The Quest for the Holy Grain - Best Beer Bars
California

 

 

Costa Mesa

Davis

Dixon

Hollywood

Irvine

 

Orange

Pasadena

San Francisco

Santa Monica

Winters

 

 

Preserve Public House
200 Railroad Ave
Winters, CA 95694
(530) 795-9963

A buddy in Dawson's (Dixon, CA) said to try the Preserve in Winters.
So I did.
It was like drinking good beer in a giant wine barrel.

Preserve is California.
You walk in and to your right you find...what?
Preserves, of course.
What good beer bar does not offer a fine selection of homemade preserves.
A horseshoe-shaped bar consumes the building. The bar itself is made of welded and riveted sheet metal by a local HVAC guy.
When you sit at the bar you feel that you are in an industrial attic.
The entire bar ceiling is a huge fruit drying rack. It matches the shape of the bar, rounded at the closed end of the horseshoe, slats for drying.
It helps provide the barrel-feel of the bar with wooden slats and the bar itself a big metal ring. It is brightly lighted.


The real ceiling is a few feet higher and it is wood beam,dark wood. The bar back is brick, a wine barrel is prominently placed in the closed end of the horseshoe. Barstools are metal; the tables that ring the bar are metal and clun ky . There is a post-industrial farmhouse general store feel to the place...oh so California.


Somewhat incongruously there is a shuffleboard table. Thebottom rack of it is filled with antique cameras.
The back of the building has large windows that look out on an enclosed patio where a few tables and seats can be found.
Did I mention the couches? The bar has couches. It also serves wine.
Are you surprised?


The beer list is on the wall behind you as you sit at the bar.
It is behind a table so if people are sitting there, as they were on my visit, you can't read the list.
Wine trumps beer. But the very good news is they have 21 rotating taps and some really good beers.
There was a German beer and Raging Bitch from my home state of Maryland.
There were Portland beers, a Chicago beer, and lots of CA beers.
A nice surprise is how far the local Berryessa brewery has come in such a short time.
The Berryessa Double Tap is currently my all-time favorite IPA and the Preserve served it up just right.


They have an interesting food menu, short and varied, but with the Buckhorn steak house down the block I'd have to be an idiot to eat here.
By the way if you need Coors or Bud Light/Lite you could have that on tap too.


The Preserve serves good beer in a cloyingly cute California wine bar/pub/fruit preserve store.
It was a surprisingly nice find in the little town of Winters.
As the former Governator said, “I'll be back.”

 

 

 

The Daily Pint
2310 Pico Blvd  
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 450-7631

The Daily Pint is a friendly, crowded and bustling beer bar in Santa Monica, CA that is about as far removed from the trendy, posh upscale Santa Monica scene as one could imagine. The Daily Pint would be right at home in Fells Point – but Santa Monica?

It's definitely a sawdust-on-the-floor kinda place, and not because sawdust is trendy. Sunlight does not penetrate very far into this establishment, and there are comforting layers of cobwebs and dust everywhere.
I took one look at the outside and kept on driving, assuming I had bad information. Fortunately, my sense of duty compelled me to return.
Their local following is loyal and enthusiastic.

The draft list is outstanding, and there are usually 35 taps plus two to four casks. The bartenders are very knowledgeable and helpful – the certifiably Irish bartender on duty pointed me to a Drake's Aroma Coma, the flat-out most hoppy aromatic beer of all time.
But beer is not their only claim to fame. Their whiskey list runs to hundreds of choices, with at least 400 different single-malt Scotches dating back to 1946. As the photos show, they have become quite creative in finding places to store and display these selections.
This is a comfortable place, and a great find in the heart of LA's plastic reality.

 

 

 

 

University of Beer
615 3rd St
Davis , CA 95616
(530) 759-1990

New brick and mortar Universities are rare in this day and age but low and behold, one has appeared in the college town of Davis, California. It is a schizophrenic little place with high tech menus and yet no website. The interior bar has a post-digital décor - blecch - and yet it is part sidewalk café. Its employees are indifferent yet friendly once engaged.
The place is the University of Beer.
All beers are face-to-face - there is no distance-drinking. The beer list says this is clearly a liberal arts institution with more of a focus on domestic issues than on globalization.

