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My List: Part 1

Inspired by a local blogger and his impressive top 20 list of his favorite bars, I thought I'd go one further(in my mind), and run down my favorite beer bars. Beeradvocate has their own list, which I believe is based on a system that determines points though ratings versus numbers of reviews. At least that's all I can figure. Anyway, I have decided that I need to make a list, a snapshot if you will, of my favorite beer bars. The only empirical qualifier is that I have to have visited there before. Oh, and I suppose it can't be a brewery either.

As I wrote this list(as a top ten), I found that it kept getting longer and longer, to the point that it was just ridiculous, and not at all realistic to post it all at once. So, instead of posting the entire massive thing, here's my list, with the selections of number 10 through 6. I'll post the top five in a day or two, just to make you wait.

#10 Spuyten Duyvil - Brooklyn, NY

I have only visited this place one time, but I knew from that visit that the only thing that I could discover on a subsequent visit that could push it off my Holiest of the Holy list would be if there was a hidden infestation of tribbles, Critters, CHUDs, or Tremors that fouled the incredible array of beers with their saliva, fur, or their natural abilities for mayhem. Otherwise I think it'll remain in my top ten.

Spuyten Duyvil specializes in Belgian farmhouse ales that, but for its distinctively beer-like color and flavor, one would guess that they are being served wineby the attractive hippie women. Smokers would also like it since it has a surprisingly rural-feeling backyard filled with tables at which nicotine fans may indulge to their heart's content.

#9 Back Booth - Orlando, FL

While I worked for the man, my company held its annual contract conference in Orlando every October. After I left the company they moved it to San Antonio's Riverwalk, which is in my opinion a far more appealing place to host any conference-style event than Orlando's depressingly suburban International Drive. However, I took three great memories from those trips to Orlando. The first was some excellent quality time with My Uncle Matt, Aunt Cecelia, and cousins Matthew, Charlie, and Sarah. The second was some great touristic indulgences, in the form of trips to Disney World. The third was the discovery of the Back Booth in downtown Orlando, just off the very fun Orange Avenue designated area of merrymaking.

Geoff and I visited this place so he could show me a beer that he had come to love while he lived in the Orlando area. That beer is no longer in production, but the Back Booth, as far as I know, is still in full flower. The tap selection is largely American, though a number of choices from Belgium and Britain were available. the folks behind the bar weren't particularly knowledgeable, and even with a great tap selection, it seemed that half or more of the patrons were more interested in mixed drinks than in something from their 30 or 40 taps, seeing as how the bartenders seemed to be throwing around liquor bottles and grabbing ice cubs more than pulling taps and flipping pint glasses. But that's okay. The music was good, and so was the scenery. If I'm in Orlando again soon, I will visit the Back Booth again.

#8 La Cave du Vin - Cleveland, OH

This is another one-visit location, but I am illogically resolved to visit this place the next time I visit Cleveland. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone there anymore, so it might be a while. I am so crazily resolved because La Cave du Vin(The Wine Cave) is simply awesome. I visited here with my sisters over Labor Day weekend in 2005. It occurs to me right now that Rachel had only recently turned 20 when we were there, but as with so many things, if you look like you know what you're doing, you'll not likely have any trouble. La Cave has a fantastic atmosphere. Combining a great tap, bottle, and wine selection, a knowledgeable enthusiastic staff, and Cleveland's inexplicable friendliness makes for an altogether excellent time.

I have to make it back to this place, even though they, yes, have a focus on Belgians.

#7 Bukowski's Tavern - Boston, MA

On my half-dozen or so visits to this camoflaged gem, I have grown to like it even more. The beer selection has a decidedly American focus, which is a breath of fresh air after seeing the apparent idea that so many self-styled beer bars have cling to: "Pack as much Belgian beer in as possible, and you will be awesome."

I mean no offense to the Belgians. They make a mean bottle of beer, and a semi-mean keg thereof. But I don't fly to Boston to drink foreign beer. Beer is a highly regional thing, and when I travel to another region, I want to drink beer they make in that region. Tip for beer bars: Want me to think you're awesome? Offer more local beer!

