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Pub sampler: The Lion & Rose, Mister Tramps and the Pourhouse

Mike Sutter

When we started XL (the magazine we call Austin360 now) in 1994, Wednesdays were heaven and hell.

That was the day we went to press. It was also the day at Waterloo Brewing Co. when burgers were half-price and beer was cheap. And not just any beer. Brewpub stuff, made right there in giant kettles. Place always smelled a little like bleach. Bleach and malt, like a beer lab.

Burgers and fries got the job done, but Waterloo had higher aspirations, with rolled and stuffed skirt steak and roasted Cornish game hen.

A friend of mine who cooked there said his boss wanted the delicate, pinkish-brown Cornish hen to be roasted snowy white, like fully cooked chicken breast. 'You could roast it all day long, and it might turn black, but it will never, ever turn white,' my friend said. He got the boss off his back by sneaking in a small chicken, cooked to a fine wedding-dress finish.

Waterloo Brewing is long gone, the building scraped clean to the slab. But beer bars are like mushrooms, deep-fried with a side of ranch. Here are three that have sprung up in the past year.

The Lion & Rose British Restaurant & Pub

This building at the edge of West Lake Hills hasn't been kind to out-of-town concepts. Tia's Tex-Mex from Irving and Houston-born Ruggles Grill couldn't make a go of it. So now it's San Antonio's turn with the Lion & Rose, one of those English insta-pubs with darts, soccer on the telly and Guinness everywhere.

The wood in this place could build a British ship of the line, and the bar has a lived-in look already, pouring 15-plus beers on draft. For West Lake, that's quite a few. For an English pub in Austin, that's not many. They pour a decent 20-ounce glass of Guinness, but it'll run you $6.50. We paid $5.25 each for glasses of Boddington's and Stella Artois, and a sampler of Smithwick's, Old Speckled Hen, Bass, Franziskaner wheat and Guinness was $7.95. The live music is free, but somebody has to pay for all that wood.

That's right, good beer isn't cheap anymore, and the Lion & Rose isn't the most expensive place in town for a pint. But I bring up the beer prices because they contrast with a menu full of solid values. A big plate of spicy chicken curry with vegetables and rice was just $10.99, a nice touch on a pub menu. A long dish of shepherd's pie with rich ground beef smothered in mashed potatoes and gravy for $8.99 was nice, even better with the side dish factored in.

From side options including broiled tomatoes, bubble and squeak (cabbage and mashers) and Guinness mac and cheese, we picked gnarly fried nuggets of mushroom, bar food if ever I saw it but recommended by our waitress, a moonlighting Texas State University student. Score one for the Bobcat. (And score one for Fulham against HSV, because the soccer fan at the next table just exploded.)

Those broiled tomatoes were nice, too, drizzled with oil and Parmesan, and the Guinness mac was lush and resilient. I've now mentioned 'Guinness' half a dozen times. Like I said, everywhere.

Fair warning, too. The British names grafted onto most every dish will wear you down. King Richard's Ribeye ($19.99), named for its regal Black Angus-ness? Piccadilly Pasties ($8.99) for that Harry Potter touch. And my favorite, Abbey Road Ribs ($12.99), because we know how much the Beatles dig barbecue.

Fish and chips ($10.99) did just fine without a side of U.K. kitsch, the batter fluffy and crisp around clean-tasting fish, with well-fried waffle-cut potatoes. Another bar classic, Scotch eggs ($5.99), earned its passport with a crunchy fried shell wrapped around sausage wrapped around boiled eggs, an inspired combination on any mustard-bearing continent.

If you can say 'Chili's' with a Geico gecko accent, you'll be one step closer to understanding the Lion & Rose experience.

- M.S.

The Lion & Rose British Restaurant & Pub

701 S. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360). 335-5466, .

Rating: 6.8 out of 10

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Prices: Starters $5.79-$9.99. Soups and salads $4.29-$9.29. Burgers and sandwiches $4.99-$10.99. Main courses $8.99-$19.99. Desserts $1.99-$5.99.

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Beer, wine and cocktails. More than 15 beers on draft, another 40-plus by the bottle.

Wheelchair access: Yes

Mister Tramps Sports Pub and Cafe

At the time of night that bars become busy, there's still a steady flow of traffic on Research Boulevard. People heading home, to work, to play. While Lexus and her friend BMW grab a cocktail at a trendier spot, Ford Truck and Old VW kick their feet up at Mister Tramps. It's that kind of place.

Inside, the lights are low, the tabletops are plastic faux granite and TVs glow in every corner. On a Tuesday, nearly every bench at the bar was occupied. There's no buy-in for the weekly poker night, and the winner walks away with $50.

The bar opened last year when owner Alfredo Cedrone, an engineer-turned-printing-press-operator, turned his talents toward a Euro-sports bar. Cedrone and his wife, Aimee, sought to create a pub like 'Cheers,' where people could catch up with friends and watch some soccer, no planning needed. This isn't the first Tramps location, but it's the first one this side of the Atlantic. Cedrone's family owns a Mister Tramps in Italy, along with a bar called the Tramp.