The University of Beer experience is transformative, inspiring students to be inquisitive, expressive, strong, confident and inebriated.
Its graduates are passionate leaders for change toward a better, more equitable brewing society.
They are also better heeled than the graduates at other Davis locales since their beers are a bit pricier.

UB has 60 beers on tap and they say they are adding at least one new beer each day. The taps are supplemented by bottles that are more global than the taps.
A major feature of the bar is its beer list, prominently displayed on three large screens above the bar in that new IT that uses bright white and yellow print to list the beers and the batting average of beer, its ABV.
The Perfect Pour in Columbia, MD uses an earlier version of this technology. It is actually quite handy as it flashes the list alphabetically and then by style. One screen is reserved for the bottle lists and new beers are prominently marked. Meanwhile, at the pour station of the bar (that's right, this is California, after all) there are several tablet sized versions of the digital beer list anchored to the bar to enable the most erudite quaffer to research each choice before it is made.

The bar has a strip running down it that is chilled, set your beer on it and it keeps your beer cool. Did we really need this? Most people order their beer by number. Really? There is a recessed border on the server side of the bar that is coated with sand or salt or sumpin sumpin that is used to dry the bottom of a fresh pour. I am not sure how I have lived this long without that.

Your intrepid reported made the mistake of thinking the website could be used to provide you with a detailed description of the beer list.
Alas and alack, that will not happen. Therefore, here is what you should know. It is a damn good selection of mostly domestic beers that represent the Nation's geography quite well. From Dogfishead to the Bear Republic the regions of the US are well represented at UB.
The knock on the place is that most pints cost $7, although some are more and some are less, in a town where the Beer Shoppe is serving up a nice but smaller selection of $4.50 and $5 pints.

The highlight of our visit was the road trip that was not. A huge, almost bus sized, limousine/party bus stopped across the street from UB. The driver left the empty limo with its engine running and its door open while he disappeared into an adjacent building, presumably looking for a client. We tried to interest some of our sidewalk café brethren and cistern in grabbing our beers and heading for the limo but there were no takers.
Just as well, we were about two beers shy of commandeering that bus and it was time for commencement, so we commenced.

 

 

 

City Hall Tavern/Bistro 33
226 F St
Davis, CA 95618
(530) 756-4556

City Hall Tavern is a new addition to the Davis beer scene. Housed in the town’s old City Hall building, it has a Spartan décor... black ceilings decorated with bicycle tires, apropos for America’s friendliest bike city.
Their website at http://www.tavern.bistro33.com/deserves serious consideration as America’s most annoying website.

Tables and chairs are scattered throughout the first floor bar level with generous spacing and limited seating, but it was not very crowded on our Tuesday visit.
Our beer tender was enthusiastically reserved about the nine taps that provided a smattering of styles with several North Coast brews that the beer tender said were made up near Fort Bragg.
"I think not." says me.
"I think so..." as it turns out, the West Coast has one too.

There were about eight west coast taps and I had a couple of new beers from North Coast before I looked at the bottle list. The tavern’s tag line is “33 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” so I leave it to you to decipher how long that beer list was.
But wonder of wonders, joy of joy, there sat Pliny the Elder from Russian River in a 16.9 oz. bottle for $9.
I’ll have one.

Over the next 20 minutes heaven met earth. I have never had Pliny the Elder in a bottle and when I poured my beer the head was so dense I could not suck any beer through it. Curious, I tilted the glass and the surface did not tilt. In an impulsive dare I turned the glass entirely upside down and the beer did not flow out of the glass, not a drop of it. Amazed I began to shake it then pound the bottom like one would a ketchup bottle. No beer escaped. By now thirsty I sat the beer down, made a hole in the dense head with my finger and the I began to quaff.
You do not merely drink Pliny the Elder.
What a beer...its dense head made my own head delightfully dense. "Thank, you, sir, may I have another?"
I could and I did.

