With craft beer L.A.'s current unyielding obsession, it seems crazier than a 55% ABV beer that four short years ago that we were celebrating, along with dozens of tube sock-clad homebrew club sorts, the first local bars to land coveted cask-conditioned ales on tap. My how that fedora-topped draft beer crowd has changed L.A.'s IPA game. Since then, the surge in local craft beer bars, gastropubs, breweries and brewpubs has been so swift and topographically democratic, you'd have to be a Metropolitan Transit Authority employee with a great bus token credit report to hit them all.
So many that that today, separate top ten lists for local craft beer bars/gastropubs and another for breweries/brewpubs in L.A. would make the most logical sense. You could even divide both those categories in pre and post cask-conditioned ale era — our beloved dark, dank, Frito-filled pubs with a handful of loyal weathered taps on one side, the pretty picture chalkboard menu types with bubbly IPA atmospheres and enough short rib slider variations to keep you going all night on the other. But as we like to make our draft beer decisions exceedingly difficult, we've combined every single one of those bar, brewery, gastropub and brewpub categories into one for the 10 Best Beer Bars In L.A.
And yeah, please do add your neighborhood favorites (Simmzy's, Lucky Baldwins, Angel City Brewing, City Tavern, Blue Palms, 38 Degrees, Library Alehouse, Ye Olde King's Head… we could go on) that didn't make it on this list in the comments below. We only wish we could have, too.
10. Golden Road
The first locally made craft beer in a can? That would get on the consideration list on its own. But this is really good craft beer in a can. And no, you don't have to drink it in the can at the brewery's onsite pub, but you *can* if you feel like it (sorry). Nothing against Dale's Pale Ale, which was the canned craft beer inspiration here, but in Southern California, we have IPA loyalties. There's also the Tony Yanow factor, which yes, does seem to have become a local craft beer business factor (see our #3 pick). 5410 W. San Fernando Road, Los Angeles, 213-373-4677.
9. Beachwood BBQ & Brewing
There's a high tech (in beer terms, at least) system that keeps each beer at its ideal temperature (ales at 38 degrees, imperial stouts at 48 degrees), a digital camera so you can monitor what beers are available on tap at any given iPhone moment, and an ever-changing assortment of two dozen beers from other breweries (read: competitors) on tap alongside those brewed in house here. Beachwood BBQ & Brewing epitomizes modern brewpub democracy at its finest. Although keep in mind that something-for-everyone mentality works best with the beer, as the menu here is overflowing in a few too many Cobb salads. But stick to chef-owner Gabe Gordon's creative takes on increasing your cholesterol (buffalo sloppy joes, habanero-sauced lamb corn dogs), and you'll be more than happy to stay for another beer — yes, even if it means driving out to Long Beach. 210 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, 562-436-4020.
8. Eagle Rock Brewery
Two years ago, Eagle Rock Brewery was our (brand new) local favorite brewery (though in all fairness, we'd probably give the The Bruery that best-of hat if it weren't in Orange County). Several great new breweries have opened up in the greater L.A. area since father-son homebrewers Steve and Jeremy Raub took the retail plunge, but we're still partial to the Integrity and Solidarity that sure, you can taste here.
Even still, as sipping a pint at a brewery is as much about the atmosphere as about that black IPA on tap, no other local brewery has mastered that laid-back, Portland vibe L.A. previously lacked in its pints better than Eagle Rock. It's the sort of place where mottos like “beer for the people,” brew names like Revolution and Manifesto, and a women's beer forum come off as genuine efforts (because they are), not something dreamed up in an investment firm tower to appeal to the beer masses. This is the sort of bare-bones tap room that temps you stay for a caffeine-spiked black and tan and a game of scrabble, even though you really just came by to fill up your growler. 3056 Roswell St., Glassell Park, 323-257-7866.
Turn the page for #7, etc…
7. Father's Office
Sang Yoon continues to fuel food headlines by catering to the water chestnut relish seared scallops crowd at his growing empire of (very good) restaurants. But we're still partial to the original Father's Office, where the atmosphere is dreary, the menu could be written on a cocktail napkin, the tables are cramped, and the well-edited beer list has always been as much of the draw (and on Friday nights, arguably more) as those ketchup-free burgers. Even his Culver City location by the same name falls more in that “cuisine nouveau” vein of gastropubs today. But in Santa Monica, you come, or should, to find what is in each and every one of those 36 taps crammed, quite literally, along the back wall during any given beer season (a Craftsman Cabernale, if you're lucky).
And sure, there are those who say a stout in Santa Monica often comes with a hefty ounce of staff pretention.Though in our experience, it's not those pouring pints at Father's Office but the bouncer at the door who always makes us feel like a B-list actor. Regardless, take a good long look at whichever bartender is now on your do-not-drink-with list. Father's Office employees tend to be the sorts who become our next Beer Chicks, meaning they'll likely soon be opening your favorite new gastropub right around the corner. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, 310-393-2337.
