It took five years for Jimmy and Yume Han to open a second location of their iconic Koreatown gastropub. And when they did, they put it right in the middle of another bustling nightlife destination — downtown Long Beach.
The original Beer Belly brought a new craft beer awareness to its neighborhood; when it opened, it was the only spot in Koreatown serving beer poured out of fresh kegs sourced from local breweries (Southland Beer became the second such establishment last year). Long Beach’s Beer Belly, by contrast, opens in an area that is already a bona fide craft beer destination.
Around the block from Beer Belly’s 2,800-square-foot corner unit sits one of the best brewpubs in the world, Beachwood BBQ and Brewing. Beer Belly shares its south wall with Beachwood’s year-old winery-like sour beer project, the Blendery. Also within stumbling distance is the original Congregation Ale House, as well as Public Beer and Wine, the taproom and bottle shop owned by chef Eddie Ruiz.
Beer Belly, which opened in November, fits right in. It's more than just an L.A. concept transplanted farther south — it's an addition that advances Long Beach’s reputation as a craft beer mecca.
As at the original Beer Belly, the Long Beach location showcases Jimmy Han's expert beer curation; during a recent visit, Craftsman’s Acorn Saison and Phantom Carriage’s Berliner Weisse–style Broadacres were on tap. They've also imported the artery-clogging talent of chef Wes Lieberher, whose Death by Duck fries (tossed in duck fat and topped with duck skin cracklings and duck confit) and deep-fried Oreos (prepared L.A. County Fair–style and then sprayed with Nutella) are the stuff of legend.
Lieberher kept a few other signature dishes — including the quadruple-layered grilled cheese with bacon and maple syrup, natch — but mostly got original with the Long Beach menu. Instead of duck French dip, pork cheek chili cheese fries and duck-and-bacon burger, the Long Beach kitchen puts out a fried chicken Cuban (with chili-braised ham hock), al pastor enchilada meatballs and a stuffing-topped turkey burger.
The rich food pairs well with drinks, which, in a significant upgrade from the original Beer Belly, now include cocktails. Beer Belly Long Beach brought in L.A. bartender Karen Gill (Sassafrass, Bestia) to help set up the cocktail program. The opening cocktail list included creative, approachable drinks such as Vice & Virtue, which blends Three Wood Scotch, Cynar, bitters and brown sugar — and begs for a bite of the sweet and salty grilled cheese.
MAKE Architecture, the firm that outfitted the original Beer Belly's Koreatown A-frame with its signature wood-panel mosaic, also created Long Beach Beer Belly’s striking interior. Angular sets of Douglas fir posts slice from ceiling to floor. In the bar area, the same light brown beams are used as window coverings and as communal tables, which are topped with glass and paired with low-slung black stools.
The bar is perhaps the restaurant’s most visually arresting feature. Made from a long piece of stark black metal that undulates across the restaurant like an obsidian wave, it continues into a back lounge where on weekends experimental cocktails are shaken. Floor-to-ceiling black paint complements the sleek darkness; at night, bright white rope lights expose the shelves of bottles.
In early December, the main room’s single white wall gave way to a colorful mural by Yoshi Takahashi, the same L.A. artist who covered the exterior of Koreatown's Beer Belly with bright organic shapes. In a downtown area that boasts as many street art murals as places to drink craft beer, Beer Belly is very much at home.
Beer Belly, 255 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 436-2337, beerbellyla.com.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified Jimmy and Yume Han as brothers; they are husband and wife.