Could the origins of George and the Dragon (813 W. 50th St.) be traced to a Kandinsky painting?
“When people came to our house, they always liked that painting,” said owner Fred Navarro of Kandinsky’s abstract painting of St. George fighting a dragon, which now hangs in the entryway of the popular Lynnhurst public house. “It made us think ‘George and the Dragon’ would be a great name for a pub.”
Fred and his wife, Stacie, who both worked in the restaurant business, never had any intention of owning a pub. But Lynnhurst residents who’ve lived here awhile will remember when, in 2010, fire destroyed the building that stood on the southeast corner of 50th St. and Bryant Ave., burning down 5 businesses, including 2 restaurants (Heidi’s and the Blackbird Café). “I loved coming down to the restaurants in this area,” Fred said. “I live just up the street.”
As the building at 50th and Bryant was being rebuilt, Fred inquired whether any restaurants would be moving in. It turned out the whole building was not yet leased. The Navarros started to wonder: “We live just up the street and our son Paco goes to school just a few blocks away at Burroughs. Maybe…”
Maybe turned into an English-style public house called George and the Dragon, which opened in the brand-new building in 2012. Fred and Stacie didn’t want to do anything fancy; they just wanted a neighborhood place where people could come and have a beer and a good meal, a place you could bring a date or your family. The menu, which hasn’t changed much in 9 years, consists of traditional pub fare and family recipes. The focus is on quality, using local food sources when possible. “We think regular people deserve good food,” Stacie, the chef, said. The beer is good, too.
Fred’s parents are both Filipino, so a few menu items, like the lumpia, have an Asian flavor. “One of the recipes came straight from Fred’s mother,” Stacie noted. Curry is on the menu every day. There is also a delicious dish called the “Asian hangover,” which got its name because it allegedly once cured Fred’s hangover.
The pub was an immediate hit. As many Lynnhurst residents know well, it’s been virtually impossible to get a table between 5 – 8 p.m. without a wait for most of the pub’s nine-year existence. In 2015, George and the Dragon even captured the attention of Guy Fieri and the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” “That was fun,” Fred said. The normally shy Stacie ended up being the star of the show as she prepared the restaurant’s delicious bacon and onion dip while Guy loomed over her shoulder. “I was a little nervous actually,” Stacie said, though that wasn’t apparent in the episode.
The Navarros give a lot of credit for George’s success to their staff. “We’ve just had a great staff,” Fred said. “They’ve been very loyal. At least 14 of our employees have been with us from the beginning,” which is extraordinary in the high-turnover restaurant business. That continuity just enhances the friendly, neighborhood vibe of the pub. Many regular patrons are on a first-name basis with Fred, Stacie and members of the staff.
Like virtually every other restaurant though, George and the Dragon was hit hard by the pandemic. The Navarros just tried to adapt as they went along. “We closed when we had to close, we reopened as soon as we could, we got our carry-out business going. Our employees stuck with us.” Thanks in part to a PPP loan, the Navarros were able to pay all their employees their regular wages through the whole pandemic, even when the restaurant was completely shut down. Business is still “not quite what it was” before the pandemic, Fred says, “but we made it through.”
The Navarros give the neighborhood a lot of credit for that. Carry-out business was strong when the pub was shut down. “We’re lucky to be in a neighborhood that is so supportive,” Fred said. “We’re very grateful.” A lot of people in the neighborhood are grateful the pub survived, too. And to think: George and the Dragon might have never existed at all if a Russian artist hadn’t painted St. George fighting a dragon back in 1911.