The snug so nice you can drink there twice. Probably more.
Recreating the British pub experience anywhere across the Atlantic Ocean is a tricky proposition, the risk high in converting the snug, densely cozy atmosphere of drinking in England to something that will fit on a California street. But Bonn Lair serves as exception to the long list of failed American-British pub experiences, creating a worthy pub-going experience in East Sacramento, of all places.
Established in 1993 by owner Dave Boyet, Bonn Lair is named after Boyet’s wife, Bonnie, a name that conveniently lends itself well to something hanging above the door of a British-style pub. To see Bonn Lair from the outside is almost jarring, the intensely European look to the pub contrasting heavily with the surrounding east Sacramento neighborhood that includes Italian & Czech restaurant La Trattoria next door. As with all great dive bars and British-style pubs, life’s essentials are scrawled along the signage outside, in this case white lettering on a green awning pointing out three of Bonn Lair’s chief assets: fine ales, darts and pub dining.
British and Irish drinking culture excel in one key area related to the layouts of drinking establishments and that is the prevalence, uniqueness and cozy factor of snugs, or small, secluded drinking areas sprinkled throughout a pub. Bonn Lair features that same kind of organic partitioning, a series of snugs marking the footprint of the space seen initially by the one created by the semi-enclosed front porch. Given its own roof ledge, its own set of Guinness posters and a window to the street outside, Bonn Lair has created one of the Sacarmento’s most comfortable looking smoking spaces, rivaling anything the city’s dive bars provide.
Through the green door and deep brown wooden shingled exterior, Bonn Lair inside feels like a bit of a British maze, a twisting pathway that winds to the main bar area underneath a canopy of British flags. Space is at a premium here, the square footage instead devoted to creating as many distinct seating areas as possible. The main bar sits in the center of the room, anchoring a very slim selection of bar stools underneath a collection of bar mugs. British taps can be found here as well as a vintage-style cash register that adds to the appeal.
Opposite the bar, a row of deep, wooden booths lines one wall, each booth sitting under a robust set of framed photos, retro prints and faded paintings that serves as cover to the walls that line Bonn Lair. Above, a ledge provides an opportunity to display all manner of drinking- or British-related merchandise, ranging from rugby jerseys to branded pint glasses to serving trays. Just taking in the sheer volume of decoration is enough to last a pint or two, the ledge above these booths displaying some of the pub’s more memorable items.
Following the winding path back toward the front door in a roundabout way, a filled-in fireplace serves as centerpiece for an elevated drinking space that holds a few chairs, a couple of tables, an upholstered booth and even more elements of visual distraction. Above the fireplace and below a curved hunting horn, keep an eye out for a very proud clock flanked by metal, ornamental drinking mugs that resemble the kinds of drinking vessels that would carry something like medieval mead.
And if all of that visual density wasn’t enough to completely overload the senses while putting back a pint or two, a second room stretches off the main space, another collection of small snugs complete with padded, mismatched chairs, sports trophies, soccer/football scarves and enough framed artwork to fill the English pub wing of a museum. A stained glass-style window with the pub’s initials looks out onto a small back porch filled with a handful of wooden chairs and just enough rope lighting to quality as a dive bar-like back patio experience.
The beauty of a footprint like Bonn Lair’s is in the ability for simple space to be transformed into a series of small, distinct spots to have a conversation with a friend or five. Though the communal aspect of Bonn Lair is certainly on display during crowded evenings or televised soccer events, it is these snugs, these attractive, secluded seating sections that set a British-style pub apart and Bonn Lair has more than adequately checked that box. That is a testament to Bonn Lair’s success in properly and satisfyingly adapting a style of dive bar or pub to the American audience where so many spots have failed.