The Lion in Summer

Hotspots are great, but when the summer weather arrives sometimes all we really want is a calm, dark and – most of all – cool place to chill for a spell over a nice pint.

The need for just such a place led me recently to the doors of the Sovereign Pub (1517 Aline St., (504) 899-4116), a very-specifically English pub tucked away on an Uptown side street.

Bookended by two much-better-known Uptown bars, The Prytania just around the corner and The Delachaise down the block, the Sovereign fills a niche as a small place with a low-key vibe and a carefully curated Anglophile ambiance.

This is not a place for fancy, named cocktails, unless of course they have such names as “martini” or “gin and tonic.” The British cred of the place starts with the row of gin bottles standing front and center along the bar.

My favorite drink here though is the dry, very cold and especially refreshing Crispin hard cider, drawn from the tap into one of those bump-out, imperial pint glasses. Crispin is an American company, though it replicates English apple ciders closely and it proves a balm to the beastliness of June and what is to come here in the subtropics. You can also ask the bartender to mix it with Bass Ale or Guinness Stout, two of the other drafts here, to sweeten and lighten these traditional heavyweights.

Even from the outside, the Sovereign looks different, with whitewashed brick walls, heavy black shutters and hanging plants, as if it could plausibly be found along some country lane rather than a quick dash from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.

This pub is tiny, intricate and classy, and it’s full of ingenious arrangements to make it all work, like England itself. For instance, Sovereign Pub may well possess the smallest restroom this side of a submarine, yet this water closet – and it is closet-sized – finds room for all necessities, including a sink whose faucet flows into a plumbed champagne bucket. 

Cut-glass bowls of salty snacks line the bar and everywhere you look there are small framed prints, clocks and mirrors piecing together the walls like grandfather’s office. Apart from the bar there is a small sitting area arrayed with pew benches and small tables, as though late tea were about to break out instead of a round of shots. It doesn't seem possible that so small a place should have more than one room. But there it is, a narrow chamber with a pair of floral print sofas and benches in a space so snug that, were your average basketball player to take a seat here, his knees would hit the "far" wall.

Even here, though, strategically placed mirrors and a neat décor replace any possible claustrophobia with a sense of being looked after. Ashtrays are somehow always within reach, though this bar is not particularly smoky, and magazines always seem nearby too. A stack of current Financial Times issues rests on a steamer trunk painted with the Union Jack and a wall rack holds both the English celebrity rag Hello! and the somewhat brainier Economist, in case you want to ponder the Euro crisis while sipping a Hoegaarden. In another nook, a rolled-up magazine turns out to be a vintage issue of Esquire from 1971.

The ambiance is so by-the-book British, I half expected to find the jukebox stocked with the wartime speeches of Winston Churchill. Instead, it sports a superb music selection, running from Black Sabbath to David Bowie to Johnny Cash to the soundtrack for Top Gun.

That last one might just be in the jukebox for a laugh, but when the summer heat has you riding into the danger zone, a pint and a perch at the Sovereign Pub sure can help you cool your jets.

Sovereign Pub
1517 Aline St.
(504) 899-4116

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