I don’t often do articles about my “favorites” but I felt compelled to do a quick list of the classic favorite beer spots in the US – that are NOT breweries or brew pubs. If you go to my life list you will see the 180 or so breweries and brew pubs I have visited – and many are my favorite places to get a beer. But until recently, real “hard core” beer bars were harder to find. Some of them stood out – if not only for the beer selection, but for the vibe, the people, the environment, etc.
1. Monks Cafe, Philadelphia, PA. Yes, I know, but I have to be real, it’s the original and still one of the very best in the country for me. It’s gotten incredibly busy, so relaxed happy hours discovering Tom Peter’s amazing selections are a thing of the past (or for very off hours) but it’s still an amazing place. It has shifted to being a bit less beer geek to a bit more urban hipster, but so what? The beers are interesting and the food is always good, and if Tom or Fergie are around, there’s fascinating beer conversation. One of my favorite Monk’s memories is after one of the “Book and Cook” events in the mid 90’s – hanging in Monk’s back room peppering Michael Jackson with questions about his views on beer (while he drank bourbon from a belgian tulip beer glass).
2. Tornado Pub, San Francisco, CA. One of the stalwarts of early craft beer in the nation, Tornado is a divey delight tucked in the Haight district of SF. Not a super comfortable place to while away the time, but it’s authenticity and dedication to the beer is awesome. Drinking an obscure California beer there was eye opening (and throat opening) – I had my first Moonlight Brewing “Death and Taxes” there. Sure there are plenty of other places in the bay area with better selections and creature comforts, but you have to pay homage to it. For a while it was the only other place you could get the Monk’s Cafe Sour beer in the US – on purpose.
3. Falling Rock Tap House, Denver CO. “It’s where the brewers go during the GABF” and it’s true – the place is crawling with them enjoying the camaraderie and extensive craft selection. Owner Chris Black started this place in 1997, at a great location in Denver, and it became the beer mecca of the rockies. With an outside beer garden (OK, a place you can drink your beer outside) it is the best place for beer enthusiasts during the Great American Beer Week and just about anytime that it’s not snowing. Well, it’s probably a great place to get an imperial stout and watch it snow, but I haven’t had the pleasure (yet).
4. RFD, Washington, DC. Eclipsing the other D.C. classic (it’s sister bar the “Brickskeller”) over the past few years, the RFD is the kind of beer bar that you can find instantly comfortable. Of course a great selection of crafts, but also an inviting big dark wooden bar in the front, and an enclosed outdoor beer garden – right in the Chinatown area of the District. Decent enough food – but beer is the star, so enjoy the hoppy local and distant brews and lengthy list of Belgians, and try something new – you’ll find it at RFD.
5. DBA,New York, NY. The classic “hard core” craft beer bar there in the big apple before the huge boom. There are two DBA’s, though the one in the East Village is the best, both were products of the mind of Ray Deter – a scion of the craft beer world, who unfortunately passed away recently. The respect for the beer, and pleasant almost club like nature of the place comes through. While there are many many NYC beer bars that have sprung up it’s hard to beat the vibe at d.b.a. You know you are amongst beer appreciators and friends at the bar or out in the patio. Suits not required.
There are obviously many other fine newer craft beer centric establishments, and I apologize for not listing more of them here, no slight intended. A couple of newer ones that got my attention recently include the Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco, the Church Key in Washington, the Meddlesome Moth in Dallas, the Blue Tusk in Syracuse, Max’s Tap House in Baltimore and the ever amazing chain “Flying Saucer” which you can find in some of the southern states.
Find your own, and let me know what you like best – firstname.lastname@example.org