Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ranking Southern Californa Beer Bars

Here are my top 5 MUST visit beer bars/pubs in the southern half of California. Granted, I haven't been to every beer bar, nor have I even been to every highly regarded place. Remember, this doesn't take into account breweries or tasting rooms... we'll get to that later. But in my experiences here are the best pubs or bars for beer so far...

1. O'Brien's Pub, San Diego. Self-proclaimed "the hoppiest place on earth," O'Brien's doesn't have as many taps as a lot of places these days with around 20 total, but they are filled with top notch beers, and usually pretty hoppy beers. You can easily see what is on tap at any time so I don't need to go into that, but what I love about this place is the atmosphere. It doesn't get any better than sitting down at a table in one of their comfortable vintage green office chairs and ordering up a burger with garlic fries (which seem more like garlic with some fries tossed in) to go along with your Blind Pig or Racer 5.

2. Hamilton's Tavern, San Diego. I'm so thankful I finally made it here after wanting to go for a long time. The tap list is second to none and excels in diversity and harder to find local brews. Usually I hate really cramped, packed places, and Hamilton's does get very packed on a weekend night, but there's something about this place that makes me not really care too much. It's a minor challenge to order something at the bar. You have to go old school and flag the bartender or just kinda shout out your order when they pass or make eye contact. I've never really liked to do that but there are so many people trying to order it'd be almost impossible for the bartender to know who should be the next to order.

3. Hollingshead's Deli, Orange. Hollingshead's is truly unique. I'm not sure I know of a place around that mimics it, except maybe City Beer Store in SF. This is a deli and beer bar all wrapped inside a beer store shell. There are a handful of tables in the wider middle isle and about 12 seats at the bar. You are always surrounded by bottles of beers, whether it be on shelves, in coolers, or sitting up on the bar right in front of its draught version. The three generations of Hollingshead's fellows keep things going behind the bar, at the cash register, and out in the isles. They also have pretty killer options on tap, which is basically a prerequisite to be on this top 5 list anyway, so I probably didn't need to mention that.

4. Beachwood BBQ, Seal Beach. Beachwood's setting is quite unique. It's a little hole-in-the-wall BBQ place (with kick-ass food) that serves a diverse lineup of craft beer that will always include a couple things you've probably never seen on tap, or at least haven't seen in a while. Gabe, the owner, goes out of his way to try to obtain obscure beers. They use a pegged wall with square chalkboards hanging for each beer as their menu. While it's nice to know a certain bar will have a specific beer always on (ie O'Brien's having Pliny the Elder or Blind Pig 24/7), you won't get that at Beachwood, so don't expect it. Each and every tap changes frequently and is usually never replaced by the same beer. You can probably always find something new here.

5. Churchill's, San Marcos. I don't know what exactly it is I love about Churchill's other than their beer and great service. I just like the feel of this English pub. Oh yeah, now I remember, their roast beef dip sandwich. But anyway, they have a handful of really good rotating taps and some permanent ones with nice local offerings like Lightning Thunderweizen or Green Flash West Coast IPA. A killer bottle list here too. If you're visiting from out of the area and want some of those special release hard to find Lost Abbey or Russian River beers, you'll probably find them at Churchill's.

Honorable Mention: Lucky Baldwin's Delirium Cafe, Sierra Madre. Maybe a sentimental choice because it's my "local" pub (being 20 miles away) but they do enough to keep things interesting here. It's an English pub with a big Belgian beer influence. Lots of standard Belgian's on tap with a handful of English brews. There's also around 10 American beers usually on here that include stuff from Craftsman, Stone, Anchor, and Sierra Nevada usually, with some other oddballs thrown in.

Just missed the cut:

  • Father's Office, Santa Monica - Pretty good tap lineup that doesn't change too often, amazing burger, but overall a little too trendy to pull me in on regular occasion.
  • Back Abbey, Claremont - Another amazing burger, and a tap list of all imported beers; most Belgian. Having a few beers here can break your wallet though. It's always crowded too with snobbish Claremont people and when it's chilly it's hard to sit outside because there is only 1 heat lamp.
  • Toronado, San Diego. Now if we weren't just talking about Southern California, the Toronado in San Francisco would make the top 3 on my list, but the newer version down in San Diego doesn't quite hit the spot for me. There are no doubt some great beers on tap, but it just doesn't seem to have a whole lot of character, yet.
Places that have a lot of potential to be on this list but I haven't been to yet: Naja's Place (Redondo Beach), Ritual Tavern (San Diego), The Tap Room (San Diego), Downtown Johnny Brown's (San Diego), Live Wire Bar (San Diego), The Linkery (San Diego)


BeerGuy said...

Admit it, O'Brien's is all about your girl ...

J.Rhode said...

His girl? She has always been mine.

Steve said...

You know I just threw this post up so I could include that picture.

Dammit, I should have known I wasn't the only person in her fan club...

JessetheHutt said...

No no no no no she's mine, the girl is mine, the girl is mine. Don't waste your time, time, time because she's mine. Because the dog gone girl is mine.