The 15 best pubs around

HERE are 15 of the best pubs in Los Angeles County, selected for variety and freshness of drinks, quality of food, friendliness and warmth of service, and appeal of unique characteristics. Many offer live music and other kinds of entertainment such as karaoke and trivia quizzes; call or check websites for more information. The price of a pint of Guinness is noted for each; some offer domestic beers at lower prices.

Don't see your local? Check out a longer selected list of British and Irish pubs (and rate your favorites) at calendarlive.com/pubs.

Susan LaTempa

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Forever young

The Cat & Fiddle Restaurant & English Pub. Maybe because the next generation has segued into management, this landmark spot is more than a quarter-century old and yet forever young. Founded in 1982 by the late British rocker Kim Gardner and his wife, Paula, a fashion retailer, it's been a music- and movie-industry hangout since the beginning. Today the expansive space, which flows from a courtyard into the wing of a historic 1920s Mission Revival building, is livelier than ever, thanks to the after-work crowd of creative types from studios nearby. Outside, there's a friendly vibe and a real California feeling; inside, there's a cozy fireside seat and a dart room. The food's excellent. Bangers -- mild English-style pork sausages -- are made on the premises and featured in several dishes. Try the iconic Scotch egg -- a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage and deep fried. It's hilarious, but delicious with beer. The pies and pasties are crisp and well made; excellent desserts such as a bright sherry trifle with fresh sweet cream are house made. $5 pints. 6530 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 468-3800; www.thecatandfiddle.com.

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Where beer geeks meet science freaks

Lucky Baldwins British Pub & Cafe (Old Town Pasadena); Lucky Baldwins Delirium Cafe (Sierra Madre). These sister pubs, with their 63 taps in Pasadena and 46 in Sierra Madre, are well-known destinations on the beer-lover's map. Though British and Irish brews are thoroughly represented and all kinds of beers are celebrated, the emphasis is on Belgian beers. Aficionados come from far away for special events such as the annual Belgian beer festival in February, the barleywine festival in May and Oktoberfest, when German beers are front and center. Co-owners David Farnsworth (originally from the north of England) and Peggy Simonian keep in touch with regulars through e-mails and fliers. The kitchens do a fine job with a well-thought-out menu of British fare such as some very good pasties, a tasty English-style chicken curry and a decent ploughman's plate of bread, cheeses and pickles. The 10-year-old, brick-walled Pasadena pub is a hangout for Cal Tech students and faculty as well as Jet Propulsion Laboratory employees -- there's a lot of intense talk-talk-talk over pints on the patio. The year-old Sierra Madre spot fits right into the historic little downtown near the Mt. Wilson trailhead with its pressed tin ceiling, polished wooden floors and bar with attractive stools. It boasts a tiny but richly rewarding package shop in the back with hard-to-get beers and a few British foodstuffs. $4 pints. 17 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 795-0652; www.luckybaldwins.com; 21 Kersting Court, Sierra Madre, (626) 355-1140; www.luckybaldwins.com/deliriumcafe.html.

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It looks the part

Casey's Irish Bar & Grille. Built in 1970 by the people behind Tam O' Shanter Inn on Los Feliz Boulevard and Lawry's the Prime Rib on La Cienega Boulevard, this below-street-level downtown pub with its dark wood paneling, pressed tin ceiling, polished wood floors, brass rails and mahogany bar has been used as a location for Hollywood productions, including "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "The X-Files." It caters to a lunchtime and after-work Financial District crowd, and the food's a big cut above most pubs. The fish and chips is actually delicate; the shepherd's pie has lamb and parsnips as well as beef and carrots. Six British beers on tap, also Belgian ales and microbrews. $5 pints. 613 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 629-2353; www.bigcaseys.com.

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A clean, well-lit pub?

O'Brien's Irish Pub and Restaurant. An Irish immigrant himself, owner William O'Sullivan says his 10-year-old pub was sustained in its first three years by other overseas Irish. Since then, this very comfortable pub with its plank floors, brick walls, wood paneling and multiple flat-screen TVs has reached out to the broader Santa Monica community with high-quality food, lunch specials and sports, sports, sports. Skylights and windows keep football afternoons from having that "Lost Weekend" feeling. Instead, happy sports fan standing at mid-room bars are social and loud while diners enjoy the liveliness from comfy booths around the edges of the room. The kitchen does a superlative job with a broad-ranging menu that offers plenty of salads, steaks and a popular ground-chuck burger. Brit-influenced dishes have some novel twists. There's a delicious appetizer that's really a pub meal for two -- generous slices of Scottish smoked salmon on wheat toast with piles of capers and green onions on top and a scoop of horseradish. Try the banger sandwich, a crusty baguette filled with bias-sliced sausage and perfectly seasoned grilled onions. $6 pints. 2226 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-5303.