You can order food from adjoining Bistro 33.
I got a chicken club...it was tasty but small.
Nevertheless, I was Plinied and did not care.
I do not like City Hall Tavern as a beer joint.
I will, however, patronize the establishment every time I visit Davis, so I might seek wisdom at the feet of Pliny the Elder.


 

The Davis Beer Shoppe
211 G Street  
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 756-5212

Davis is a quiet little town.
Way too quiet for a college town.
Way too polite for an East Coast boy.
So if, like me, you need a little confrontation and impatience in your life, head to the The Beer Shoppe and fight for a seat.


The Davis Beer Shoppe opened in 2011 in a recessed little store front. It makes no real attempt to announce itself and that is just as well.
Here is why...they have great beers, good prices, and no room for the people who would like to go there.

Even so, against all odds we were able to grab a barrel and three stools that were way too high for the barrel. What the hell - at least we were sitting.
That means we had a place to put our draughts. On this day there were eight well-chosen and varied choices with the ninth tap a nitro.
There is no sense to name them because they rotate regularly. I started with an Erdinger Hefe in a hefe glass and it was so good I could not tear myself away for the Lagunitas, Stone Cali, Carolous Cuvee, or the other choices. It was happy hour and the beers were under $4 for a pint. The bulk of the store front's space is given over to an amazing array of retail beers, where you can find bottles of many of the West's better beers and more than a few East coast icons, like Dogfish Head.

The cold box offers a nice selection of bottles for the way-too-small seating arena (chairs for maybe 20 people) and you can drink any of the beers in the retail section but there is a corkage fee for them.
But here is the bonus: cue the Beach Boys, “I wish they all could be California girls…” You will too. I nearly choked on my beer three times and almost spilled one just perusing the clientele. I suspect any who saw me choked too, albeit for an entirely different reason.

Food at The Beer Shoppe is limited to chips. Don't plan on eating there. I have had a nice variety of beers there and on this day the retail cold box has three Russian Rivers ...part of my own California mania. “I wish they all could be Russian River beers...”
If you get to Davis hit The Beer Shoppe with the pretentious "e" at the end.
Go early if you want to sit.
Forget prime time when there has actually been a line outside waiting to get in. When a bar has this many nice beers that just ain't right.
"Get us more seats!" would be a good rebellion theme but Davis is way to chill to rebel against anything.

 

 

Froggy's
726 2nd St
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 758-7550


If you like rubbing up against strangers on the New York Subway, you'll love Froggy's. A nice little collection of beers on tap and in bottles makes it a decent enough place to spend a few hours during the day. College nights (and what isn't?) it is way too packed and stagnant. Only Questors seeking their first 200 beers will find anything new here but any Questor can find a nice repeat beer among the selections.

 

 

Hollingshead's Delicatessen
368 South Main Street
Orange, California 92868
714-978-9467

OK, so it's one of those a-bit-hard-to-find places. Just drive north on Main Street off the 5 for about a mile - go a bit past Mainplace Shopping Center...the mall, moron.... Look for Duke's Hamburgers on the left and turn in to the nondescript strip mallaza behind it. Voila! Hollingshead's; a beer Oasis with football smack to boot. At two store-fronts wide, Hollingshead's is: (1) a sandwich deli, with about fifty combinations of meats, cheeses and rolls - nothin' fancy but great to absorb brews.
(2) a beer store with close to 400 different beers, heavy on Belgians and Californians (tasting more and more like one another...), and
(3) a small bar with about 20 taps - we couldn't resist the Pliny the Elder but there were plenty of other grade A beers on tap. While no one is actually from Green Bay, proprietor Ken Hollingshead and his family (many work here) are mega Packers fans (except for one stray grandson Cowboy fan - he'll learn...). Know your football stats if you intend to open your mouth other than to pour beer into it. Go here to be with the family, drink kick-butt beers, eat meat sandwiches, watch football, buy great beer to take home, and fertheluvofGawd just be in the L-freakin-A zone of this planet. One can ask for no more this side of the Orange Curtain.

