Bluebird Brasserie, the first brewery in Sherman Oaks, opened about a month ago on Ventura Boulevard. It's the latest beer-focused outpost under the Artisanal Brewers Collective (ABC) umbrella — the hospitality group founded by ex-Golden Road Brewery partner Tony Yanow that's nearly a dozen dining and drinking destinations strong. The ABC group includes Yanow's established venues (Tony's Darts Away, Mohawk Bend), some neighborhood favorites (Spring St. Bar, Brennan's Pub) and some new brewpub concepts (Stalking Horse Brewery and San Diego's Bell Marker Brewery).
Bluebird is squarely focused on Belgian beer culture, and stepping off Ventura and under the vaulted brick ceilings of the Brasserie feels like discovering a hidden beer cafe in Brugge or Antwerp. There's a small brewhouse tucked behind picture windows in the back corner of the pub, a dramatic marble bar along the back wall, and a menu filled with classic Belgian beer styles and gastropub takes on traditional Belgian beer fare.
"We wanted it to feel transportive, but not in a Disneyland way," says Yanow, who fell for the unfussy way beer and food is presented together on one of his research trips to Belgium.
The brewing duties are handled by a veteran team headed by Noah Regnery, who spent nearly a decade brewing, and winning awards, at San Diego's famed Pizza Port brewpub chain. The early offerings cover a wide swath of classic Belgian styles (the rich Dubbel Dutch, the potent Stay Gold golden ale) and some less common styles (the approachable Chapeau du Jour amber ale, a light and food-friendly Valley Summer table beer). The house beers are piped to the bar from stainless steel tanks visible from the dining room, and the tap list is filled out with other takes on Belgian styles from local breweries (with a few imports mixed in.)
As with any true Belgian beer cafe, there's a compelling bottle list to accompany the draft beer, and it's here you'll find the pièces de résistance of Belgian breweries (e.g., the Trappist beers such as Orval and Chimay, and the vaunted secular breweries such as Saint Bernardus and Duvel).
"We can't open a Belgian bar and not have Duvel and Orval," says Regnery.
As is typical with other ABC restaurants, there's a heavy lean toward vegan options on the menu, but you can still get your frites alongside steak or moules (served four ways). There's merguez-spiced Impossible meat (a vegan meat meant to taste like the real thing) in the cassoulet, and an almond-based vegan cheese alternative to the pungent Roquefort cheese on the crispy endive salad. The vegan liege waffles might actually be better than the standard version.
Likewise, the cocktail list straddles the line between traditional and inventive, with old-school classics such as the Corpse Reviver (Genever, Lillet Blanc, Combier orange liqueur, lemon, absinthe) and Penicillin (Scotch, lemon, ginger) sharing space with twists on an Old Fashion (here made with black walnut bitters) and a mezcal-based "Non-groni," and the Belgian 75 (which subs the superlative Belgian saison Dupont for the Champagne in the usual French 75).
Along with the Cornish-inspired Stalking Horse, Bluebird Brasserie is a high-concept beer venue that translates Yanow's favorite global beer destinations into approachable neighborhood watering holes where guests can "expect something new every time they come in," he says. The ABC group is already deep into the next project: a larger-scale brewpub concept on La Brea Boulevard and 6th Street that could open this summer. 13730 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, (818) 849-6970, bluebirdbrasserie.com.