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Your vote counts here

Joxer Daly's. Irish-born owner Michael "Mehaul" O'Leary is the embodiment of the community-connected publican. He's almost always on site and is known to Culver City residents from his campaign for a seat on the City Council (he's planning to run again). It'd be hard to find a place that more closely parallels L.A.'s diverse demographics -- shirt-sleeved Sony office workers sit shoulder to shoulder with union stalwarts, Hayden-district hipsters and neighborhood moms and dads. All comers are introduced around by the gregarious staffers. It's small, with a down-market decor of beer flags and pool tables, and an excellent eclectic jukebox that patrons delight in -- the sounds swing from the Chieftains to Sex Pistols to bluegrass. The tiny kitchen turns out credible bar food: decent fish and chips, sandwiches and burgers. $5.50 pints. 11168 Washington Blvd., (310) 838-3745.

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Beach blanket blarney

Limerick's Irish Pub & Restaurant. An endearing Pogues-meets-Beach Boys spot with four Irish and English beers on tap as well as a cider. The wood-everywhere decor evokes dockside and ship's hold to very homey effect, and the food is proudly rustic -- and very tasty. House-made brown bread is delicious as are dishes as diverse as asparagus soup and a horse-radishy coleslaw. The offerings are beer friendly -- sausage rolls, burgers, meatloaf, onion rings, "Irish nachos" (scalloped potatoes topped with corned beef, jalapenos and cheese), but the kitchen's touch is confident, even restrained. Finish with the refined bread pudding topped with a tiny scoop of brown-bread ice cream (sweet and chewy). $5 pints. 5734 E. 2nd St., Long Beach, (562) 439-6507.

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Head of the class

Ye Olde King's Head. L.A.'s best-known pub has been around for about 30 years and is now almost a city-block long, with two pub rooms separated by a dining room stretching along Santa Monica Boulevard between the Promenade and the shore. The larger, busier pub room draws crowds of tourists and college students; it's often crowded and loud but the place is saved by the quality of its food and drink. Newcomers aren't steered to the smaller "snug" bar on the inland side of the dining room, which is worth visiting if you're interested in a place to talk or have a contemplative beer. There are about 20 beers on tap, including British favorites, a few popular American microbrews and other imports. The service is unflustered and always nice and friendly (as the solid contingent of solo diners can attest). A limited pub menu is served in the bar rooms; there's a full menu in the dining room. Beer is exceedingly fresh; the food is excellent. Sausage rolls are made with the right kind of sausage encased in fresh, crisp puff pastry; a vegetable samosa is crisply fried, with a fresh, appropriately spiced filling. Fish and chips are delicious with a good crunchy crust. Shepherd's pie has well-seasoned ground beef topped with nicely browned mashed potatoes and comes with your choice of American or mushy peas. $5 pints. 116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1402.

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Venerable in the Valley

Ireland's 32. It's all velvety darkness inside at first, but once your eyes adjust you'll find that the room's well appointed, the locals are friendly and the beer's fresh. If the bar's filled, sit on a stool at the mid-room divider or grab a table by the dance floor. Seamus Kennedy, the current owner (there have been several in the pub's 50-odd year history), and his family members circulate and greet patrons; on a Sunday NFL afternoon (the Irish football on Setanta's being ignored), everyone seems to be a regular and most are in company of his or her spouse. Hungry? Check out the board list, then amble over to the kitchen door and tell the cook what you'd like -- fresh, tasty standards such as fish and chips and burgers are in front of you a few minutes later. Very fresh Guinness, Bass, Harp and Smithwick on tap. $5 pints. 13721 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 785-4031; www.irelands32pub.com.

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Sox and Celtics

Sonny McLean's Irish Pub and Restaurant. Named for the owner's grandfather, this is a Boston Irish pub with an emphasis on Sox and Patriots games, and Beantown menu twists such as New England clam chowder, clam boats (fried clams on a roll) and lobster rolls. Young and personable guy staffers cover their heads with baseball hats declaring team allegiances and their backs with surf equipment T-shirts. The decor is heavy on New England sports stuff such as sleds and snow shoes, which hang on the walls of a spacious room, divided into cozy areas with booths, tables and bar seating. The coffee-shop style menu features decent fish and chips, credible salads and sandwiches, and even a few pastas. (Also Saturday night lobster feasts.) Twenty-one beers are on tap, including domestics. $4.75 pints. 2615 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, (310) 449-1811; www.sonnymcleans.com.

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Waterfront dive

Britannia Pub. A scrappy contender with loyal regulars and wildly uneven food offerings. Guys in shirts proclaiming English soccer team allegiances hang out on the smokers' patio; inside the two-story space are hanging pictures of tall ships, ocean liners and other seafaring vessels. Britannia is known for its fish and chips, which are hot, light and fresh even at odd hours, and served with a fabulous curry dip. But other dishes disappoint: Sausage rolls are soggy and a samosa is just silly, falling apart around a filling of thin mashed potatoes and peas. Anglo-Indian dishes such as a bland chicken vindaloo are just weird. Breakfast all day and a small selection of tap beers, including Guinness, Harp and Bass. Wonderful jukebox. $5.50 pints. 318 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 458-5350; www.britanniapub.com.