 

 

Lucky Baldwin's British Pub and Cafe
17 South Raymond Street
Pasadena, California 91105
626-795-0652

In the heart of Old Town Pasadena, Lucky Baldwin's fancies itself to be a British pub and cafe. There's British pub food - yes - but the 63 taps and 150+ different bottles of beer are heavily Belgian (and that's a good thing). But don't even go there for the Belgians; go there for the Craftsman Brewery beers (from Pasadena) which seem to turn up and turn over often. During our most recent visit we had a Craftsman Fireworks saison (6.8% and a bit heavier than a traditional saison) and a Craftsman Triple with white sage (9% and sage up-front). Lucky Baldwin's is divided into a number of rooms that are dimly lit and pub-loud; pleasant outside seating provides a view of the passing crowd. Several TVs are usually turned to soccer matches. This place is worthy of return visits.

 

 

Tornado Pub
547 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117

You are in the Haight and you are in the 21 st century... until you cross the threshold of the Tornado Pub . Inside it wants to be the 60s. If I lived in San Francisco this would be my home bar. There is no food, no macros. There is only good beer and lots of it. Sandwiched between a carry out pizza hovel and a great sausage sandwich hole-in-the-wall, you don't have to go far for sustenance in case you want to spend some time here. And many people do.

This is not your happy hour-on-the-way-somewhere-else crowd. The Tornado feels more like part of your life's destination. It is an alcoholic portal-of-entry to the 60s. The crowd feels laid back, very unlike the intense San Francisco that cares way too much for its liberal causes, man. I mean...this place is cool. The choice of beers...it has to be 40 or more taps...is out of sight, man, and some of the offerings are primo, especially the Russian River beers, we can't get back east. It's the kind of place you might drop in to find out what condition your condition is in.

The décor is simple. Dark and beer. Beer taps adorn the walls and intrude on the ceiling. A scattered deer trophy keeps an eye on the denizen drinkers. Did that deer just wink at me, man? Far out. The bar runs from the door to the walk-in refrigerator. Opposite the bar is a line of tables against the wall that sit four people each on raised stools. It is a worn and comfortable place.

The patrons were all born in the wrong decade; they are flower children at heart. The clothes are contemporary slovenly. No one was dressed to impress here, no one was returning from a high pressure anything. There were no fashionably dressed men or women sitting anywhere with their legs crossed. The Tornado is the release valve. And great beers are the release.

I wish I'd taken better notes, dear reader, but it was an eastern Questor's nirvana of hard to get West Coast beers. There were four Russian Rivers on tap and with a selection of Moonlights, Lagunitas, and lesser known “I wish they all could be California beers” beers. Some Deschutes and a nice array of German wheats and beers of most styles, although stouts and porters were under represented for the most part.

I enjoyed the RRs and fell prey to some repeats I had only had in bottles, like Aventinus, hardly a West Coast beer. All the beers were served by a friendly and knowledgeable but minimally so beertender, who could have been extolling the virutes of Columbian or hydroponic weed. I think he just returned from a love-in; just the right level of personable. A list of beers is available at http://www.toronado.com/draft.htm but consider it representative rather than up-to-date.

This place is groovy and it just may be San Fran's best beer bar.

 

 

Gold Dust Lounge
Fisherman's Wharf
165 Jefferson St
San Francisco , CA 94133
(415) 397-1695

This a new location for the
Gold Dust Lounge. They are no longer on Powell Street. The new venue retains much of the look and feel of the nearly 100 year old spot.

I steered some friends to the Gold Dust and said. “Let’s go in here.” A semi-respectable native woman of some vintage turned without prompting and said, “We call it the toilet.” It has the best beer selection in the Union Square area. Ten great European taps and a good selection of bottles make this a must stop for a Questor in Gaytown.

