Civilized Swilling

In the evolutionary time line of pubs, the Pint House sits at a crossroads. Looking behind, it would see the dank neighborhood watering holes from which it sprang, dive bars with no windows, just a door through which the sketchy and unshaven could sneak in unnoticed to hunch over a sweaty bottle of their chosen vice and, maybe, grab a bite of something deep-fried as an afterthought.

Looking forward and to the right, the Pint House would see its modern brethren, the gastropubs, gleaming with lofty aspirations and a label now slightly overused, having come to mean a restaurant that also serves a lot of alcohol, particularly beer, along with plates of food that may or may not be garnished tall enough to poke an eye.

The Pint House carves its own path. It calls itself “an upscale American-style pub and restaurant without an upscale price,” but let me translate: It’s more Cheers than Moe’s Tavern, more burger joint than trendy restaurant. It’s still boozy and beer-fueled, but with a restrained, civilized, sensible way about itself.

In the backyard area—an open space unearthed like an archaeological dig between the two walls of adjacent buildings—a singer strums a guitar on a small corner stage, alternating between lyrics and a harmonica. In front of the crooner, the few who’ve chosen to give him audience sip sudsy glasses of locally brewed drafts as they lounge on an L-shaped sectional and warm their hands over a fire pit.

On nights when an important game is on, the TV feed is projected onto one of the walls. And when no musical act has been booked and no sports team has a championship at stake, you’ll hear nothing but your own conversation and the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves on potted trees.

In contrast to the other bars that have reinvigorated Downtown Fullerton’s main drag in the past decade, the Pint House coasts at a sedate pace, but that’s just how the regulars like it, thank you very much. And the place has many regulars, each staking a claim with personalized pint glasses. You’ll see dozens upon dozens of these etched glasses displayed on wooden racks inside the bar. The brass plaques underneath are engraved with names such as “Goose,” “Animal” and “Pure O.G.,” as well as “Sean’s Mom.”

It would be these regulars, or maybe those crazy kids from nearby Fullerton College, who order the Pint House’s Power Tower, an oversized beer dispenser the height and shape of a gigantic lava lamp. Though excessive and only slightly more respectable-looking than chugging from a bong, it must be said that if you have a lot of people, this $24 see-through 90-ounce mini-keg is more economical than paying by the pint.

And you will need the extra lubrication to wash away the effects of the appetizers. Almost everything is deep-fried and finished with a salvo of grated Parmesan and chopped parsley, including the fries, the zucchini and the onion rings, the latter having a nice porous crust but a disappointing limpness beneath.

The best of them all is the off-menu deep-fried artichoke, a Fryolator masterpiece and a delicate thing of beauty that never needs any of its dipping sauce. This and the properly made, crispy Buffalo wings are great and worthy foils to beer.

It is, however, the house-baked soft pretzels that become the defining mouthful of the night. The twisty, well-browned doughy loops are the natural symbiotic partner to anything hop-based you might drink. So oven-hot they burn the epidermis off your fingertips and crusted with perhaps too much salt, they will, as in that oft-quoted Seinfeld episode, make you thirsty.

As they always do, sliders function as the bridge between the appetizers and the full-on sandwiches. The chewy tri-tip slider should be skipped for the syrupy pulled pork or the chicken one. If you’re going to do a full-size burger later, forget ordering the burger slider—it’s actually made from the same patty, just quartered. Besides that, the teeny-tiny Hawaiian rolls they use as buns get wet and pasty too quickly, never recovering after absorbing the moisture from the beer-soaked wilted onions.

Save your money and your ballooning beer gut for the real burgers. These contenders weigh in at one-third of a pound per patty and come out looking like they’re bench-pressing the gigantic, dome-shaped sesame-crusted Kaiser-type rolls above them. In the Special Burger, sautéed portobello, tomatoes, lettuce and grilled onions fuse with the meat and cheese. The barbecue sauce and bacon of the Pint House’s West Coast Bacon Cheddar Burger emulate and surpass the Carl’s Jr. Bacon Western Cheeseburger.

You’ll see whole tables ordering nothing but burgers and fries. There will be the occasional wine twirler who will opt for the solitary offering of pasta, a plate of penne coated with three choices of sauce (Alfredo, marinara or a combo of the two). But even that guy will feel at home and welcome at the Pint House, just like Goose, Animal and, of course, Sean’s Mom.

The Pint House, 136 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-PINT; Open Mon., 4-9 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 4-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-2 a.m.; Sun., noon-8 p.m. Dinner for two, $25-$40, food only.

This review appeared in print as “Civilized Swilling: Boozy but never barbaric, the Pint House blazes its own path on the pub scene.”

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