You really need to talk to the ex-pats,” says K.C. Kulp, co-owner and manager of The Whip, an English-style pub located in the countryside west of Unionville. It is early January, and Kulp, who is not English, is trying to explain why his country tavern is almost always crowded, even on a chilly night like this.
He suggests a good place to start is with an Englishman named Pip. So I make arrangements to meet up with Pip a few nights later.
I am already at the bar when Pip walks in, limping slightly, materializing from the countryside like one of George Smiley’s agents in a John LeCarré cold war novel. While Pip is tall and fit, he is also a looming figure.
We order a couple of pints, and he tells me what he’s about and why he’s here.
Pip—he explains that his real name is George Augustus Philip Auger—is a consulting gamekeeper, and he is in the midst of putting together a local wild bird shoot. No, he can’t tell me for whom, just a major landowner in the area. The idea, he explains, is to create a landscape of hedgerows and grasses and other cover that will allow pheasants and other game birds to nest and feed here, thus creating a natural environment for game bird hunting like they have back in Pip’s native Yorkshire, where his father served as master of the hounds.
“We want the bird life here to be like it should be,” he says. He’s not finished with the job yet, Pip says, but he must first go back to Southern Russia for a few months where he has a similar scheme underway for a Gazprom executive. No, he can’t mention his name, either.
But while he’s still in this area, Pip tells me, he feels very much at home in Kulp’s pub. “This place does have an English look to it,” he says. “The menu is good, and the food is about the same as it is back in England—except there’re no curries.” Curries, he explains, have through the years become as standard in English pubs as bangers and mash, and he really misses not having them.
Pip turns to ask the waitress behind the bar about the health of today’s soup. “I live nearby, so I”m in here a few days a week,” he says. “It’s a friendly place. I think I had my best New Year’s Eve ever here last week.” Pip pauses a moment in reverie, then decides to order the soup.
I return to the Whip a few nights later. It is another cold weekday evening—just about freezing—and a steady drizzle has set in. Inside, there is a roaring fire and already a sizable crowd of diners has gathered, chatting and eating merrily.
The Whip is big enough to seat almost 50 people, yet small enough to be somewhat intimate. Unlike many pubs in England, housed in old buildings with angular, small rooms and inadequate lighting, The Whip is open and pleasant. On weekends, there is generally a several-minutes wait for a table, as there are no reservations—except, for Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. This wait is made a bit more pleasant because when you check in at the bar, they”ll draw you a pint of ale or cider to help you pass the time. Besides, it’s the kind of place where there is always a conversation going with the others in the queue, at the bar, or at the next table.
Many of the diners tonight appear to be upscale families, parents happy for a place that has a menu that both they and the kids can enjoy. There are also a few couples who look as though they are content that their kids are grown and out of the house so they can get on with life. At the bar, a young, romantic twosome nibbles and stretches out their beers as long as they can, while three tradesmen, regulars most likely, look as though they stopped by for “just one” a few hours ago. No one, except me, seems to be concerned that the drizzle may turn into sleet or black ice on the roads.
Pip is not here tonight, but Kulp has already introduced me to Joe and Kathy Rowan. Joe is a Scots from Kirkcaldy who hired on in Europe with W.R. Gore 25 years ago and regularly traveled to the U.S. before being transferred here 19 years ago. It was then that he met Kathy.
His world travel, he explains, has allowed him to eat good food in many places. “Contrary to what many people think, British bar food is generally very good,” Joe argues, “and the food here is just as good, or better. I like the fact that they have lots of the little touches”—right down to the malted vinegar for the chips.
“Most of the ex-pats learn about this place by word of mouth,” he says. “A friend of mine from England told me about it. I came back with two friends, and we kept coming back.” Although Joe and Kathy have the night out by themselves, they generally bring along their five-year-old when they come here for dinner.
Joe also likes the fact that Kulp opens The Whip for “a breakfast plate and a pint of Guinness” during the bleak first three months of the year so that people like himself can stop in on the way to work and catch a few minutes of the annual Six Nations rugby matches being telecast from Europe. There is a sporting air to the pub—muted sports channels play on the TVs that ring the wall—and local fox hunters often stop by to rub jodhpurs with the local rugby team.
“The Whip is more of an English pub than Scottish,” Joe says, a difference in atmosphere difficult to explain. “You could close your eyes and you could be in Stratfordshire.”
This evaluation is all according to K.C. Kulp’s marketing plan. Kulp, who lives near Parkesburg, used to frequent the business that once occupied The Whip’s space. Back then, it was called the Springdell Deli, but it also had a license to sell beer at its bar.
“We would come down here on race nights—my wife, Danielle, and I, and my partner, Luke A. Allen, and his wife, Sarah—when they showed the steeplechases,” he says. “It always drew a decent crowd.” The two couples purchased the deli in April 2004, started renovations that October, and were open for business in June 2005.
Kulp, a tall, pleasant-looking chap with a ready smile, hardly has the background one would expect for a pub keeper. He’s worked as a wholesale rep in the ski industry, was a telecommunications analyst in Manhattan, and a stockbroker in Conshohocken.
“The idea for an English pub came out of two things,” he says. “First, all the stone walls and the open countryside could be England,” he says, adding that English visitors are always quick to notice that. “And you have the oldest continuous fox hunt in America located right here. It just fit. Plus there’re an amazing number of ex-pats here in banking and pharmaceuticals.”
Kulp performed his economic and social homework. “I did a lot of research on the English pub menu, from toad-in-the-hole [sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter] to gammon [a particular cut of ham] with eggs.”
Today, the menu put together by Chef Jason Ziglar has such English delicacies as mussels in cider, Welsh rarebit, Scotch egg, Guinness lamb stew, ploughman’s lunch, English onion soup, fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie, and the aforementioned bangers and mash (sausages and potatoes). There are also salads, a solo German sandwich (beef on a weck), and even a wrap or two. Ciders and beers are the drinks of the house—more than 50, many drawn in pints and half-pints, although those who prefer wine and spirits can bring their own bottles for a modest corking fee.
“Business has far exceeded our best wishes,” Kulp says. “We planned for 75 covers [seated customers] on a busy night. Our average is 175.”
“I would like to have more English desserts like spotted dick,” he continues, “but we have such a small kitchen.” He says plans for an expansion already underway will take care of that deficiency.
Meanwhile, The Whip keeps drawing in locals and ex-pats on these cold winter nights. Laura Jones, a manager at Southco, Inc., in Concordville, is originally from Birmingham, England. What draws her to The Whip? “It reminds me of a cozy country pub, like The Brook in Worchester.
“Like any good English pub, it has all the creature comforts of home.”