They call them "bottle shop tasting rooms," a not-so-catchy way to describe those specialty craft beer stores that also have a bar inside. The model was borrowed from wine bars and has over the last five years become a dual-purpose way to serve craft beer. You can come in and have a glass of something on draft, run in and buy bottles to go or drink some bottles there for a modest corkage fee.
Most famously, there's Sunset Beer in Echo Park, but L.A. also has Select Beer Store in Redondo Beach, Public Beer and Wine in downtown Long Beach and the Cellar in Uptown Whittier. Now, there's Southland Beer, Koreatown's first taproom and bottle shop, which soft-opened a month ago and celebrated its grand opening Saturday with a room full of librarians, beer fans and locals, all drinking from 20 taps of hard-to-find beers from some of the best local breweries.
Southland was started by Tim Sturm and his wife, Orchid Mazurkiewicz, two librarians from Mid-City who knew their part of town was lacking in both beer bars and bottle shops. Sturm was ready for a career change (Mazurkiewicz still works as a librarian at UCLA during the day), and they began hunting for a location nearby, landing on the southern end of Koreatown, tucked in the back corner unit of a two-story strip mall.
"We already come to Koreatown a lot and love all that it has to offer," Sturm says. "When we found our current spot in Koreatown, we knew we'd found the right location."
Southland is a little difficult to find since there is no street signage, and even when you pull into the lot, the door is barely marked and hiding between a beauty salon and a popular Korean blood-sausage restaurant (the currently closed restaurant Saint Martha is also a few doors down). Once inside, however, your search is rewarded with a drinking space so intimate and dimly lit, it could easily get away with being a cozy neighborhood wine bar.
Instead, the focus here is craft beer, with taps that rotate through special releases from Southern California breweries like Three Weavers, Monkish, Bottle Logic and Barley Forge.
For its opening celebration, Southland tapped a keg of Smog City's The Nothing, an annually released imperial stout that tastes like liquid dark chocolate; a special cask of El Segundo's Mayberry IPA with mangoes; and Tap It's Cafe Noir, a pinot barrel–aged porter with coffee. On a visit a few weeks ago, there was an expertly curated selection of uncommon IPAs, saisons, ciders and sours, refreshing options in a city where at least stocking the major craft beer titles is now required of most bars.
"Part of the idea for the name was to feature the great beer in SoCal and the L.A. area. But, we're not going to limit ourselves," Sturm says. "The bottom line is that we just want to sell good beer. We want people to walk in and always be excited about something different on tap or in bottles that they can't wait to try."
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Southland's menu of small plates makes the most out of its tiny, chefless kitchen with snacks like Orchid's Famous Popcorn (popcorn sprinkled with olive oil, cayenne and cumin), Some Olives We Like (an assortment of Lucques and Castelvetranos) and a $14 cheese board that lets you choose among seven goat, cow and sheep cheeses of various origins.
The bottle-shop portion of the business occupies the back room — find it by following the glowing "BEER" sign next to the register — but is for now stocked only with a single fridge full of local, regional and international bottles and cans. Empty shelves line the rest of the room.
"The bottles will fill in gradually. We order more every week," Sturm says. "Eventually, that back room will be full of beer."
Southland Beer, 740 S. Western Ave., #112, Koreatown; (213) 908-5104, southlandbeer.com.