Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where Have the Good Beer Bars Gone?

Yesterday was a bit of a sad day for me. I was to meet a beer rep in my area and it was arranged to meet at Vino's Wine and Cheese at three. I get there only to find they're no longer open before five. No biggy, we'll go to old town and check out the new Owl Club. Closed too. The Dirty Place across the street? Closed. Finally, we found our way into the Onyx club, a run down hell-hole with few beer options - I ordered and enjoyed a Blue Moon. The barkeep was nice, an old grizzled retired bus driver (school bus) who enjoyed the company.

Well, unsettled by the events of the day, I went back to The Dirty Place (properly known as Main Street Brewing) to find the owner just opening up - he'd been out shopping for the bar. I went in and was somewhat happy to see a few good beers on tap: Celebration, Hop Trip (by now, not so fresh) and Alaskan IPA. Steve talked it up a bit and seemed frustrated with the way things were headed, specifically with a few local distributors and their new ways. I won't take sides here by relaying his message, it was his beef and I don't know what end is up in that world.

In talking, however, we got on the Owl Club topic and his face told the story I didn't want to read. If you back up a bit, this story may make more sense I suppose.

The Owl Club used to be THE place for beer in the Sacramento area. In the 90's the manager, Jeff Scammon, brought the place to new heights, with regular pint nights and a rotating selection of beer that was nothing short of fantastic. They did have a few bottles of wine for those who needed, and there was bad-beer tucked in the back of a fridge for regulars who just didn't care for the craft beers on tap, but this place was all about the better beers.

Well, that went away a few years ago when the owners sold it to a real sonofabitch, a man who dismantled all that was good about this place. Bill took over with his son, Nathaniel, and it wasn't long after that the beers became more mainstream and the people were no longer interested. To say business there was slow would be a gross understatement - the place was dead. With Playboys on the bar and a dreary overall impression, all that was good about the Owl Club went away and we were left without a watering hole.

Bill finally sold the place to a woman we all appreciate. Thank God! I hadn't been in yet, so my conversation with Steve was a bit disappointing. It seems that new ownership of the Owl Club would like to convert this historic bar (oh, this place is about 100 years old, by the way - rich in history) into a 'lounge'. Roseville is a rich town, one of the wealthiest in the US to be honest, but there are two sides to the city. The rich side has a few 'lounges' already, places that focus on serving bland sweet drinks in fancy stemware from waitresses that are more than pretty - like the 'girl in the corner' in that Lyle Lovett song. The Owl Club is not in the rich part of town. Located a block from the biggest train yard in the region, among the largest in the country, the area isn't a bad one, but the high end clients found in the 'lounges' of the city wouldn't find their way to this area on purpose.

So, seems as though the Owl Club may be lost forever... but we're hoping.

After leaving old Roseville I headed over to Vino's to meet up with friends. Vino's, like Owl Club, has recently changed hands and we didn't think too much about it at the time because we didn't really think new owners could muck with the premier beer bar in the city. Built a couple years ago as a wine bar, upscale in appearance and attracting an audience who didn't mind buying high-end wines and beers, Vino's shocked the beer community when they rolled out their six-tap beer bar - all with top-notch beers of Northern California.

Well, last night seemed like a pseudo punk fest with people there drinking fake liquor and bad beer - from bottles. The bottles of Corona in the fridge were discouraging, the lack of inventory troubling, and the sheer apathy of the barkeeps sad - at one time I watched as a customer filled his own pint glass. I fear that this new ownership at Vino's may have a devastating impact on us beer lovers, leaving one last spot for a better beer: The Dirty Place.

Now, I really like the help at TDP - they're nice and have always been more than welcoming when there with friends. Their problem? Yeah, they are that dirty. Sticky bar, sticky floor, trash everywhere and bathrooms that seem as though they were just given up on. Thank god they have Racer 5, at least one standard rotating tap, a few other craft beers and the rest pouring the B/M/C stuff you expect at a dive bar.

Thinking about how things are turning in a city that 6 months ago seemed headed in the right direction is a bit sad. I want a watering hole, a place I can count on to have good beer pouring in an atmosphere I can take friends and business folk to - and I want it in my town, I don't want to battle traffic getting into Sacramento. I don't think Roseville is unique in this, however. I've talked with bar owners up and down the west coast and it seems that only those who build the bar from the ground up, those who started their bars, have the passion for beer that may mean slimmer margins in profit. I guess that makes sense though - those who buy bars are more likely to do so for profit concerns more than a passion for better beer. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is the way I see it.

Oh yes, there is good news. With Auburn Alehouse, Beermann's and BJ's all in the area, there will be no shortage of beer. The only problems are that Beermann's is only open on Friday, BJ's is almost always crowded with 20-somethings looking to score and AAH is a ways up the 80. I guess I just need to become wealthy quick so I can open a bar of my own. I've wanted to for a while now, actually. With that in mind, I'd best get to work.