An English pub in California

Cameron's pub and inn. The crescent moon that you see on businesses all over Half Moon Bay (more picturesque than a half moon, I suppose) here wears a monocle and a bobby's hat, and holds a pint.

When I left for vacation/a holiday in California, I wondered how I was going to find topics for a life-in-Britain blog when I was so far from the UK myself. 

I needn’t have worried.  The solution popped up on California’s Highway 1 (the coast road that runs over 650 miles along the Pacific from Orange County to Mendacino County) in the form of Cameron’s Pub and Inn, a cross between the kind of roadside attraction that seems to be uniquely American (like the famous Florida gas station built in the shape of the Sinclair Oil Company’s dinosaur logo , the giant basket in Ohio that is the Longaberger basket company’s building, or the (politically incorrect) favorite we always watched for on car trips when I was a kid, the WigWam Village Motel), and an honest-to-goodness British pub. 

Cameron Palmer (right) with parents Adora and Alan Palmer.

The publican is Cameron Palmer, a genial and civic-minded fellow who was a veteran of the food service (UK: catering) business even before he became chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce—at age 19.  Few things happen in Half Moon Bay without Cameron’s sponsorship or contribution; he hosts the Fourth of July Parade every year and has at one time or another run the Coastside Fair, the Pumpkin Festival, and historic preservation efforts for the town’s oldest house and for WWII ammunition depots.  He also plays King Candy, in velvet robe and gold crown, at the annual Candy Land celebration for kids.

The world-famous smoking bus--as seen on the BBC, and many other news outlets.

His pub occupies a 100-year-old building that has in its day been officers’ quarters for the Army (once) and a house of ill repute (three times).  It was also a way-station for shipments of moonshine during Prohibition, a gambling venue during the Depression (Al Capone’s sister had the slot machine concession), and the site of three murders. 

Fish and chips at Cameron's. Note traditional newspaper under the food (though topped with a more hygienic wrapper). Cameron stocks the Union Jack for his customers: "America's Only National British Newspaper"

If all that sounds too American, then consider the pub grub: the menu offers fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, pasties, and a ploughman’s (well, a cheese plate similar to a ploughman’s, anyway). 

Upstairs Cameron's offers B&B, but it's not bed-and-breakfast, it's bed-and-beverage: they'll give you a drink, but they don't do breakfast.

Cameron’s father, who came to the US from Newcastle, is in charge of quality control in terms of keeping the offerings authentic, and the whole family helped get the pub up and running.   

The sign reads "It's a Bloomin' London Taxi"

It is in the nature of a US roadside attractions to have eye-catching architectural or sculptural features; Cameron’s offers a couple of red double-decker Routemaster buses (UK: busses) and a pair of black London taxis (and, inexplicably, a Chinese junk).  One of the buses earns its keep as the smoking section of the restaurant, and the other is full of video games for kids, installed so underage patrons can indulge the urge to crawl and climb all over a double-decker bus while keeping them out of the second-hand smoke. 

A 6-foot plaster lion--bouvant sejant erect--by the front door

Outside the front door there’s also a real red phone box from the UK, an imitation pillar box, (and not a strikingly successful imitation; surely one of Cameron’s friends could knock together a better one and mark it CR for Cameron Rex), and a 6-foot-tall plaster lion not unlike the one on the Royal Arms of England except that those are, in heraldic terms, passant guardant and Cameron’s lion is what might be called bouvant sejant erect (a lion sejant erect sits up on its haunches; I’ve added bouvant – drinking – because Cameron’s lion has a beer).

Some of Cameron's collections -- the beer cans are on the wall at the left of the picture

Understated is not Cameron’s style.  He says bare walls make him nervous.  His collections fill the space: beer cans (over 2000 different cans with more added all the time), brass plates, uniform hats,  musical instruments, horse brasses, flags, Norman Rockwell plates, bar trays, and anything British.  (Actually the horse brasses collection is the only one of these groupings that you’re likely to see in a pub in Britain.) 

A unique beefeater-Scotsman hybrid stands by the holder for business cards by the till.

When people find out their generous pub landlord is collecting something, they turn charitable and give him items to add to what he’s got. 

Bare walls make him nervous...

In fact his generosity has paid off in all kinds of ways.  If you live in a small town and help everybody who asks for help, people are more than ready to return the favor when troubles come, so a local motorcycling group once helped paint the building, and the fire chief turned a blind eye when over 300 people attended a wake in a pub that was at the time limited to an occupancy of 93.  (The fire chief was one of the 300). 

British goods for sale in the shop

Cameron has also squeezed a whole British grocery shop into a corner of the pub, so locals can buy Hob Nobs biscuits, Heinz Salad Cream, Scott’s Porage Oats [sic], Branston pickle, and other goods necessary to sustain life if you’re a British ex-pat.  In that little corner of Half Moon Bay, you could think you were in England.

Signpost shows just how far we are from the Mother Country.

So that’s the answer.  What do you do if you run a blog about British life, but you find yourself in the USA?  You find a little bit of England, obviously. 

(Like the people of Half Moon Bay, I’m indebted to Cameron Palmer.  In my case it’s for providing the information for this post.)



Filed under Architecture, Culture, Food

4 responses to “An English pub in California

  1. jayati

    I loved this write up. It so happened that we too were in San Francisco this summer and took the route 1 to drive down to Monterey. We did pass by Half Moon Bay but as the weather was threatening to get overcast,we did not stop there. I am not British but I just loved your piece. You would know me from Shelfari.

    • Sorry it took me so long to approve that comment; while on vacation I don’t always have internet access. I very much appreciate that you took the time to write! And now that you’ve commented once, any further comments from you will be posted without any need for approval. Sorry!

  2. Cathy Villa

    Mary Ellen, I’ve passed this restaurant quite a few times but never had a reason to stop there. I’ll have to visit next time I’m out in Half Moon Bay. Cheers! –Cathy

  3. The boozing lion is hilarious! But the Scottish Beefeater takes the cake! Sounds like a great place to stop for a Guinness and a plate of chish and flips!

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