really more downtown on 19th between I and K st (close to Farragut West metro). It looks like they are almost done with the construction. I'm sure they are hoping to get the happy hour crowds from all of the office buildings nearby.

That struck me as odd calling it Dupont. It almost borders on Foggy Bottom. I had a meeting at the hospital last night and realized just how close it is...I'm sure it will draw GW crowds as well. It's actually on the corner of 19th and "Eye" where there used to be a Dress Barn. I was trying to think what this area is called? I'm two long blocks away at 19th and L and we're sometimes referred to as South Dupont.

I did eat at one of the chains in PA a long time ago, and wasn't too impressed.

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It's actually on the corner of 19th and "Eye" where there used to be a Dress Barn. I was trying to think what this area is called? I'm two long blocks away at 19th and L and we're sometimes referred to as South Dupont.

Aren't there signs on some of the lamp posts in the area calling it "The Golden Triangle"?

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Aren't there signs on some of the lamp posts in the area calling it "The Golden Triangle"?

Yes, I think the city has spent 20 years pushing for everyone to start calling the area between Dupont and the Farraguts, and extending a few blocks up K St, the "Golden Triangle". Their latest efforts include yellow-jacketed "Golden Triangle Ambassadors" lingering around metro stations and the above-mentioned signs.

They'd have far more success if they simply ramped up the opium production.

I find myself describing the area at 19th & I as "near the World Bank" or "across K St" or "near Farragut West." I've also been hearing that area around L/M/19th referred to as "Midtown", but I'm not sure how far that extends and, well, the only midtown in my world is a three hour train ride north.

In an effort to keep this on topic, let me add that the Elephant & Castle downtown hosts a mediocre trivia night and I second (third? fourth?) the notion that the establishment should be avoided.

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A full 7 years since the last post?

I ended up here for lunch today with two companions, but only because we were going to meet at Del Frisco's and the latter was inexplicably packed. Maybe some holiday office luncheons....anyway, a few steps away was the entrance for Elephant and Castle, and we were immediately seated in a medium crowded restaurant.

One visit and one lunch do not allow for a comprehensive perspective, but I have to agree with most of the sentiment in this thread. My "club sandwich wrap" was about as mediocre as it gets.

Nice location, but not nice enough to look forward to a return visit.

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I agree the food is basically mediocre, but last week after a fun Christmas tree run downtown and with no reservations, ten of us were seated quickly here. This is after not even being able to get in the door of Old Ebbitt or the Hamilton and a few other places. Happy hour beer and wine specials were cheap and at least for beer had decent options; service was prompt and quite friendly, and without even asking our server gave us each individual checks. Sometimes that is enough to at least balance out the ok food. 

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E&C had a hard road to walk for me from the beginning.  Due to no fault of its own, the 19th St location is where my then-g/f (now wife, thankyouverymuch) and I would meet on neutral ground when we needed to have 'a talk.'

But then, it happened.  I try not to publicly post things that could malign a business due to the actions of one bad apple.  But this was that freaking bad.  Sitting at the bar one Friday for lunch, I saw the bartender pour 3/4 of a draft beer, then pickup the plastic overflow tray and remove the cover, and proceed to pour in the contents to top off the pint.

After mentioning to the manager without even giving time for a response, I left and have not been back to an E&C since.  I don't see that changing.

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