Category Archives: Barfly’s View

Barfly’s View: City Beer Store in San Francisco, CA

  
I spent the last week in the glorious city o’ San Francisco, and I drank enough great beer to pickle an aging Irishman, which is to say much quality brew was consumed. 

San Francisco is one of the best beer cities in the world, due in no small part to its focus on craft everything and an array of top-notch beer bars. I’m flying home as I write this, and I already miss the city and its beer. One of my favorite beer spots in SF is City Beer Store in the SoMa (South of Market St.) neighborhood, an unassuming, friendly and inspired combination bar and bottle shop. 

The space is half retail shop and half bar, and it’s split accordingly, with a number of jam-packed shelves and a cooler to the far left when you enter, and the bar area and a few small tables to the center and right of the entrance. 

Unless it’s very busy, a friendly clerk usually greets you as you walk in. You can stop by, grab a few bottles and be on your way. Or you can sit and drink a few pints, shop around the retail space while sipping your suds or even open any of the bottles they sell and then drink them there–though they do charge a “corking fee” of up to $3 for bottles you bring over from the retail side to drink in the bar. 

Behind the bar is a two-door cooler with vintage bottles, and City Beer always has an impressive lineup of aged selections. During my most recent visit, they had multiple Cantillon bottles, early vintage Russian Rivers (some in 750ml bottles, which they haven’t offered for years) a few different Bourbon County Stout variants, rare Cascade and Bruery releases and much more. The vintage bottles are a bit overpriced, but the drafts were reasonable, with most ranging between $6 and $10, depending on the beer and size of pour. 

City Beer also serves many local SF and California beers, so it’s a good place to try out the local beer terroir. Unfortunately, City Beer doesn’t have a kitchen, so it’s not a great place to grub, though you can buy some snacks, such as crackers, popcorn and jerky. 

The vibe at City Beer is welcoming, and the bartenders are mostly friendly and willing to answer any questions patrons have. It’s a great place to learn about the local craft beer scene, because the staff is both knowledgable and willing to converse with curious beer nerds.

City Beer Store is also one of the few places I know of in San Francisco where you can consistently find bottles of Pliny the Elder to go. I always ship beer back home to Boston when I visit San Francisco, and the bulk of it comes from City Beer. (Note: If it’s Pliny bottles you seek, be prepared to visit on a Wednesday in the early afternoon. That’s when their weekly shipments arrive, and the bottles go very quickly. Also, call first to make sure they have some. Unfortunately, they won’t hold bottles for you…at least they won’t for me, but maybe you’re cooler and/or betterlooking, and people just do nice things for you. If so, fuck you.)

If you’re in San Francisco, and you’re looking for a laid back spot to enjoy a local or rare beer, you’ll appreciate City Beer Store, which is located at 1168 Folsom St. You can learn more on the City Beer Store website.

UBN

Tagged ,

Scenes from Allagash’s Wild Friendship Celebration with Cantillon, Russian River

AllagashWildFrienshipCelebrationYesterday, Allagash Brewing Co. held its Wild Friendship Celebration, with Brasserie Cantillon and Russian River Brewing Co., at the Allagash brewery in Portland, Maine. Allagash did an absolutely amazing job of arranging and organizing the event, which had a casual, festival-like feel, as beer nerds and brewers drank world-class brews and milled about Allagash’s tasting room, brewery, wild barrel room and a large tent outside.

For background, the Wild Friendship Celebration was a series of events to celebration and share a collaboration lambic, a blend of beers from all three brewing companies.  The three brewers contributed versions of their own spontaneously fermented beers, and two versions were made, one blended in Belgium by Cantillon’s head brewer Jean-Pierre Van Roy, and another blended by Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo and Allagash’s Rob Tod in Portland. The first event (called Quintessense) was held in Brussels last May at Cantillon’s location, the second took place last week at Russian River’s Santa Rosa, Calif., brew pub, and finally, Allagash held its event yesterday.

