Pubs Serving Suds Flowing in Stature
First of all, beer bars should not be confused with fern bars, singles bars or any other subspecies of bar. A beer bar, as the name implies, is a place to drink beer.
Its requirements, the things that differentiate a good one from a bad one, are different from those of other drinking establishments. For example, any place that serves drinks with little umbrellas would be extremely suspect to the connoisseur of beer bars.
This article is about some (there are many more, maybe even your favorite) of North County’s beer bars. If you’re looking for a quiche eatery, look elsewhere.
In a sense, the beer bar has taken on new stature in recent years. After a rash of puffy wine salons, the beer bar has grown in popularity, as people realize that there is more to drinking than good tannin and a $4 glass of Chardonnay.
That newfound popularity is in evidence at the Red Kettle in Encinitas (1010 1st St.; 944-1333) one of the “microbreweries” that are popping up all over the country. At first glance, the two-month-old establishment looks like just another great place to get some chicken duck sausage lasagna. However, glasses on the bar filled with the ingredients for beer--hops and grains--are an indication that this is a place to do some serious beer drinking. The huge tanks in the middle of the C-shaped bar are another tip-off to the astute visitor.
In those tanks, they make beer that doesn’t taste anything like the Bud available at the neighborhood 7-Eleven.
There’s the Craggins Point brew, a “rich, creamy brown mariner’s ale as served on the clipper fleets of old.” Or there’s the Harbor Light, brewed with “two row pale barley malts plus a touch of caramel malts hopped with fresh cascades and northern brewed hops.”
If all this sounds like gibberish, it’s just Beer Speak. At North County’s other microbrewery, Callahan’s (8280A Mira Mesa Blvd.; 578-7892), in a Mira Mesa mall, they speak the same language, offering a “full-bodied dark ale, with a bitter sweet chocolate finish” and a pale ale, “golden in color, light in body with a mild hop finish.”
Or, in the words of one patron: “It tastes kind of grassy.”
Callahan’s stashes the tanks for making the beer inside a glass-walled room, which means it doesn’t add much to the atmosphere. In addition, it is hampered atmosphere-wise by its mall location, and the bar is simple, with two lonely-looking dart boards and a couple of pinball machines.
Callahan’s attempts to re-create the atmosphere of a pub, which is really the classic place to drink beer.
A pub doesn’t have to have a lot of fancy beers, as long as it has Guinness.
The Bonny Lad in Del Mar (2236 Carmel Valley Road; 792-6014), a relative newcomer to the North County’s competitive pub scene, is a classic of the genre. It reeks of atmosphere. Steps lead up to a separate dart room, Hendrix blares from speakers, the tables are made of beer casks and there’s even a fireplace.
Best of all, its beer menu could make any London tavern proud, with John Bull Lager and John Courage Amber and other beers with macho names readily available. Bass, Harp, Blackthorne Cider and the obligatory Guiness are on tap, and they know how to serve them, with just the right amount of head.
But the Bonny Lad is just the tip of the North County pub-scene iceberg. The Camelot Inn in San Marcos (887 W. San Marcos Blvd.; 744-1332) is, to use an inappropriate cliche, the real McCoy, as evidenced by the hearty and competitive dart tournaments.
A pub with different roots in Encinitas, Ireland’s Own (656 First St.; 944-0233) , is equally authentic. It’s St. Patrick’s Day year-round at Ireland’s Own, and the Irish sing-alongs seem to make the beer taste all that much better.
The list of popular pubs for hop heads also includes the Cambridge Inn in Vista (1280 E. Vista Way; 726-2303); J.J. Maguire’s (225 15th Street; 259-5766), a favorite of Del Mar’s wanderers; Dooley McCluskey’s in Carlsbad (640 Grand Ave.; 434-3114) and Hennessey’s Tavern in Carlsbad (2777 Roosevelt Ave.; 729-6951).
There is an American version of pub--it’s called a saloon.
It, too, appeals to beer drinkers for the atmosphere, but it’s a much funkier atmosphere. There is usually no Guiness, and the visitor feels lucky to get something other than an American brand. Pool, not darts, is the game of choice.
The Daley Double in Encinitas (546 1st St.; 753-1366) is as funky as they come. But for 55 years, locals have viewed it as something close to a beer Mecca. “Funky” is also a fitting description of the Harbor Light in Oceanside (264 Harbor Dr . South; 721-7535). Although it is located on the harbor, it is a far cry from all the nearby swishy seafood restaurants. It is your basic bar, with Beck’s on tap.
These neighborhood places don’t attract the tourist scene and that’s a part of their charm. In Carlsbad, for example, the Village Pub (2990 State St.; 434-2114) isn’t on the local tours of the area, but most locals know it as the place that offers $1 beers every time a train passes by on the nearby tracks.
Dini’s in Del Mar (526 Camino del Mar; 481-9111), and, to a lesser degree, its slick sister in Carlsbad (3290 Carlsbad Blvd.; 434-6000), also are beloved by their respective local patrons, and a solid beer selection make them all that much cozier.
The Dini’s are a little more upscale, and sometimes that’s what people want. They want a good view while they sip a malt beverage, such as the Del Mar beachside setting of Jake’s (1660 Coast Blvd.; 755-2002). Or some people like a trendy look, such as the new Coyote Bar and Grill in Carlsbad (300 Grand St.; 729-4695), which takes Southwestern decor to extremes, with cowhide bar stools and huge fireplaces on the patio.
But beer drinkers don’t live by atmosphere alone. Often, they need more than just a solid roster of beers and stylish chairs. Music is essential, and that means more than just a good jukebox. In Solana Beach, of course, the Belly Up Tavern (143 S. Cedros Ave.; 481-9022) is famous for its live blues and rock offerings, and it has a full spread of American and Mexican beers to please beerphiles.
Country music fans love to escape to the Oakvale Lodge in Escondido (14900 Oakvale Road.; 749-3193), just as beer-loving, beach-rat rock ‘n’ roll fans hang out at the Sand Bar in Carlsbad (3878 Carlsbad Blvd.; 729-3170). The air-brushed paintings of women in lingerie at the Sand Bar may be a little much, but it has Beck’s on tap and live hard-rock bands, so it’s OK.
And just as music and beer seems to go together like peanut butter and jelly, beer and sports are a natural accompaniment. More than a symbiotic relationship, the two make each better and stronger.
A personal favorite is Yogi’s in Cardiff (2005 San Elijo Ave.; 943-1615). There is always an abundance of Red Sox and Celtics fans in attendance, since the bar is owned by four brothers from Boston, but there are plenty of television sets, comfortable seats and Molson on tap.
Other decent places to imbibe of sports and brew are the rather funky All Star Sports Bar and Grill in Vista (303 N. Santa Fe Ave.; 945-0142), where it is not hard to find an open pool table, and Poway’s Doc’s Tavern (12621 Poway Road.; 486-4247) .