On top of the regional aspect of their selection, the people behind the bar love beer. After they get off work, they sit down on the customer side of the bar and drink wild variations of the available selection, often welcoming well-timed friends. Bukowski's is a real asset to Boston, and at least once on every trip I take there, I will pay a visit.

#6 The Ginger Man - Austin, TX

I've been to Texas a handful of times. They do football very well. They elect Republican Presidents pretty consistently. They open doors for little old ladies, and they love their barbecue. But, God love them, beer hasn't made a particular foothold there. It's a very Budweiser kind of place. With exceptions few and far between in the massive Lone Star State, beer-drinkers are into quantity, not quality. Texas is not a good place to go for good beer. About as good as it gets, if you're on the town in downtown Dallas, is Texas-made Shiner Bock, which is as abundant as Boulevard is in Kansas City. Shiner Bock is a tasty bock beer, and it's a very nice welcome to Texas, but it gets old after a while. Now, please understand. I love Texas. I think it's a beautiful place and I always have a great time when I visit. It's just that I put away my expectations for good beer when I get on the plane.

In 2005 I learned that there is a shining exception to the Texas rule: downtown Austin. Lovejoy's Taproom and the Bitter End make for great parts of a night out, but the crown jewel of the state of beer in Texas is the Ginger Man. Woodgrained from floor to ceiling, it's a megabeerbar(75+ taps) that still manages to keep the selection interesting. It's too easy for a megabeerbar to just load up their selection with 25 varieties of Big 3 macros, or to categorize selections by flavor, and make sure to have three of each flavor. The Ginger Man does not do this. Obviously, they have Bud Light if you want it, and I'm sure they sell a lot of it, but the remainder of their tap selection is creatively chosen, and has specials all over the map. Specials for days of the week seem to be a hit there.

When you walk inside, the people all around you seem to be fully aware of how unique downtown Austin and the Ginger Man are. It was here that I discovered two real gems in Texas brewing: the Live Oak and St. Arnold breweries. If you're in downtown Austin for whatever reason, the Ginger Man is a must.

That's 10 through 6. Here are some honorable mentions from the running for the lower half of my top ten.

  • William's - Minneapolis, MN - There's a great peanut bar in the basement, next to a long bar backed with 70 or 80 tap handles. Thursday is High Life night.
  • Flying Saucer - San Antonio, TX - My favorite chain megabeerbar. Woodgrained and comfortable, one is coming to Kansas City soon!
  • Henry's Tavern - Portland, OR - A very crowded megabeerbar right near 12th and Burnside. A little sterile, but it's a great place for a survey in Northwest beers.
  • Yard House - San Diego, CA and Kansas City, KS - "Upscale" megabeerbar with a focus on overpriced mediocre food.
  • Hilltop Alehouse - Seattle, WA - Neighborhood bar in Queen Anne Hill with 15-20 taps, and three or four hand-pumps! Just feels like a regular bar that happens to have a fantastic selection.
  • Grinders - Kansas City, MO - My favorite bar in Kansas City, I go whenever I can.
  • Essen Haus - Madison, WI - Comfortable German sit-down restaurant that has an inordinate focus on delicious, hard-to-find German beers.
  • Barley's - Shawnee, KS - Suburban megabeerbar that would get much more business from me if it wasn't in the middle of nowhere.
  • Hopleaf - Chicago, IL - Another "upscale" place, but with a very creative tap selection. Improper focus on food, in my opinion.
  • Sunset Grill - Allston, MA - Very busy independent megabeerbar in what is otherwise a rather frightening neighborhood. They categorize their beer very well.
  • Barney's Beanery - Hollywood, CA - This apparently famous place touts itself as having LA's second-best chili. Their tap selection is nothing to scream about, but the atmosphere is unrivaled.

Thoughts? Stay tuned for the top five!

11:42 PM, Jun 12, 2007

1 comment

chris brooked no delay in saying:

too bad grinders didn't make it into your top 10. it would have been cool to see one KC bar on the list.

the ginger man is awesome, but only if you sit outside. the interior decor feels too sterile and dark, like a place my parents would take me for dinner.

1:29 PM, Jun 13, 2007

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