The extensive menu is at once inspiring and frustrating. Here's a sample: Thai red curry soup, a Mediterranean melt, a hamburger and a pizza with brie. It's as if the chef threw darts at a world map to set the menu.

Despite small prices for the appetizers, don't expect small portions. Drunken Chips 'n' Cheese ($5.99, basically potato-based nachos in a tuxedo) are house-cut and drenched in a spicy, real-cheese sauce. Baked hot wings ($7.99) could very well be a meal, and the 'Hail Mary' sauce had a bite but wasn't too fiery. The 'Hurt Me' sauce will make you cry.

I tried Mister Tramps because a friend insisted this quirky pub has the best burger and onion rings in Austin. If halos were made from these onion rings ($4.99), angels would be fat and happy from eating halos. The burger here is good in an uncomplicated way. The pizza dough is made in-house and rolled thin. The Vagabound ($9.99) features leeks, bacon, goat cheese and basil pesto. The fresh ingredients sing, making the pie smell like a well-tended herb garden.

There are around 35 beers on tap, lined up behind the bar like beauty pageant hopefuls. Matched curiously with Blue Moon, Guinness creates an aesthetically pleasing brown-and-yellow beer cocktail called a 'Belgian Waffle.' The toastiness of the Guinness is tagged out by the lightness and subtle orange-peel flavor of the Belgian-style Blue Moon.

Our waiter was welcoming and knowledgeable about the menu, the beers and the history of the pub. When we asked for advice, he immediately offered samples: (512) Pecan Porter, Paulaner Hefeweizen and Trumer Pils. But as good as our waiter was in the early going, our beer glasses sat empty long after the first round - and this is a place where you'll want another round.

- Emily Macrander

Mister Tramps Sports Pub and Cafe

8565 Research Blvd., 837-3500, .

Rating: 7.1 out of 10

Hours: Sunday to Friday 11 a.m. to Midnight. Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Prices: Starters $4.99 to $7.99. Soup and salads $2.99-$7.99. Sandwiches and burgers $6.99-$7.99. Pizzas $8.99-$11.99. Desserts $2.99-$4.99.

Payment: All major cards.

Alcohol: Beer, wine and cocktails. About 35 beers on draft, from $2 (Lone Star) to $9 (Delirium Tremens). Cocktails $7-$10. Wine by the glass $5-$5.50.

Wheelchair access: Yes

Pourhouse Pub

The Pourhouse is a step back in time to the Waterloo Brewing Co. days. But instead of a three-story urban treehouse, this time it's a low-ceilinged fieldstone lodge nestled in what used to be a farmers' market paddock.

But like Waterloo, the food gets the job done and the beer is cheap. Even the good stuff. Dale's Pale Ale, Anchor Steam, Brooklyn Lager - $3.50 a pint (a half-dollar less at happy hour, which runs until 7 p.m.).

Ever had Dale's? It's a pine forest gently carpeted with citrus petals. I'd forgotten how dry and toasty Anchor Steam is, because I don't always have the coin to go style-dancing. I'm a hophead, but at the Pourhouse, I can afford to date other beers, and I counted 34 on tap, from the mystical Magic Hat 9 to the undaunted Dogfish Head 60. And Lone Star, which can afford neither adjectives nor numbers.

The Pourhouse is a Sixth Street bar for the 30-plus crowd, and it taps into a serious pocket of demand on Burnet Road. The claustrophobic bar area is full on a weekday, and a crowd starts to gather under a shade-tree Goliath on a patio the size of a rodeo arena. Census workers unwind on a covered stage frescoed with Texas themes. A couple with kids plays the beanbag version of washers, and the Wi-Fi is brought to you by Discount Electronics.

And the hugging. You don't see too many bars where people are so happy to see each other. Except for the bartender, who didn't seem so happy to see us, at least until it was time to cash out. Amazing what you'll put up with for cheap beer on a sticky bartop. Fortunately, we didn't need help with the menu. It's mostly fried things, with a few salads, burgers and sandwiches, topping out at $8.99.

For that price, you get a 'Works' burger with bacon, Cheddar cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms. Decent beef on a stiff, sweet bun with a side of bar-quality onion rings or seasoned waffle fries, light on the seasoning. For 50 cents less, a 'California' chicken sandwich presents some flavor from the grill, garnished with Jack cheese, pico de gallo and avocado with a side.

Nothing fancy for a place where nothing's fancy. Sometimes that's enough.

- M.S.

Pourhouse Pub

6701 Burnet Road. 454-7687, .

Rating: 5.8 out of 10

Hours: 3 p.m. to midnight Monday-Friday. 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday.

Prices: Starters $2.50-$4.99. Salads $5.99-$7.99. Burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs $6.99-$8.99

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Beer, wine and cocktails. More than 30 beers on tap, many of them $3.50 a pint.

Wheelchair access: Yes

What the rating means: The 10-point scale for casual dining is an average of weighted scores for food, service, atmosphere and value