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A civilized alternative

The Auld Dubliner. Located directly across from the Long Beach Convention Center in an impossibly corporate-looking site near a bunch of chain stores, the Auld Dubliner grows on you once you make your way past the gaggle of guys in shirts and ties smoking on the doorstep. It's an upscale pub, with branches in Squaw Valley, Lake Las Vegas and Tucson, but it's not too slick; it feels lived in and comfortable. There's a fine lineup of draft beers, including Guinness, Harp, Newcastle, Smithwick's, Boddingtons and Bass, and the food's terrific. A specialty of the house is the Irish dish boxty -- elsewhere that's an awkward potato pancake folded over messy fillings, but here it's a graceful crepe-like dish with simple, tasty fillings. Chips (fries) are dusted with curry powder; there's a full menu of salads and sandwiches and the like. The desserts, including Irish whiskey brulee, are wonderfully well executed. $6 pints. 71 S. Pine St., Long Beach, (562) 437-8300; www.aulddubliner.com.

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Big city style

Finn McCool's. The crowd's boisterous and loud around 11 p.m. on the weekends, and on Sunday afternoon it's loaded with tourists, but at other times this handsome pub from L.A.'s best-known Irish chef, Gerri Gilliland, is a surprisingly sweet spot. Nice, even for a quiet date. Stick with appetizers, drinks and desserts, though the extensive menu is tempting. Dinner entrees are oversized and poorly presented on plates too big to manage in the intimate nooks and at the bar. The mini-Yorkshire puddings are fun -- cold slices of roast beef on tiny popovers with a dollop of horseradish creme fraiche. The horseshoe bar is the centerpiece of a high-ceilinged room with tall windows that at night let in a sense of the city street just outside. They move a lot of Guinness here, and the deft bartenders are fun to watch. $6 pints. 2702 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 452-1734; www.finnmccoolsirishpub.com.

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Extreme makeover

Pickwick's Pub. Rebuilt and reopened in March after being destroyed by fire and closed for a year, the fresh new room of this 32-year-old pub is still comfortable and homey. The food's been updated too -- lightened up with fresh fish and salad offerings. It's a pretty, friendly place, full of dart players who know their game, live music and a mix of regulars and occasionals, mostly young. It's more a get-to-know-you spot than many pubs. The extensive menu is inviting and the open-layout room is equally comfortable for dining or just getting together for drinks. The Cal-Val standards and British specialties are like good diner fare: barbecue chicken breast or skirt steak with steak with mushrooms come with sides such as mashed and peas; juicy, salty onion rings are a specialty. There are 14 draft beers, including Irish stouts and lager, English ales and cider. $4 pints. 21010 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 340-9673.

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It's in the drinks

Tom Bergin's. A tavern? A pub? A saloon? Tom Bergin's is as it's ever been -- full of people drinking and talking so enthusiastically the place fairly roars at some hours. No silly background music here -- you wouldn't hear it. Would that the food matched the drinks, which are top-notch. A bar card proposes concoctions such as Black and Tan (Bass ale and Guinness stout), Snakebite (hard cider and Harp Lager), Smoothie (cider and stout) and Half and Half (lager and stout). Though they're clearly drinks someone thought up during a dull moment behind the bar, some are delicious and they're unknown to staffers at "Irish pub concept" spots. Opened in 1936, in this location since 1949, Bergin's is what some aficionados call an Irish American pub, with roots deep in an earlier diaspora. The menu's fallen on hard times lately, though. Stick to a simple steak with steak fries. 840 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-7151; www.tombergins.com.

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Reality check in Pubville

DON'T get hung up trying to determine whether an Irish or British pub in L.A. is "authentic." Down that road lies a quagmire. Or, perhaps, a trivia quiz.

For example, fish and chips may seem like authentic English pub fare, but traditionally, fish and chips were sold in dedicated shops that were open late at night; this delectable fast food was consumed on the way home from the pub. Or you might think that a pub with a guy from Dublin behind the bar is more like the pubs in Ireland -- until you learn that these days many bartenders in the auld country are Eastern Europeans.

All the Guinness you drink in L.A. is brewed in Dublin; variation in its deliciousness from pub to pub has to do with the amount sold and how well the tap system is maintained (it can sour in the lines). Several of the other imported beers available in pubs are much admired by aficionados, but nowhere here can we get English "real ales," unpasteurized local brews available on hand pump in pubs in Britain.

Meanwhile, remember that corned beef and cabbage is an Irish American dish and that although a menu listing bangers and mash and Cornish pasties sounds British, in a London pub today you're more likely to be offered hummus and kebab.

And though it's laughably true that you can order an "authentic" Irish pub-to-go online (www.irishpubcompany.com), building a pub is just the beginning. The great thing about an Irish or British pub is that the longer it's around, the better it gets. The real test of a pub's authenticity is its connection to the community around it.

Menu innovations and nods to local taste can strengthen that connection more than adherence to false nostalgia.

-- Susan LaTempa

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