Until the George & Dragon opened in the mid-1990s, there were few places in Phoenix to have a pint, eat some bangers and mash, and watch some footie. This pub at the north end of Midtown offers all those experiences, along with darts, poo two block north of the Indian School / Central Avenue station. The building is unimpressive from the outside, with the main entrance addressing the side parking lot rather than Central Avenue, but inside there’s an authentic feel characterized by soccer jerseys, posters, and flags on the walls, as well as bar tables topped with patterns based on the Union Jack and St. George’s Cross.
The main entrance leads first to a room with billiard tables and dart boards. Just beyond is the bar and main dining room, an expansive space with high ceilings and an oversized television often showing the latest Premier League matches. If seating is available, this room is the place to marvel at the sight of two dozen beers on tap. The usual suspects from the British Isles are all behind the bar, but the choices cross the Channel to include Kronenbourg from France and Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. There is also a second dining room at the far end of the restaurant. This was once the refuge for non-smokers but has since become more of an overflow room with the entire pub interior now smoke-free.
The menu is mostly classic British pub food with a few concessions to American tastes. George & Dragon is not a gastropub, something Phoenix lacks, so visitors should not expect a lot of signature dishes bearing an individuals chef’s unique touch. Instead, the food is the basic “pub grub” – hearty, mildly flavored, and consistent. Of course, fish and chips is on the menu. A generous portion of fried cod is paired with thick slabs of potato that might be thought of as “steak fries” in American terminology. The dish comes with a choice of sides such as peas or green beans. In keeping with pub tradition, ketchup and malt vinegar are brought to the table with every order.
Other favorites include pasties, pockets traditionally taken by the miners of Cornwall into their subterranean workplaces. Both traditional and vegetarian takes on this classic are served, and both varieties come with mashed potatoes and a side vegetable. Strict vegetarians may wish, however, to ask the pub to hold the gravy that is normally ladled over the potatoes. Other carbohydrate-intensive entrees include chicken-and-mushroom pie, also paired with mashed potatoes. Lighter options include a few salads and a daily soup; recent choices have been split pea and creamy tomato.
At various times, George & Dragon has been a place for colorful contrariness. The pub is where light rail opponents gathered on March 14, 2000 to monitor election returns for the Transit 2000 referendum, which authorized the 20-mile starter line after 65% of Phoenix voters approved the plan. The pub has also been known as a smoker-friendly establishment, even to the point of opening a second location in 2002 just on the Phoenix side of the Phoenix / Tempe border, effectively thumbing its nose at Tempe’s early smoking ban.
Of course, these controversies are now history. Trains are now running along Central Avenue, and a statewide indoor smoking ban has been in effect in Arizona since May 1, 2007. George & Dragon perseveres despite the changes that have occurred since its founding. In fact, the smoking ban has made the pub into a place that can work surprisingly well for meals with kids. Both high chairs and a children’s menu are available, and given the popularity of soccer among American youth, the television broadcasts may appeal to young pub-goers, who can probably explain the world’s most popular sport to their confused parents.
4240 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ, 85012