By Stacey Keenan -- Daily Correspondent
WINCHESTER -- A warm fire glows from the hearth amidst the low chatter of patrons enjoying a leisurely lunch of shepherd's pie or bangers and mash in the upscale, yet casual, dining room. In the bar, patrons are engaged in lively conversation while sipping on some of Europe's most popular beers.
The Union Jack Pub & Restaurant is Winchester's newest "it" eatery. The pub, which opened a little more than a week ago, beckons visitors to its historic space on the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall, across from the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum.
Richard Oram and his wife, Debra Johnson, wanted to offer as authentic a British pub experience as they could in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. And, from the looks of it, they've done just that.
The Union Jack Pub's story begins with that of its owner. Oram, who grew up in Somerset, England, moved to the United States 18 years ago because he liked America and its way of life. He and Johnson purchased the Union Bank building 12 years ago.
"It's been my dream to restore this building and build a pub," Oram says.
In January, Oram and Johnson began renovating and restoring the building to the way it looked when it served Winchester as the Union Bank in the 1870s.
"You could still see the original facade on the top level. You could look out under the windows and see the original architecture under the structure put up in the 1960s," said Oram. "It's the main reason we purchased the building. There's magic in this building."
Now, the building has an inviting charisma that has forced many visitors to the walking mall to look twice. On the inside, the dining room's 20-foot cathedral ceiling allows for three beautiful chandeliers, and the centerpiece fireplace creates a welcoming atmosphere. And, diners will notice there's no sound system in the dining room.
Behind the dining room, the 50-foot bar is a welcome shift from the ordinary. Oram and Johnson have tried to create a place in which patrons can come to socialize and have a conversation. Intimate tables line the wall across from the bar, and only one television can be found.
"I want people to come and meet people here, and not have to have the music so loud," said Oram. "You're supposed to socialize [in a British pub]. If you haven't seen a friend in a long time, you can catch up and you don't have loud music."
The second floor landing offers another sitting area for patrons to gather. The third floor is just as inviting, with its hardwood floors, original brick facade and large windows overlooking the walking mall. There's a stage on one side where Oram and Johnson hope to host bands on a regular basis.
The third floor, once finished, will offer what Oram and Johnson call their British invasion. All things British will be the focal point of the decor, and pub games such as darts and skittles will be available.
The Union Jack Pub offers an authentic English pub menu, in everything from its appetizers to its desserts, but Chef Frank Mayo has added his own twists to the traditional fare.
"For instance, steak and kidney pie is traditionally served like a chicken pot pie, with crust and everything. I turned it into more like a pasty, like a British meat pie," Mayo says.
The appetizer menu includes English favorites like Yorkshire pudding and a Ploughman's cheese platter and chips served with curry dip. On the lunch menu, patrons will find shepherd's pie, made traditionally with ground lamb. And, for dinner, there's fish and chips, Cornish game hen and rack of lamb. For dessert, indulge in the bread pudding or a Guinness float.
When it's time to wash it all down, there's enough beer and wine choices for patrons to try a new selection every day for more than three months -- and the beverage list is growing.
There are 25 beers on tap and about 80 available bottled. Oram and Johnson are slowly building the offerings to about 140. Patrons will find the usual favorites such as Harp, Guinness and Stella on tap, but they'll also find a few others, including Delirium Nocturnum Belgian Ale, Old Speckled Hen Pale Ale and Kasteel Donker Belgian.
Four of the selections are available in two forms, served at either a normal just-above-freezing temperature, or at a cellar temperature of 55 degrees. Patrons can choose from Newcastle Brown Ale, Guinness Irish Stout, Smithwicks and Boddingtons British Ale.
"British beer is brewed to be served at cellar temperature. It impairs the flavor if it's served too cold," said Oram. "At cellar temperature, it's not as carbonated and not as heavy when it goes down. You get more flavor."
The Union Jack Pub offers area residents a casual English pub atmosphere in an elegant setting, but Oram and Johnson aren't quite finished yet. In 2009, the pub will offer daily menu specials with an international flair and beer pairings. Oram hopes to create an English tearoom in the dining room during the afternoon hours. And, there will also be a small patio seating area on the walking mall designed to reflect a British beer garden, with lots of flowers.
"I'm looking for an old English telephone box," Oram says.
The Union Jack PubThe Union Jack Pub, at 101 N. Loudoun St. in Winchester, is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. The lunch menu is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the dinner menu is offered from 4 to 9 p.m. The pub menu is available all day, until midnight.
For more information, call 722-2055 or visit the Web at www.theunionjackpub.com.