Saturday, December 8, 2007

Two Bars and a Bit of Booze

Last night my wife, Tracy, had a "social" with her classmates at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, which seems to be a quarterly event for the school and typically features pretty drinks and well mannered establishments. This night saw us arrive, for my first time, to Sacramento's Hangar 17, a hip industrial place in mid-town that features dimly lit tables, a long-ass bar, good finger foods and lots of flat-screen TVs. Sadly, the place had an awful beer selection, so I chose to enjoy the only decent offering of the 20+ bottles offered - Black Butte Porter. Luckily, I had been beer shopping earlier in the day so there was a Hopsickle that came in handy shortly after the BBP was consumed.

Not shockingly the management wasn't pleased with me bringing in a beer of my own and for a few minutes there was some tension until I finally convinced him I'd be 'more than happy' to pay a 'corkage' fee for the opportunity to drink a beer I would enjoy while there. I guess I don't get this, never have. I don't want to be a dick, but I also know my tastes and would rather have a good time with friends and a beer I love - rather than settling for something different. Wine folks seem to have a free pass on this, they frequently bring wine in to establishments and pay the nominal corkage fee while nobody bats an eye, and it is frustrating to have to justify this same practice with better beer.

What is more frustrating to me, however, is the fact that far too many 'up-scale' places skimp out on beer options. I honestly can't comprehend this! I've been to good beer bars and paid the price for a really good bottle of beer, just like I have done with wine or a well made mixed drink. I'm going out, after all. If I was all that worried about a few bucks, I'd stay home. Mark the beer up, I am not going to worry about it in a place and situation like this. Sell me a Belgian Dubbel or American IPA for 8 bucks, or provide a Lambic for 20 - that won't hurt or offend me and it may just encourage me to come back again. But to offer a vast selection of high-end booze and fine wines to compliment a horrid beer selection (no, quantity doesn't impress me when all your imports and American lagers all taste the same) is absurd. By the way, I blame the distributors and reps for this one. Case sales drive the reps business and they're focus is, perhaps rightfully, on the grocers and markets of the community. There is nobody going to a proprietor of fine dining and selling them on the value of better beer. Want to talk margins? I don't think offering a top-notch beer selection will hurt you in that area. Sorry.

Anyway, the place was nice (really, it was a great time) and we were there for several hours enjoying the Kings game (they lost to the Clippers), a seemingly endless supply of appetizers (all good) and good company. I eventually moved from my beer obsession to a top shelf margarita and the night never sucked.

From here a group of students decided to go and check out the 'new bar' in town, Whiskey Wild on Q and 21st. This is where life got interesting. Walking in to this swank 20-something hangout you're immediately impressed by the line of ladies on the bar in some odd and awkward attempt to relive Coyote Ugly. Immediately feeling sad for them and their obvious unease at this part of their job, I wasn't sure this place and me would work too well together - it was crowded, it was loud and I just wasn't convinced they'd have a drink for me. I was wrong.

Turns out there's three sections to this bar, thankfully. The front features ladies with low-cut shirts and men with low hanging pants, each trying to act as if nobody notices anybody and nobody cares (man, I'm so happy not to be in that life anymore). The back bar is quieter, seemingly made for the 30-something crowd I am now part of, with couples and groups of friends all gathered around enjoying conversations and good drinks (more on that soon). Finally, there's an outdoor patio that was underutilized on this cold night in Sacramento, a place of solace for me as I regained some hearing in my blasted ears.

Then, there's the drinks. Turns out this place has some pretty high end whiskey and tequila and a very impressive offering of bottled beer. Now, I know I don't know what constitutes a good whiskey or a fine tequila, so my assumptions are based on price and my own limited experience. For whiskey, it was a bit of a surprise to see Bookers available for sipping or adding to top shelf drinks, and that wasn't cheap. However, at this point my interest was back to beer - which surprised no one.

A bottle of Full Sail Session? Good start. Alaskan IPA on tap? Even better. Green Flash's West Coast IPA in a bottle, better yet. Now, I only ordered the West Coast IPA, mainly because I didn't want to overdo a fun night with friends, but it was good to know that a place like this didn't forget about the good beers of the world. Oh, just so you know, there was a lot more beer and many more good options to choose from.

How was the night? For my tastes, I don't plan on hitting Hangar 17 anytime soon, but Whiskey Wild could be a good place to meet friends on nights when quiet and calm are not on the menu, but good times and good drinks are.