It was decorated by a whore with no taste at all...where were the gays when we needed them? Red velvet furniture, couches, and booths; nude paintings, cherubs on the ceiling and a clientele that is ready to go. Entertaining bartenders who ignite lemon rinds and fling bottle caps 90 mph make this a must stop. Everybody needs to use the toilet sooner or later.

 

Lefty O'Doul's
At Union Square
333 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel: (415) 982-8900


This is a San Francisco bar started by a baseball player who washed out as a pitcher with a 1-1 record. He reinvented himself as a hitter with a .349 liftetime average. His namesake bar, Lefty O'Douls's, has a dozen taps, nine of them good Europeans and microbrews. A large cutout of Lefty & the Babe hangs over the bar.

San Francisco sports photos and a dinner buffet overshadow the beer and miserable décor of this establishment. Dark and dingy with a piano surrounded by stools you can find Big Daddy, Fat Tire, Bitburger, Guinness and many other tasty beers struggling to outsell the Bud trio.

The barmaids are foreign - the bartenders could be gay, but who is definitely not in San Francisco? You might find a beer you’ve never seen here; we’re told the taps rotate somewhat. Come on in an argue Lefty vs. Barry. No contest.

 

Goat Hill Tavern
1830 Newport Boulevard
Costa Mesa, California 92627
949-548-8428

One word: dive.

Bros bar for locals. We were here in the early afternoon on a Monday - nobody around except Monty working the bar. All was quiet. No food this early, but we grabbed a burrito from BC Broiler up the block and brought it back to enjoy with some new beers - Goat Hill's own pale ale (passable) and a high gravity malt-bomb ale from Oceanside Brewing Company (passable +). The bar's 141 taps include several multiple taps of the usual fizzy yellow beers, so maybe your choices are really down to about 100. Nice collection of old tap handles screwed into the rafters.

 

We visited Goat Hill in the early evening several years ago - the place was packed and loud but still enjoyable, in a packed and loud sort of way. These days: not so much, at least as far as the enjoyability part goes mature Questor-wise speaking. If you're looking for a beer experience but can't afford to make bail, show up during early-bird special hours and the leave the dark times to the bros.

 

 

Yard House
71 Fortune Drive
Irvine, California 92618
(949) 753-9373

www.yardhouse.com

Another beer bar chain with 25 locations in nine states, about half of which are in Southern California. We ate and drank at the Irvine restaurant in the Spectrum Center. The food was typical American chain restaurant stuff. With about 170 beers on tap there was something for everyone but nothing unusual worth seeking out. The kegs and beer lines were visible through a long wall of windows - an impressive sight and nice backdrop (if you're a beer geek). The beer list included several beer blends, and there was a decent wine and liquor selection as well. This is a good place to take the family, meet friends, or for an office lunch.

 

 

 

Musso and Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, California 90028-6292
(323) 467-7788

www.mussoandfrankgrill.com

If you're going to Hollywood looking for movie stars, start here, at the bar. Musso and Frank's is classic mid-20th century adult: dark wood, faded wallpaper, grilled liver, shrimp cocktails, and the like; waiters and bartenders are attentive and discreet and include three guys named Manny. The beer? Let's just say you can probably get any beer they sell at a well-stocked convenience store, but you're not here to be a beer snob. So settle into the Mickey Rooney booth, order a Newcastle with the corned beef hash platter, and enjoy the show. Another great place to have a beer, and you're gonna like it regardless of the label.

 

 

Dawson's
105 N 1st St
Dixon, CA 95620

If you're a Questor and you find yourself in Dixon, look for Dawson's where Heather sets them up and local folk knock them down. Three beers on tap, Bud, Bud Light and Sierra Nevada assure you'll score few new beers here and the seven bottled beers reenforce the point with Heineken being the exotic one. But Dixon is not big and this is one of the few places where you get to urinate in a trough with constantly running water. They say 80% of California's water goes to irrigation; if Dawson's is any clue, the other 20% goes to flushing. But in Dixon, it's gotta be Dawson's. Tell Heather the cute one says hi.