Brewer’s Coalition in Newtonville, Mass., is located right outside of Boston and less than a mile from the Massachusetts Turnpike. Newtonville is a yuppyish suburb west of Boston, and that’s quickly apparent after rubbing elbows with the Brewer’s Coalition clientele. That’s not to say, I don’t like the bar, which is an offshoot of the popular John Brewer’s Tavern restaurants in Nearby Waltham and Malden, Mass. It’s just not exactly a hip scene.
The beer selection is decent for a location like Newtonville, but it’s definitely nothing special when compared to other beer bars in the Boston area. The two things Brewer’s Coalition really has going for it are its friendly (and easy-on-the-eyes) bartenders and its selection of local Massachusetts and New England beers. The bar claims to have 50 craft beers available; I saw 20 taps and maybe twice that number of bottles, many of which were local. The bar also serves bar food, but I never hang around long enough to try any of it.
Brewer’s Coalition isn’t really worth driving out of your way for, but if you happen to be heading west out of Boston and you need a road soda, or if you’re just passing through the Newtonville area, you could find a friend in this pseudo beer bar.
Cambridge Brewing Co. is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts’s Kendall Square neighborhood, just across the Charles River from downtown Boston, and it is hands down my favorite brewpub in the Boston area.
That’s because of the laid-back, upscale pub atmosphere and quality, fresh foods. But the real reason I love Cambridge Brewing Co., or CBC, as the locals call it, is the beer. I’ve never met a CBC beer that I didn’t like. Lots of small brewpubs make mediocre beer, but CBC, the oldest brewpub in Boston, makes world-class brews. (In fact, it just won a silver medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Fest.) CBC has four house beers that are always on tap, as well as a frequently-rotating selection of more experimental brews, some with rather amusing names. And you can buy growlers to go.
Kendall Square is a technology center of Boston and Cambridge, and it’s home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). So CBC is often packed with 30-something professionals drinking over lunchtime business meetings or quirky MIT students winding down after a day of hitting the books.
Whenever a beer-loving friend or colleague visits Boston, CBC is the first drinking-destination I recommend.
One of the few bars I visited more than once during my recent trip to San Diego was Downtown Johnny Brown’s, located in the city’s Civic Center Plaza. The reason I returned: An excellent selection of Russian River Brewing Co. barrel-aged sour ales, which are some of my favorite Cali-made brews, and the bar’s relative close proximity to my hotel.
The atmosphere in Downtown Johnny Brown’s is more sports bar than beer bar, and it also serves wine. But what Downtown Johnny Brown’s lacks in atmosphere, it more than makes up for with its quality, albeit limited, draft selection and bottle list. When I visited, the bar had between 15 and 20 beers on tap, the majority of which were local. It also had a dozen or so unique bottles, and its prices were very reasonable compared to some of the other bars I hit.
Downtown Johnny Brown’s also serves basic bar food, including lots of greasy fried shit and decent burgers. The bar has a pool table, darts and shuffleboard, if bar games are you thang. But it’s Downtown Johnny Brown’s quality beer selection that makes this bar a draw for beer nerds in or around San Diego.
After performing a fairly in-depth Web search for the best beer bars in San Diego, it was clear I had to visit one bar in particular: Toronado, in the city’s North Park neighborhood. Toronado showed up in almost every single list of San Diego beer bars I found, and it was on the top of many of them.
So yesterday, I made my way over to Toronado, which isn’t exactly close to where I’m staying. (Shout out to my man Chris for the ride. I love ya buddy.) I arrived around 7 pm on Monday night, and the bar was already packed. I soon found out why: Toronado offers pints of all of its local draft brews for $3 as part of a Monday night special. Considering the bar’s impressive draft list, and the fact that San Diego’s “local” beers are some of the best beers in the nation—dare I say, the world—that’s a pretty fucking good deal.
Toronado San Diego is the sister bar of the (in)famous original Toronado bar in San Francisco. It has 56 rotating taps and hundreds of rare bottles from around the world. (I had a Russian River Supplication Batch 004 that was to die for.) And the food wasn’t bad either, though it’s pretty standard pub grub.
The bar was so busy that I couldn’t really engage the bartenders, but the guy who served my Supplication gave me a knowing look and a smirk when I ordered, and I got the feeling that the staff really knows its brews. The atmosphere was more dive bar than upscale beer bar, but I dig that kind of scene. And Toronado San Diego has a juke box that’s packed with a range of quality eclectic tunes. I don’t have much more time in San Diego, so I doubt I’ll make it back to Toronado during this trip. But I know I will return at some point. Toronado is a top notch beer bar.
