Features & Columns

The Almaden Brit Celebrates
30 Years

In 1994, none other than pop star Rod Stewart hung out with other soccer fans to watch World Cup games at Britannia Arms Almaden, which first opened in 1988. Photo via Yelp

Some of us were hanging out at Britannia Arms on Almaden long before Rod Stewart ever showed up. In my case, as soon as I turned 21, I drove down Blossom Hill at midnight and bought my first legal beer at the Almaden Brit. I think it was a Harp.

I was not there at the very beginning in 1988, but since this classic institution is now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the memories are spiraling back to the forefront and I can't hold back my two cents. I have more memories in that pub than at any other place south of Branham that's still left.

We'll begin with the 1990 World Cup. There was nothing close to top-flight pro soccer in the U.S. at that time, the rubes on the major networks hated the sport, and there was nowhere else for us to go watch games except Britannia Arms. 1990 was also the first time England made it to the semis since it won the tournament in 1966, so the semifinal against Jurgen Klinsmann and the Germans drew an over-capacity crowd to the Brit. Soccer fans of every nationality jammed the place. It was elbow to elbow, with Britons especially fired up.

Some context here is mandatory. In 1990, the area surrounding the Brit looked vastly different. Highway 85 did not exist yet. The vile, hideous stripmall monstrosity across Almaden was essentially an orchard. Inside the Brit, proprietors bragged about one large 10-foot TV screen in the corner with maybe two other small ones behind the bar. The most expensive item on the menu was the "combo plate" at a whopping $8.95. On tap were McEwan's, Watney's and John Courage—exotic for the time, since the current onslaught of bearded craft brew hipsters was still in diapers.

But back to the Beautiful Game. The 1990 semi-final was so emotional for the Brits that at halftime someone popped in a VHS copy of Henry V with Laurence Olivier and cued it right to the St. Crispin's Day speech, with Sir Larry leading the men off to battle. As the speech played on the large screen, many in the capacity crowd at the Brit narrated the words: "From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered—we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" and so on. Then at the end of the speech, everyone in the bar screamed "ENGLAND!!!" with pints raised on high. England eventually lost on penalties, but it was one of the most emotional moments I'd ever seen watching a sporting event.

During that same World Cup, the Mercury News sent a reporter to the Brit to document the crowds. The story still sits on the wall and some of the people mentioned are still sitting at the bar, today, 28 years later. In my view, there was nothing in domestic American sports that compared to the intensity of the World Cup and it was great to have a local place in which to escape the drabness of suburbia and watch the world's game.

Even Rod Stewart believed as much. In 1994, the World Cup finally came to the USA with several games at Stanford Stadium. Stewart, the rock singer who would have been a pro soccer player had he not chosen music instead, was in L.A. and instructed his handlers to call the Brit and inform them of Stewart's intent to come up and attend a game at Stanford. He wanted a place to watch the other games beforehand, which is exactly what ended up happening.

According to the proprietors, Stewart was down to earth, not a prima donna, and was just like one of the guys. He had a wonderful time hanging out, so much that when Brazilian legend Pele invited Stewart to join him in his luxury box at Stanford, Stewart reportedly declined, saying he'd rather just hang with his new mates from the Brit.

I was not there when Stewart showed up, but former Metro music editor Todd Inoue captured the festivities. The column he wrote, along with the photo of Stewart he took, still graces the wall on the way to the restroom.

Now that Britannia Arms Almaden is officially celebrating its pearl anniversary, the memories will hopefully continue. Here's to another 30 years!