Barely two weeks after opening in May, the Crown & Thistle already looked like it had been part of Coeur d'Alene's downtown dining scene for more than half a century.
Maybe that's due to its architecture and design, or the menu with its bitter beers, bangers and mash, and fish and chips. Or maybe it's because owner Jennifer Drake has been planning the British-style pub for more than a decade.
"Idaho's only 150 years old, so to make [Crown & Thistle] look 200 years old is tough," says Drake, who began collecting furnishings and décor for her some-day pub around seven years ago. A few years before that, she created a limited liability corporation to develop what would become the Crown & Thistle.
The new pub emulates places she visited first while attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, represented by the thistle, and while traveling throughout Great Britain (the crown) as a student. Later, she and husband Ben Drake visited the British Isles, most recently for the Great British Beer Festival, stopping at 53 pubs in five days.
From a pub in York, for example, Drake got the idea for snugs, semi-private closets that first allowed British, and originally Irish, women to drink in public houses, or pubs, and had three commissioned and installed at Crown & Thistle.
The décor is eclectic, from British Empire style — two African hartebeests are mounted over a hutch amidst a Russian samovar, travel trunk and leather couches — to door-sized rubbings that suggest medieval monasticism. Miscellaneous pairings of oak tables and well-worn chairs, and a high back bar the Drakes hauled from Seattle, suggest an upscale Golden Age saloon.
The recipes are imported, too. From London's St. John restaurant, Drake borrowed Welsh rarebit: toasted sourdough bread topped with Worcestershire and beer-cheese sauce ($5). Drake developed the beer batter for Crown & Thistle's fish and chips ($13) from Tom's Kitchen in London, featuring a proper British dousing of malt vinegar on crispy cod or haddock.
The bangers and mash feature Ben Drake's handiwork; he makes the rotating list of bangers (sausages), of which diners can choose from when ordering. Chef Chris Johansen finishes the dish ($13) with chunky mashed Yukon gold potatoes, tangy onion marmalade and savory brown gravy.
"Corking" good snacks include scotch eggs, a soft-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried ($5), and chippies (fries), with choice of toppings like curry or chimichurri ($6).
Finally, what's a pub without beer? Drake knew she wanted Samuel Smith, a U.K. beer in production since 1758 and available in the U.S. since 1978, but only in bottle form until about two years ago when kegs began import to the states.
At any given time, Drake plans to have both draft and bottles or cans of Samuel Smith beer options, including the Taddy porter, oatmeal stout and the complex Yorkshire stingo, aged a year in oak casks. There's also beer with names that range from the Belhaven Black Scottish Stout and William's Dragon's Breath Cider with Ginger, to the Trooper Iron Maiden Irish Bitter.
Look for rotating taps, including locals like Hidden Mother, and a new way to experience beer from a very old manner of dispensing it: cask ale engines. Dating to the 1700s, this gravity-fed system is ideal for cask-conditioned beers, like Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Bitter, that are lower in carbonation and typically not served as cold as those on a conventional pump. Drake's eyes gleam as she explains this.
"I love that I get to expand people's beer horizons," she says. ♦
The Crown & Thistle • 107 N. Fourth St., Coeur d'Alene • Open Sun-Thu 11 am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 am-2 am • crownandthistlepub.com • 208-758-8357