As the old saying goes, the only constant in life is change. Even things that seem to stay the same don’t really; with time they erode into dust-covered semblances of what they once were. In restless Los Angeles, the rate of change feels somehow faster, the streets morphing as quickly as a time-lapse video of a forest floor in spring. Here, where the oldest landmarks barely surpass 200 years of age, our sense of history is somewhat skewed. Perhaps that explains, then, the uproar that ensued when a dive bar called Ye Coach & Horses shuttered in 2010 after a 73-year run. Its regulars were devastated, creating a passionate Facebook campaign to save the dark, somewhat sticky former hangout of British expats like Richard Burton and Alfred Hitchcock. And, if legend is to be believed, where Quentin Tarantino and Tim Roth scribbled rich, provocative dialogue for Pulp Fiction on to bar napkins. But, like the fallen acorn on the forest floor, Ye Coach & Horses fell victim to the mighty force of change, and - in true Los Angeles style - was born again as a brighter, shinier version of itself.
In 2012, Ye Coach & Horses’ doors opened again, this time as “The Pikey.” Just as nostalgic as many of the bar’s regulars were, new owners Jared Meisler and and Sean MacPherson (Il Covo, Roger Room, Bar Lubitsch), took great care in restoring the space and retaining its charming English pub feel. In many ways, The Pikey is strikingly familiar: cozy red booths line bric-a-brac covered walls, a curving wooden bar offers a place to perch and enjoy a pint, a Union Jack presides over the festivities. Meanwhile, quite a few inarguable improvements have been made: a kitchen that was once the next-door Curry Palace is now the workspace of a Michelin-starred chef, a former storage space is now decorated with portraits of Maharajas and offers a place for both dancing and sports-viewing, and of course, those old sticky carpets have been replaced with crisp, clean tile floors.
As we learned on a recent trip abroad, English charm is also subject to the force of change: the food that gave England its once poor culinary reputation has been replaced over time with inventive, worldly, farm-to-table style fare - enough to make Jamie Oliver proud. So it’s only fitting that Meisler and MacPherson chose to hire Ralph Johnson, former Chef de Cuisine at The Spotted Pig - April Bloomfield’s legendary restaurant that, among other things, is credited with popularizing Britain’s gastropub phenomenon in the United States. Hailing from East Dulwich, London, Johnson creates food that proves that the British classics don’t need to be reimagined to be delicious, especially when prepared properly and with high-quality ingredients. His menu features quintessential British favorites from Shepherd’s Pie to Welsh Rarebit, all offered with a tall bottle of tangy HB Sauce on the side. If that’s not enough to make a British expat homesick, there’s even a proper Sunday roast each week, served with stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy - Hitchcock and Burton would surely be proud.
Brunch was born in 19th Century England after all, so it’s only appropriate that The Pikey would offer a British spin on L.A.’s favorite meal. While there’s something a little peculiar about walking through a heavy curtain and into a dark bar on your way to your morning meal, once you head to the right, you’ll find that the former-Curry Palace side of the restaurant offers plenty of light by which to sip your mimosa. Or, if you’re willing to accept a bit of noise from Sunset Boulevard, there’s a charming, flower-lined patio out front. On our recent visit, we found a perch in the restaurant side, just under a skylight, with a good view of Chef Johnson’s gleaming white-tiled open kitchen.
When brunching at a pub, a cocktail is a must, so we chose from the menu hanging in the skylight just above our heads. The Aperol Spritz was exactly what you’d hope it to be: bright, fizzy, and citrusy with just a hint of bitterness, in the prettiest pink-to-orange gradient. [Side note: can we please nominate this drink as the new Mimosa? It’s light enough that drinking it before noon still feels pleasant, but it’s got some serious depth of flavor - plus, it looks so much more glamorous.]
To begin, we’d wholeheartedly recommend a house-made pastry. For those missing the U.K., the Crumpet with Honeycomb and Clotted Cream is a must, if for no other reason than the dollop of absolutely luscious homemade clotted cream on top (why is clotted cream not a thing in the U.S.?). The pillowy crumpet comes to the table warm enough to soften the honey and cream on top, and the gently salted dough becomes a perfect sponge for all that sweet, creamy topping. If crumpets aren’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with the Homemade Biscuits with Maple Butter. While biscuits and butter feel more typical of an American brunch, The Pikey’s version is not to be overlooked: these are surprisingly crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, and are served with a hearty helping of creamy, salty-meets-sweet whipped butter.
British Expats will appreciate the impressively authentic Full English: an absolutely gorgeous mess of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, roasted tomato, and mushroom, served atop a thick slice of toast. The perfect bite has just a bit of everything - firm beans in a gently spiced tomato sauce, juicy sausage packed with fragrant fennel, perfectly crisp and salty bacon, tender roasted vegetables, runny egg yolk, and a bit of sweet, soft bread. Sure, there’s no black pudding, but we have a hard time imagining an Angeleno going for black pudding, anyway.
We couldn’t walk out of The Pikey without sampling the Fish & Chips, perhaps the most wonderful of British innovations (after the invention of brunch, of course). This version lives up to the best of what we tasted in London - the thick breading was light and not at all greasy, and the fish inside was flaky, tender, and moist. On the side is a deliciously simple tartar sauce and a heap of wonderfully crispy thrice-cooked chips (rumored to be Heston Blumenthal’s recipe). We even loved the lightly dressed spears of romaine propped somewhat perplexingly on top - a bite of cool, crisp lettuce is somehow exactly what this indulgent plate of fried food needs.
Sure, the bar stool that Hitchcock once perched on is probably in a dumpster somewhere, and the napkin that played canvas for a bit about a Royale with Cheese is surely gone, but there’s still a palpable sense of history at The Pikey - enough to satisfy even the most nostalgic of Angelenos. Change may be unstoppable, but perhaps we can meet it somewhere in the middle with a cold pint of beer and a heaping plate of chips, under the storied ceilings of The Pikey.
7617 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046