The Bulls Head Public House in Lititz has found itself on both state and national radar recently, having received high honors on two websites that reflect readers’ choices for the best beer bars around.
That national group represents small and independent U.S. craft brewers.
The Bulls Head, which just celebrated its eighth anniversary, is also in the running for top beer bar in the country, as determined by votes of readers of 10Best.com — a travel website run by USA Today.
The Bulls Head has held first- and second-place positions out of 20 nominees in that national voting, jockeying for position with The Avenue Pub in New Orleans.
The nationwide winner will be announced Friday.
So how is it that this small-town English-style pub has made such a splash online?
We asked Brant Dunlap, general manager of the Bulls Head and of the next-door General Sutter Inn to talk about the business, and how it has distinguished itself in recent years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you think the Bulls Head has wound up topping these state and national polls?
It’s a combination of a lot of things. We strive for consistency. The pub is unique as compared with many of the bars in the area.
Typically, if you walk into some of the other bars in the area, you sit down, and you’re a little distracted by what’s on the television. Whereas when you walk into (our) pub, there is no television. There’s friendly conversation, whether it’s sitting down to meet with friends or sitting down to talk to a stranger.
You’re really almost forced to have a conversation, because there isn’t a TV. And you don’t see tons of people on their phone or their devices.
It’s having that following, those loyal patrons who are there several times a week. The Bulls Head (Facebook) page has over 10,000 followers now.
I think we do a good job with our social media, trying to keep our patrons up to date with what’s going on (including) when we’re nominated for things like this. We talk to the patrons when they’re there, as well as share it across social media.
We have a great ambience. When Paul (Pendyck, the former owner) built the pub, he actually went over to England and brought things back to make us as truly authentic as possible. We want to be a true gathering place for the local community.
When it comes to the beer, we try to keep things (on the list) that appeal to everybody. We have 14 rotating taps and two cask-conditioned ales, which are hand-pumped. And we have between 80 and 100 beers in bottles. I definitely think all that plays a part in (our topping these polls).
Another part of the draw is that we really have beer experts behind the bar. When you get to talking to these guys about ... what they know about beer, it’s incredible.
We require all the bartenders to be cicerone certified, which is a beer servers’ certification.
For the loyal craft beer drinkers, who really follow it, it’s great for them to be able to come in and ask questions and get a little bit of education about the things they’re drinking, as well.
When you look at our list, there are certain things that are always there, which helps us appeal to any type of beer drinker — whether you drink pilsners, IPAs or Belgians. You’ll also always find a good selection of imports and domestics, as well.
What are cask-conditioned ales?
Rather than the traditional beer you would get at a bar that’s run under CO2, we actually use the hand pump ... to actually tap the beer. So it’s unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that’s served from a cask without any additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide. If you look back to 100 years ago or 150 years ago, that’s how kegs were pumped in the past. It’s also served at a slightly higher temperature; it’s less than room temperature, but definitely not as cold as your traditional CO2 (beer).
What’s new on your beer menu?
Our beer menu really changes every single day. I think that’s another big part of the draw for us.
Our pub manager is constantly researching, trying different beers, working with different distributors throughout the area, trying to get the best possible beer in for our guests. And (while) still maintaining some of the classics with the imports, and having those domestics available, and (selections) for those who are not craft beer drinkers.
Do you have tasting events at the Bulls Head?
We have had several events over the years. We’ll do a partial- or a full-tap takeover, so we’ll bring in five to 10 of (one brewery’s) beers and put them all on at the same time. We actually had Adam Avery, the founder of Avery Brewing (in Colorado) out, just a few weeks back. We also like to spotlight some local places such as St. Boniface and do beer dinners with them. We’ll do a five-course tasting, where we’ll pair five courses of food to go along with beer.
Is the menu the same in the General Sutter and the Bulls Head?
It’s actually the exact same menu. We actually provide all the same great food and drinks on both.
What are some of your most popular dishes?
We do have crowd favorites, like the Bulls Head Burger, which is a USDA prime burger with caramelized onions, blue cheese and bacon. That’s among our top sellers.
A lot of our pub fare tends to be very popular, as well. We get a lot of great reviews on our fish and chips. Looking at both places, the things that are popular in the pub tend to be very popular in the restaurant.
We do have a set of higher-end entrees that we serve for dinner after 5 o’clock. Typically, you see a lot more of that going out into the dining room — filets, crab cakes and salmon. They also sell well in the pub, as well.
Can you tell us about the unusual ordering system at the Bulls Head?
There’s no host, no servers. You come in, sit where you like. Then you see the gentleman at the bar to order. It’s modeled on the English tradition; In many parts of England, if you go into a pub, that’s the kind of service (you get).
The General Sutter and the Bulls Head were sold last year (to David Stoudt). Has anything changed?
No changes. The gentleman who owned the bar before is still on the management team, so we’ve tried not to change anything in the pub.
Over the next year or two, you will see some enhancements to the property. But that’s not something that’s a result of the new ownership. That’s something we’ve always wanted to do. It’s a constant project; we’re continually upgrading everything.
Do you have plans to celebrate Friday, should the Bulls Head win the USA Today travel site poll?
We don’t have any direct plans. But we’ve been wanting to reach out to our loyal patrons on social media, and get together and celebrate, whether we get first, second or even third place. For us, even just to be mentioned among all these incredible bars is such an honor. We would prefer to win, of course, but we’re happy just to be able to make such a prestigious list.