In addition to both versions of the Wild Friendship Blend, the three breweries shared a number of additional beers. (Hit this link for the full beer list.) And the brewers were on hand to chat with beer enthusiasts. I spoke with Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife Natalie, and they both got a kick out of this Boston boy’s knowledge of where to find their beers all around San Francisco, where I frequently work–and drink. I also chatted with Cantillon’s Jean-Pierre Van Roy, who was treated like some sort of Sour Beer God by many of the folks in attendance.

Here’s a first hand, beer nerd’s view of the Allagash/Cantillon/Russian River Wild Friendship Celebration day session. Click one of the photos below to open up a carousel of larger pics. (The image quality isn’t great in all of the photos. Blame my Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, which I used to capture the images.)

UBN

Tagged , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: d.b.a. in New York City’s East Village

d.b.a. beer bar in New York City's East Village

Last week, while working in Manhattan, I stopped in for a quick beer at d.b.a, which is located in New York City’s East Village neighborhood. I visited around lunchtime on a Friday afternoon, and it was absolutely dead, so my experience probably isn’t representative of the typical d.b.a visit. But I got a good enough feel for the bar that I decided to write it up in my next Barfly’s View.

Two more d.b.a. bars exist, one in Brooklyn and one in New Orleans. The name d.b.a. stands for Doing Business As, which is the term the owners put on the licensing papers when first opening because they couldn’t decide on a name. They never did, and the d.b.a. designation stuck. (The bartender also told me he sometimes tells curious assholes like me that d.b.a. stands for “Don’t bother asking.”)

The outside of d.b.a. isn’t exactly welcoming. It looks like a dark old bodega or something. But I kind of like that, and shady facades have never kept me away from quality beer bars. d.b.a. is just that. The bar had about 15 drafts available, including a few local New York beers and some quality Belgian and German ales. One of my favorite things about d.b.a. is that it lists the dates the kegs were tapped, so you can tell which ones are the most fresh. That’s a nice gesture, and it shows the proprietors know the importance of fresh beer. The bar also has a beer engine that pours cask conditioned ales.

The taps at d.b.a. aren’t the main attraction, though—not for me, at least. It’s the bottle list that’s truly impressive. And it’s the quality of that list not the quantity of bottles. d.b.a. offers quite a few bottles, but I saw a dozen or so very interesting limited release bottles from breweries like Fantome and The Proef, and I drank a bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek, which is one of my favorite krieks.

Overall, I was impressed with the beer selection at d.b.a., but I do have one notable complaint: The list of beers on its website is completely inconsistent with the beers that are actually available. For example, the d.b.a. website says it currently offers a number of different Cantillon lambics, and that’s the reason I walked from Midtown to the East Village in the first place. But I was disappointed to find that the bar didn’t have a single one.

Inside d.b.a. beer bar in New York City's East Village

The bartender was friendly, unassuming and willing to humor me by answering a bunch of what must have seemed like random questions for this post. He didn’t seem particularly knowledgeable about beer, though. For example, the dude didn’t even recognize the name Cantillon when I asked him about the lambics listed on the bar’s website, which is a bit of sin for a bar that prides itself on serving quality Belgain brews.

The bar doesn’t serve food, only beer and liquor.

As for the atmosphere, d.b.a. is fairly dingy, with dinged-up wooded stool and tables that clearly show their age. But it’s not dirty. New Orleans Saints paraphernalia can be found on the walls in some place, probably as a nod to d.b.a.’s Big-Easy-based sister bar. A small outside seating area can be found behind the barroom, but it was far too cold when I visited for it to be open, and the bar was empty anyway.

Despite New York City regulations against it, d.b.a. is also somewhat animal friendly. Patrons can bring dogs in, as long as they’re kept on leases, and you may even spot a bold feline named Maggie mingling with locals on occasion.

I’ve only visited a handful of New York City beer bars, and The Ginger Man is still probably my favorite. But d.b.a. is located in a cooler location with far fewer tourists, and its bottle list makes it a worthy destination for any beer nerd wandering Manhattan in search of quality craft brew.

Learn more about d.b.a. on its website, DrinkGoodStuff.com.

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: Bukowski Tavern in Cambridge, MA

Bukowksi Tavern in Cambridge Mass.

Last fall, I Barfly’s View’d the fuck out of Boston’s Bukowski Tavern, one of my regular haunts. Today, I’m spotlighting Buk Boston’s sister bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts’s Inman Square, which I don’t visit as often but still stop by a few times a year.

The hipster vibe is palpable at Bukowski Tavern Cambridge, probably even more so than at Buk Boston, and you’re guaranteed to spot lots of tattoos. But the bartenders are friendly enough to non-regulars, and they’re usually knowledgeable about the beer they serve. One complaint: Yesterday the beer list was a mess. I ordered two beers that were on the draft list but weren’t tapped yet. And when I asked about the rotating gueuze as the beer book told me to, I was told they no longer sell gueuze. (Get your shit together, Buk.)

My favorite thing about Bukowski Tavern Cambridge is the atmosphere. The bar is inside an old mechanics’ garage, and its facade is still composed of two garage doors with rows of square-glass windows. A long bar runs along the right side as you enter, there are booths in the middle of the long thin space and tables just inside the entrance. Bukowski and Hank-Chinaski-related imagery adorns the walls. Behind the bar, hundreds of thick glass beer steins hang above the bartenders, a testament to the popularity of Buk Cambridge’s “mug club,” which requires that you drink every bottled beer they offer within a six-month period.

From BukowskiTavern.net:

“Bukowski Tavern is not responsible for any excessive weigh gain, marriage annulments, black eyes, one night stands, or spur of the moment tribal tattoo arm bands that one may incur throughout the process of completing your mug. Although completing a mug is an awesome accomplishment, it does not shoot said customer into the ranks of infinite coolness that are currently occupied by the bar staff at Bukowski Tavern.”

Well put.

Bukowski Tavern offers more than 100 bottles at any given time, in addition to a handful of “extra special bottles,” and 30 or more drafts. Buk also has a beer engine that serves up unique cask-conditioned offerings. And you can spin the Wheel of Beer if you can’t decide what you want to drink. But if you want the truth, only fucking amateurs spin the Beer Wheel.

Bukowksi Tavern in Cambridge Mass.

Food is fairly standard pub grub, and though I’ve never actually eaten at the bar—I hit up East Coast Grill for grub when in Inman Square, which is next door to Buk—my brother is a semi regular, and he tells me the quality has gone downhill in recent days.

I also get a kick out of Bukowski’s “Hobo Special,” which gets you a hot dog and a 40-ounce of your choice for $6.99. You won’t catch me drinking a fucking 40, unless it’s made by Dogfish Head. But I’m sure lots of grimy college kids and other lowlifes take advantage of the Hobo Special.

I still prefer Bukowski Boston, but that’s largely because it has sentimental value to me. Both bars make my list of Boston’s best beer bars, and you should definitely make a stop at each if you’re ever in Boston’s Back Bay or Inman Square in Cambridge.

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: Burger Bar in Las Vegas, Nevada

Burger Bar Las Vegas entrance

I haven’t found too many quality beer bars in Las Vegas, but Burger Bar in Mandalay Place qualifies.

Burger Bar is literally located in a mall between Mandalay Bay and Luxor so it feels kind of out of place, and the ambiance isn’t exactly beer-nerd chic. But it has a solid beer list with dozens of drafts and even more bottles.

It’s not called Burger Bar for nothing; the burgers (Black Angus, Naturesource or Kobe beef; lamb; buffalo; chicken; salmon; turkey; or veggie) are to die for. You build your own burger monstrosity using dozens of possible toppings, and they have four different kinds of French fries (skinny; fat; sweet potato; and buttermilk zucchini) in addition to a bunch of other greasy shit for sides. Neither the beer nor the food is cheap, but that’s to be expected in a mostly-upscale Vegas bar.

Burger Bar Las Vegas

I had a turkey burger with a fried egg on it, a side of skinny fries and a St. Louis Framboise draft, and I was in heaven on The Strip.

The servers didn’t seem particularly knowledgeable about the beer, but they were extremely friendly and attentive, even though the bar was busy when I stopped by.

If you’re looking for bar with an interesting craft beer selection and good eats in Las Vegas, you could definitely do worse than Burger Bar. (Todd English P.U.B. in Aria is also worth a visit.)

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: The Ginger Man in New York City

The Ginger Man New York City

I travel to New York City a few times a year for work, and whenever I do I always make it a point to swing by The Ginger Man in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. The dimly lit beer bar is located on East 36th St., just off of busy Fifth Ave and a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building. And it’s probably my favorite New York bar.

The dim barroom is large, and it’s cast in a slightly orange light thanks to its many tinted lamps and chandeliers. The bar itself is made of glossy, dark wood, and it’s complimented by matching wooden tables and chairs scattered throughout. There are also a number of easy chairs and padded couches in the front and rear areas of the Ginger Man, which makes the bar feel a bit like a loud, dark coffee shop.

The Ginger Man New York City

The New York Ginger Man was opened in 1996, a decade after the original Ginger Man opened its doors in Houston, Texas and quickly become a well-known beer nerd haven. The bar is named after the popular 1950s J.P. Donleavy novel.

The Ginger Man has 70 taps, and a bottle list with about 160 interesting options. I visited two days in a row this week, and I had a bottle of St. Louis Kriek, and Rodenbach Grand Cru, Vicaris Tripel Gueuze, Bahnhof Berlinerweisse drafts. I’ve never tried the food there, but the menu’s composed of typical pub appetizers, salads, sandwiches, hot dogs and sausages.

The bartenders are knowledgeable, if slightly standoffish at times. Some of the beers are rather pricey, but that should be expected due to its location. Overall, I’m a big fan o’ The Ginger Man. If you’re ever in Midtown Manhattan doing the tourist thing and you need a quality brew, you’d do well to swing by The Ginger Man.

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: Todd English P.U.B in Las Vegas, Nevada

Todd English P.U.B. Las Vegas ARIA

Anyone who is familiar with the Las Vegas restaurant and bar scene knows Sin City is the land of buffets, celebrity-chef branded restaurants and in-casino bars designed to serve free drinks to fools gamblers. To say Las Vegas doesn’t exactly have a lot of beer bars would be an understatement. But that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t have any beer-nerd friendly establishments at all. (Check out my recent post for a list of the best beer bars I found on a recent trip to Las Vegas.)

One such beer-nerd friendly joint is Todd English’s Public Urban Bar, or P.U.B. (Mr. English obviously thought this name was quite clever; I think it’s kind of corny, but, honestly, the name of the bar doesn’t matter, I was just happy to find a craft-beer-centric spot in the middle of the Vegas Strip.)

Todd English’s P.U.B. is located inside ARIA hotel and casino, at the ARIA entrance closest to the Crystals shopping center and The Strip. ARIA is one of my favorite Vegas casinos, and it is home to a great Chinese restaurant I always visit when in the area, Blossom, so I’m a fan of P.U.B.’s location.

The beer list is decent, nothing exceptional, but impressive for Las Vegas, with a solid draft list of 30 or more beers and an adequate bottle list. The draft beers, however, are rather expensive at $12 each for the better brews (I drank New Belgium’s Snow Day and a Fruli Strawberry beer), but I visited during “happy hour”—between 3 PM and 6 PM—so I got my brews for half off, which basically reduced the price to a semi-normal number.

Todd English P.U.B. Las Vegas ARIA

I didn’t try the food, because it too was exorbitantly expensive, especially for bar food. But the menu did look appetizing, thanks to some interesting twists on typical pub grub. The tattooed, hipster bartenders supplied free shelled peanuts, and you can just drop the shells on the floor when you’re done eating. I don’t know why, but I’m a big fan of the whole eat-nuts, drop-shells-on-the-floor thing, so P.U.B. gets a thumbs-up on that account.

The atmosphere in Todd English’s P.U.B. is a bit too Vegas for me, meaning too shiny, fancy and loud, but it is located on The Strip, in one of the nicer casinos, so, you know, that makes sense. A number of tables around the bar have built-in taps so you can pour your own beer, and they were clearly a hit with the customers I saw using them. P.U.B. also had a nice dart-board area, so if you like throwing sharp objects at circular cork board, you’ll find a friend in P.U.B.

Overall, I’m a fan of Todd English P.U.B., especially because it is one of the few craft-beer bars I found in Las Vegas. The bar’s website is down at the time of writing, but hopefully you’ll be able to find information on Todd English P.U.B.’s site in the future.

UBN

Tagged , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: Deep Ellum in Allston, MA

Deep Ellum Barfly's View Allston Boston MA

Deep Ellum is a chic, atmospheric beer/cocktail bar in Boston’s Allston neighbor, which is commonly referred to as the city’s “college ghetto.” At least that’s what I call the area, thanks to its large population of college kids and recent college graduates fucking around before starting Real Life. Allston is also Boston’s hipster center; the only place I’ve been with more hipsters per capita is Brooklyn, New York. (The bar is named after the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, Texas, which is known for its music and nightlife scene.)

Though Deep Ellum is located right in the college kid/hipsters zone, it’s not really a college hangout or hipster haven; it’s a little of both, I guess, but it’s also a great beer bar staffed with passionate and knowledgeable bartenders and waiters. It is without a doubt one of my 10 favorite beer bars in Boston. (Check out my full list of the Best Boston Beer Bars.)

One of the coolest things about Deep Ellum is its unique atmosphere. The bar top is made of glossy, dark wood; there are black and white television sets in both corners of the barroom, and they only play random old movies, sometimes just static, with no sound; reddish-orange lamps hang above the bar and lend an amber hue to the dimly-lit room; and a network of overhead fans powered by and connected to each other by rubber belts provide an industrial flair.

Deep Ellum Bar Boston Allston MA

The bar has 25 or so taps on at any given time, with many local brews and limited-release or hard to find imports, including many great Belgian ales. Deep Ellum has a cask. And its bottle list is impressive. In fact, you’ll often find bottles of Cantillon and other rarities. Deep Ellum is also known for its wide array of cocktails, but I don’t drink cocktails, so I don’t have any firsthand experience with them.

The food at Deep Ellum is upscale comfort food, and it can be a bit pricey. I’m particularly fond of its appetizers, especially the handmade pretzels with beer cheese and mustard. I’ve had dinner there a few times, but I find the entrees to be overpriced, so I stick to the snacks for the most part. (The bar is also connected to the popular Lone Star Taco Bar, so you can just walk next door for food if tacos are your thing.)

Deep Ellum’s bartenders are cool and willing to chat up beer nerds. Nicole, in particular, gets a big shout out from me because she knows her shit and she really brightened up my day last Friday when I was having a personal poor-me pity party. (Thanks Nicole.)

Any beer nerd looking to hit up the best bars in Boston should have Deep Ellum on his or her list. Learn more about Deep Ellum on the bar’s website.

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: Watch City Brewing Co. in Waltham, MA

Watch City Brewing Company Waltham MA

I’ve been drinking at Watch City Brewing Co. in Waltham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, for years, and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the brewpub. (Waltham is known as The Watch City due to a massive, but now-defunct Watch Factory that’s not far from the brewpub.)

I love Watch City Brewing because I love the area it is in; Moody St. in Waltham is the city’s “restaurant row,” and it’s packed with unique bars and eating establishments. The people who work at Watch City, or “The Watch,” are also great, and I know a number of them well. And the atmosphere is unique, thanks to a number of different styles of clocks on the walls alongside a bunch of local artwork.

But the beer at Watch City is subpar, plain and simple, especially for a joint that prides itself on brewing. I’ve honestly never had one single brew at Watch City that really impressed me. And I’ve had all of its flagship brews many times, as well as lots of other beers Watch City makes. They’re all just kind of “meh.” And The Watch really needs to clean its tap lines more frequently.

Watch City Brewing Company Waltham Massachusetts

Watch City makes decent food, but it’s way overpriced. The bar itself has uncomfortable wooden seats that are fixed to the ground so you can even shift them into a more comfortable position. And again, the beer is weak. That’s hard to ignore.

If a beer nerd asked me for recommendations in Waltham, I’d have a hard time suggesting Watch City. I’d be much more likely to recommend The Gaff or Bison County Bar and Grill, both of which are located on Moody St., and both of which have impressive craft beer selections.

I honestly wish I had more good things to say about Watch City. But as I wrote earlier this week sometimes bad people drink really good beer. And on the flip side, good people sometimes make not-so-great beer.

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Barfly’s View: Cantillon Zwanze Day 2012 at Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA

Zwanze Day 2012 at Lord Hobo

Yesterday, Saturday, December 1, 2012, was Cantillon Zwanze Day, and beer nerds across the world simultaneously celebrated by toasting this year’s Zwanze lambic at 3 PM ET. (Zwanze 2012 continued to be poured until it ran out, but the official toast was at 3PM.)

I attended the Zwanze Day festivities at Lord Hobo, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a medium-size, dimly lit bar just outside the city’s Kendall Square neighborhood, home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—and the Cambridge Brewing Co., my favorite Boston-area brewpub.

Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA

The 2012 Zwanze lambic, a recreation of the original 2008 Zwanze lambic made with rhubarb, was poured at 3PM, but wise beer nerds arrived at Lord Hobo hours before the pour. I walked through the doors of Lord Hobo and pushed back the thick curtain that covers the bar just after noon, and it was already packed; my girlfriend and I were able to nab two seats at a communal table, but the bar and most of the other tables were full three hours before Zwanze was poured. The staff stopped letting people in around 1:30, and by 3 o’clock a line of 20 or so drinkers were lined up outside—in the snow—along the front of the bar.

Barfly's View Lord Hobo Zwanze Day

Lord Hobo is known for its extensive bottle and draft list, and the staff took it a step further for Zwanze Day, with 9 different Cantillon lambics available in bottles and an extremely-rare, unblended two-year old Cantillon lambic on tap, in addition to countless other rare beers, including the 2003 Anchor Brewing Our Special Ale, a 2005 Dogfish Head Pangea and multiple Hill Farmstead brews in bottle and on draft. I can honestly say that Lord Hobo’s Zwanze Day 2012 beer list was the most impressive list I’ve ever seen.

Cantillon Zwanze Day 2012 Tap List at Lord Hobo

To kill time until the Zwanze 2012 pour, my girl and I sidled up to a few Cantillon bottles (Cantillon’s 2012 Fou’ Foune and 2012 Kriek 100% Lambic), a couple of glasses of the two-year-old unblended lambic and some grub; I got fried chicken and waffles and the chef made a special vegan-friendly dish for the lady. Lord Hobo’s menu is not at all vegan or even vegetarian friendly, but we were pleased to see that both our waiter and the chef were more than willing to whip up a vegan offering. They came up with a fruit/granola dish along with hash and a fried-rice patty thing that was much more than either of us expected. And the service at Lord Hobo, even during the crazy period just before and just after the Zwanze toast, was impeccable.

Cantillon Two-Year-Old Unblended Lambic

Glasses of Two-Year-Old Cantillon Unblended Lambic

Just before 3PM, the owner of the bar stood up on a chair to address all of the anxious beer nerds awaiting the Zwanze. He spoke about how important the Cantillon brewery and its head brewer Jean Van Roy are to him personally and why it was an honor to host Zwanze Day at Lord Hobo. You could feel real passion in the man’s words, and everyone else in the bar fed off of his energy; the noise level in Lord Hobo immediately increased. When the Zwanze was poured and distributed—six ounces each for about 100 people in the bar—and three o’clock came around, everyone raised their glasses in a salute to Lord Hobo and the Van Roy family and yelled out in unison, “Cheers!” It was a special moment, and I am glad to have been a part of it.

Two Glasses of 2012 Cantillon Zwanze lambic

Glasses of Cantillon’s 2102 Zwanze

I visit Lord Hobo relatively frequently, but I’d never been to a Zwanze Day celebration there. The next time I stop by for a brew, which will likely be sooner than later, I’ll picture the barroom filled with excited Cantillon drinkers, all of the tables covered with spent bottles, and I’ll remember that Lord Hobo is not just another beer bar. Lord Hobo is run by people who love beer and brewing as much as I do, and the bar and its staff deserve to be recognized for that.

If you’re ever in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I strongly suggest you make some time for a beer or six at Lord Hobo.

UBN

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,