Today I arrived in San Diego to cover a (non-beer-related) conference, and the first thing I did was seek out some decent beer bars within walking distance of my hotel. I hit a few duds first, but I eventually found Neighborhood. The bar also serves wine and cocktails, so it’s not really a straight beer bar, per se. But the beers it does serve, on tap and in bottles and cans, are clearly selected with love.
Neighborhood is located in downtown San Diego’s East Village, just east of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, and it’s a solid beer nerd hangout. It has around 30 draft beers on at any given time and between 30 and 40 bottles. (Neighborhood had Pliny the Elder on tap today, which definitely didn’t hurt.) My bartender was friendly and unpretentious, if a bit stereotypically hipsterish. And she was knowledgeable and helpful when I asked for recommendations. The food is unique, upscale pub grub. And the décor and atmosphere both get thumbs-up from me. (Neighborhood also apparently has a secret “speak easy” called Noble Experiment with an entrance near the restrooms that’s hidden with beer kegs, but I didn’t actually see it.)
If you’re in San Diego’s East Village or Gaslamp Quarter and you’re seeking a unique craft brew, you could definitely do worse than Neighborhood.
Bison County Bar & Grill in Waltham, MA, a Boston suburb that’s about 25 minutes outside of the city, is half barbeque joint, half beer bar. I’m not much of a barbeque guy—I don’t eat beef or pork—so I can’t say too much about the food, but Bison has more than 15 draft beers available at any given time and 50 or so bottles, many of which are local. And (most of) the bartenders are cool and willing (and able) to chat craft beer.
A number of Boston Celtics players have also been known to hangout at Bison, since the team’s practice facility is located in Waltham. (I’ve never seen any of the Celts’ “stars” there, though.) The atmosphere is decent, especially since Waltham is known more for its dingy sports bar than beer bars. I’ve even found a few cans of the extremely elusive Heady Topper IPA, from the Alchemist, at Bison.
The Gaff beer bar on Moody St. in Waltham, Mass., is a diamond in the rough. Waltham is a blue-collar suburb about 25 minutes outside of Boston, and Moody St. is Waltham’s “restaurant row.” Moody St. is packed with mediocre bars and ethnic restaurants, with a few shining exceptions—Solea Restaurant & Tapas Bar and Ponzu, a Japanese/sushi joint, both come to mind.
Moody St. literally has more than 10 bars within a half-mile stretch of road, but as far as beer bars go in Waltham, The Gaff truly stands alone. There’s even a brewery on Moody St., about a quarter mile from the Gaff, Watch City Brewing Co., but it gets no love from this Urban Beer Nerd. (In fact, you suck, Watch City.)
The Gaff has 20 or more beers on tap at any given time, many of which are local brews. And 30 or so bottled beers are also available. For these reasons and more, The Gaff makes my list of best Boston-area beer bars.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a Barfly’s View from my favorite Boston-area beer bar, the Publick House in Brookline, Mass.’s Washington Square. In that post, I spotlighted one of my favorite things about the bar: The cool green-marble taps in the Publick House’s Monk’s Cell, where they pour only Belgian beers.
I stopped by the Publick House yesterday for a draft Gueuze Tilquin and some chicken-and-garlic mac and cheese, and I snapped this new Barfly’s View. If you’re ever in the Boston area and you’re looking for a beer-nerd hangout spot, the Publick House’s 36 taps and 100+ bottles will not disappoint, which is why it sits atop my list of the best Boston beer bars.
John Harvard’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts’s iconic Harvard Square has been a Boston-beer-geek and Harvard-University hangout since it first opened 20 years ago in 1992. (I’ve been a loyal customer for about five years.) The subterranean brewery has been serving up quality beer and pub grub for as long as it has been around. But until a week ago, the brewery and restaurant really showed its age.
On Saturday, September 8, the new-look, renovated John Harvard’s “Brewery & Ale House” opened its doors to the public after a few months of renovations.
The layout of the brew house is mostly the same, but the worn down and scratched up bar top has been renewed; it doesn’t feel as secluded and dank; the bartenders are showing a bit more enthusiasm; and there are a lot more lights—too many, if you ask me, and the quality of light seems very “artificial.” But it’s still a definite improvement. The renovations were much needed, and the brew house feels much more modern. For these reasons and more, John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House makes my list of best Boston beer bars.