6. Golden State Cafe
The moment we say we're craving something other than “cuisine nouveau” in our evening pints, we stumble into relative newcomers like the Golden State. But the menu here from Samir Mahajer (Cabbage Patch, formerly Rustic Canyon) is tightly edited, weighs heavily on the burger and hot dog side, and everything, including the beers, are sourced from California (Let's Be Frank hot dogs, Harris Ranch beef in that burger). It's the sort of theme-park angle that could have been a very bad idea if the draft beer selections weren't so great. But as you debate which congressional district deserves your strong ale support, be sure to save room for Golden State's beer float (here made with Old Rasputin on tap). It's a drinkable dessert that inspires most of us to say things like Wow, that's really great” as we tally up the tip. Or, if you're Jonathan Gold, you might say something like this: “It really can be a mind-blowing way to complete a meal, a marriage of cold creaminess and explosive fizz, innocent sweetness and a blast of pungent, hoppy bitterness that rides the back of your throat like a cottonmouth on a waterslide….” 426 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, 323-782-8331.
5. Beer Belly
You know things have changed when gastropubs suddenly become a wise investment move in a city whose definition of “sour” has long meant the whiskey, not ale, version. That's also why about the time we hit the two/three year period in a trend, we appreciate couples like Jimmy and Yume Han. They're the sort of small bar owners who seem so genuinely in love with beer itself that the Beer Belly was more of a personal necessity, like those duck fat fries and candy bar-filled pancakes (If Snickers pancakes can be a necessity?), than retirement fund investment fodder. Anyone who would open up their *personal* beer cellar of long-aged bottles for customers they've only just met, as Jimmy has done, deserves a complimentary coffee porter or two in our book. 532 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, 213-387-2337.
Turn the page for #4, etc…
4. The Surly Goat
Rather than The Surly Goat in West Hollywood, we very well could have chosen Verdugo in Glassell Park, or perhaps even The Little Bear downtown, Ryan Sweeney's latest Belgian-fueled gastropub rendition, even though we have yet to try that potato ravioli with a bottle aged sour ale. Because #4 in the list is more about Sweeney than any particular one of his beer-centric gastropubs and bars. Sure, he was L.A.'s first certified Cicerone, but we're smitten with him for not simply talking about changing L.A.'s craft beer bar scene, but for actually doing it. And doing it so well, you can choose that Sweeney-blessed draft beer solely by neighborhood. West Hollywood, Glassell Park or downtown.
3. Mohawk Bend
And then there's Tony Yanow. He hasn't just started a beer revolution with Tony's Dart's Away in Burbank and Mohawk Bend in Echo Park (we love the idea of a former vaudeville theater turned into a glossy new taproom). But he's also opened a brewery (he is behind Golden Road Brewing, but you knew that already). If there is a new beer event in town, you can also bet Yanow is tinkering around on those taps somewhere (he and Sweeney are both part of the ColLAboration crew). Why did we choose Mohawk Bend over Tony's Dart's Away? It came down to that compelling craft beer and cocktail fusion vibe. But more than that, Mohawk Bend that feels almost like peeking into the future merging of L.A.'s drinking cultures — all presented in a way that Yanow, the consummate beer lover as businessman, has long since mastered. 2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park.
2. Naja's Place
Back in the days before new taproom arrivals were noted in Tweets and brewers dropping off kegs morphed into 4-course beer and food pairing events, there was Naja's Place down by the Redondo Beach pier. It's the sort of old school beer hangout where plastic lawn furniture works just fine – even better – than any hand-crafted wood stools that the interior designer of the moment dreams up. Nor will you hear words like “curated” in reference to the beer menu, a dry erase board of 90 or so (!) beers *on tap.* This is the sort of place where you'll find yourself sandwiched in between a brand new Golden Road Rye on the Palate sort of sipper on your left, a lifelong Bud Light devotee on your right (talking about all the newfangled craft beer kids in town), and too many football (and fútbol) fans to count. A neighborhood bar that feels like it's been around forever (and in terms of today's shiny new beer hangouts, really has)… and epitomizes L.A.'s ever-changing craft beer scene without even trying. 154 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach, 310-376-9951.
Turn the page for our pick for #1…
1. Daily Pint
The Daily Pint could be mistaken, and probably has been, for a college dive bar by some unsuspecting first timers. But take a look at those *four* beer engines — what's being pumped from these casks is not your average lager. Back in the not-so-distant days when a beer bar in L.A. was distinguished from a pub by the number of pints of Guinness, Daily Pint owner Phillip McGovern had already merged this city's European stout and American IPA ways. And he did it without a single gastropub burger. There is, in fact, no food served here other than the occasional basket of garlic fries, or more recently, a food truck's offerings out front.
On any given Sunday, you'll likely find salt-and-pepper haired homebrew club members discussing their upcoming beer tour in Belgium, hipster sorts on hand for a Beer Church gathering, a handful of college kids just here for a game of pool and shuffleboard, and regulars who keep coming back simply for a beer and a single malt scotch (McGovern built up a massive whiskey collection nearly 20 years ago at his regular customers' request). Sometimes what you'll find on draft is a single keg of some impossibly scarce IPA, and thus the number of “mature” beer geeks escalates as that tap threatens to run dry; Other nights there is an Oktoberfest vibe that's all about the mass produced German Hefeweiss fun (and the average age drops predictably close to the legal limit). But most nights, the Daily Pint is just your neighborhood drop-by-for-a-pint sort of place. And just about perfect. 2310 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, 310-450-7631.
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