Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

LUIS SANTANA   |   Times Bartender Alexandra Berry pours a beer for a customer at London Heights British Pub [Friday April 13, 2018] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
LUIS SANTANA | Times Bartender Alexandra Berry pours a beer for a customer at London Heights British Pub [Friday April 13, 2018] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
Published April 17, 2018

As a person who has no intention of ever going into the bar business, I spend a good amount of time thinking about what makes bar concepts work. I think about themes, branding, menus, location and myriad other factors that ultimately play into a bar's success or lack thereof.

There's an old home in Seminole Heights that's long been converted into a bar and restaurant space. A few years back, it was the Bourgeois Pig. Then, it was Ox & Fields, which rebranded as The Ox. That's gone, too. Now, it's London Heights British Pub, a bar and restaurant with a name that's almost comprehensively descriptive.

It's a London-themed pub in Seminole Heights. I don't need to describe the polished bar, wood floors and low tables that make up the interior, as you can already picture it. You already know there are Union Jacks on display, and it probably won't surprise you to know that the bathroom doors are framed in a red phone booth façade.

That automatically raises three questions: why a British pub, why Seminole Heights and why will this concept work where others have failed?

For the answers, I looked to London Heights' sister bar of sorts: Red Star Rock Bar, another Seminole Heights bar co-owned by London Heights owner Paul Medrano. Here we have another bar so straightforward on paper that one's tempted to ask, "That's it?"

It's a bar themed after … rock music. That's about the extent of it, really. Yet, Red Star Rock Bar is a Seminole Heights success story, gaining a steady reputation as a neighborhood go-to; a reliable starting or finishing point for a night out, or just a spot to grab a brew after work.

And therein lies the brilliance of what you might consider a boldly straightforward concept. Broadness and mass appeal end up being a nice contrast in a neighborhood known for high-end beer bars and breweries, cutting-edge restaurants and creative craft cocktails.

Few of these ultra-hip establishments offer bargain basement drink specials, but London Heights offers many. There wasn't a proper sports bar in the Heights before London Heights, which has TVs all over the place (including regular soccer coverage, of course). There's a pool table, plenty of seating, a few more private nooks and a wraparound patio.

It's pint-and-conversation stuff, and that doesn't always require any fresh concept or up-to-the-minute trendsetting. There's a reason the British pub concept took off decades ago and remains popular now — sometimes people don't want anything new or fancy. In a neighborhood known for new and fancy, the old standby might be more clever than it seems.

None of this is to suggest that London Heights is simply generic or not fully thought-out. The menu of British-inspired pub food offers great variety (including, remarkably, vegan-friendly options), and the beer list is stacked with British and Irish classics, as well as deeper cuts, like Hobgoblin, Samuel Smith's and even Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale.

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There's whiskey aplenty, as well as a full range of the usual spirits that you'll find in any well-stocked bar. There's no cocktail menu or wine list — you'll find plenty of those elsewhere in the Heights. What you'll find at London Heights are cheap drinks, generously served.

On most days, there are two happy hours, during which the prices aren't far removed from dive bar pricing. That's not bad for Seminole Heights. Outside of happy hour, you still aren't likely to spend much, and there's always $3 beer to be had (Rolling Rock) if you're thirsty and not especially picky.

If you're looking for some extra flair, you'll find traces of it here and there, like the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen artwork that appears throughout the bar, or the Union Jack on the patio with the phrase London Calling, in reference to the Clash album of that name.

Those are a callback to Medrano's other bar, which is successful largely because it fills a gap by offering something relatively no-frills in a many-frills neighborhood. London Heights might be using the same playbook, and I can see the argument for it — after all, if you simply want to enjoy a pint and watch the game, why not go to a place that offers mostly just that?

Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG