Do you love a good British pub? Then head to the Queen Vic in Washington, DC, where you’ll find a large selection of British beers, great pub grub, and a warm welcome from owners Ryan Gordon, his Welsh wife, Roneeka Bhagotra, and their friend, Kevin Bombardier. The hands-on trio opened the Queen Vic in 2011, and you’ll often find one of them on the premises, as I did when I visited last year. I recently spoke with Roneeka to learn more about what makes the Queen Vic so special.
EXTENSIVE BRITISH BEVERAGE OFFERINGS
The best place to start is with a look at the pub’s large selection of British bevvies. On my visit, draught options included Old Speckled Hen, Boddington’s, Belhaven Scottish Ale, Wells Bombardier Ale, Guinness, and Magners cider. Options rotate and typically include seasonal ales. The Queen Vic serves its drafts in imperial pint glasses for a full 20 ounces of British goodness. There’s also a large assortment of UK beers and ciders by the bottle. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can choose from a selection of beer- and cider-based cocktails.
Roneeka told me that one of the team’s biggest challenges has been sourcing a wide variety of British beers at affordable prices. “When we started planning the pub, we were adamant that we would serve only beers that you could get in a UK pub,” she recalls, meaning British or European offerings. “We’ve always stuck to that plan despite all the availability, pricing, and importing issues we’ve experienced. It’s always a struggle to find a happy medium, but it’s something that we won’t compromise on.” She notes that Ryan sometimes reaches out to UK breweries and helps them connect with importers as one way to increase the pub’s selection.
Will you ever find American beers at the Queen Vic? “The only American beers that we serve are either if we partner with a brewery for an event, or if a local brewery creates a British-style beer for us to serve,” Roneeka says.
GREAT BRITISH FOOD
The Queen Vic’s expansive selection of British beverages is complemented by a menu that’s crammed with classic British favorites like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and chicken tikka masala. There’s also a large chalkboard filled with daily specials. In fact, there’s so much great food that I asked Roneeka if the Queen Vic is just as much a restaurant as a pub, but she firmly says it’s a pub that just happens to have great food. “We wanted to create a relaxed pub vibe without any restaurant pretensions, but with the same quality food as a good restaurant,” she says.
One of the Queen Vic’s waitresses told me that fish & chips and chicken tikka masala are two of the pub’s most popular entrees. Roneeka agrees, adding that the Queen Vic’s traditional Sunday roast is also popular, particularly with expats. She says that meat-focused dishes are the best sellers among the pub’s abundant specials, especially less common offerings such as offal and game birds.
We opted for Welsh rarebit and fish & chips on our visit. Welsh rarebit is one of my favorites, and the Queen Vic did not disappoint. The thick toasted bread was covered with a tangy mixture of cheese, ale, and mustard and broiled to bubbly perfection. It’s listed under the “Small Plates” section of the menu, but the portion is so large it could easily serve as an entrée. The fish & chips were also great, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the Queen Vic’s most popular offerings. We enjoyed a large, dense slab of sticky toffee pudding for afters, although I have to admit it was difficult to do it justice after such a hearty dinner.
When Roneeka and I discussed the origins of the Queen Vic’s extensive menu, she told me that her father was a chef and the pub has used many of his recipes over the years. In addition, her family owns an Indian restaurant in Wales, and the Queen Vic features some of its award-winning curry dishes. The team also develops many of its own recipes. “Ryan and I go back to the UK at least twice a year for new ideas,” Roneeka says, noting that Ryan often works with a butcher in Cardiff during these trips, in order to brush up on his butchering skills and try out new recipes.
Roneeka says that creating authentic, affordable British dishes from scratch has proven to be another challenge of running a British pub in the US because many of the ingredients aren’t readily available here. She cites the Queen Vic’s traditional full English breakfast as an example. “It’s generally pretty cheap and easy to make an all-day breakfast in the UK,” Roneeka notes. “But for us, it means butchering and curing the bacon ourselves, making our own bangers from scratch and finding the exact recipe to mimic British baked beans. What takes a couple of minutes in a British kitchen takes hours in our kitchen because of all the prep that goes into it.” The amount of effort the Queen Vic’s team puts into preparing a perfect British fry-up is a great illustration of the pub’s dedication to quality and authenticity.
A TRUE LOCAL
In the UK, regulars often refer to a favorite pub as their “local.” I was sure I felt a local vibe during my visit to the Queen Vic, and when I shared this impression with Roneeka, she quickly agreed. “We definitely serve a predominately local crowd, probably 75% of our guests,” she says. “We don’t see a lot of tourists, but we often have expats in.”
Like Myers of Keswick, which I featured in July’s Eating British in America column, the Queen Vic sees a surge in business whenever there’s a major British event such as a royal wedding. Sporting events are also a big draw and Roneeka proudly notes that the Queen Vic is the only official Liverpool FC Supporters bar in DC. The pub is open for all of Liverpool’s matches, no matter how early they’re broadcast in the US. “We love being part of that scene,” Roneeka says, noting that “there’s always an incredible atmosphere during the matches.” Rugby also draws a crowd, as does the Queen Vic’s annual pub quiz (the grand prize for the 12-week quiz is usually a trip to Dublin).
Roneeka attributes a large part of the Queen Vic’s longevity to its loyal customer base, which she describes as incredibly supportive. It’s clear that Roneeka, Ryan, and Kevin are equally loyal to their customers, whether that means going the extra mile to source British beers, broadcast Liverpool matches at the crack of dawn, or prepare authentic British dishes to exacting standards. Loyalty also means taking time to celebrate with their customers, and Roneeka and Ryan are always in the pub at midnight on December 31st to toast the New Year — and the Queen Vic’s loyal regulars — with shots of Jameson.
VISITING THE QUEEN VIC
The Queen Vic is located at 1206 H Street NE in Washington, DC. If the first floor is full, head to the second floor, where you’ll find another bar, more tables, and a covered patio. You can check the event calendar on the pub’s website for information on Liverpool matches and other special events.
Dedicated publicans, imperial pints, a great selection of British bevvies, authentic British food, football and rugby on the telly, and the feel of a true local: all these traits combine to make the Queen Vic one of the most authentic British pubs in America!