Exploring the San Diego beer scene, part 2

Yesterday we posted an article about our recent trip to San Diego, where the weather disappointed us but the beer did not. This is part two of that story.

Hitting the Beach

Day One, continued:

After visiting Stone Brewing, Ballast Point Brewing and AleSmith Brewing, we checked into our hotel in San Diego’s Pacific Beach neighborhood.

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We stayed at the Ocean Park Inn on Pacific Beach. The boardwalk is right outside your door and the sand is only steps away. Nothing on the beach is cheap, but this was really quite affordable. Our room had a balcony with an ocean view, though they did not consider it one of their ocean view rooms. We paid about $160 per night. We could have spent a lot more and gotten less. The room was clean and comfortable. Not fancy, but nothing to complain about. The staff was friendly and helpful.

The ocean view from our non-view room.

It did not take long for us to discover that the Pacific Beach Alehouse was right across the street from our hotel. Yes, this is a brew pub. Yes, we tried all of their beers. They also pour beer from other breweries. When the clock struck ten, the crowd reminded me of Seattle’s Pioneer Square on a Saturday night. I saw the bouncers checking a lot of IDs. I felt very old and sought refuge in a delicious pint of Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA.

The Toronado San Diego

Day Two:

Saturday morning we woke up filled with a spirit of adventure. Recognizing that the day had delivered a brief respite from the monsoon, we took a lovely stroll on the beach. We then hopped in the car and explored San Diego a bit. Basically, killing time until the Toronado opened.

Toronado San Diego taps.

If you’ve been to the original Toronado in San Francisco, one of the most notorious beer bars on the west coast, you will immediately notice one thing missing at the Toronado San Diego: the attitude. Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t. Suffice it to say that in San Diego the bartender actually does suffer fools. You will not get smacked upside the head if you ask for a Stella. You won’t get a Stella, but you won’t get verbally assaulted either.

This was our first real venture into San Diego’s blossoming beer culture and we received a glorious, full-immersion baptism in beer as only the Toronado can provide. We arrived at about noon and sat at the bar next to a couple of locals. They told us that they’d been there since the joint opened at 11:30 and were disappointed when they arrived at 11:15 and found the place still locked up. They were great guys and shared a lot of information with us.

Friendly people at the bar.

We learned that the Toronado San Diego is in a part of town called North Park, a neighborhood that would not tolerate a bartender with a surly attitude. Apparently San Diego’s North Park is demographically similar to Seattle’s Capitol Hill: it’s a colorful and friendly part of town, known for boutique shops and fine dining.

Our familiarity with the original Toronado meant that our expectations were high. We were not disappointed. You’ll find 32 draft selections and two beer engines waiting for you. The beer selection was… well, it was perfect. Unlike the original, this iteration of the Toronado has a kitchen.

Blind Lady Alehouse and Brewery

We left the Toronado and headed for Blind Lady Alehouse. Located just 1.5 miles away from the Toronado, the Blind Lady is on Adams Avenue in a part of town that reminded us of Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. Here we hooked up with a friend, Kim Tate (a.k.a. Tater), who recently relocated to San Diego. Yes, there’s a reason I told you that.

Beers on the bar at the Blind Lady Alehouse.

Awesome pizza, kickass beer and totally packed at 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon is how I’d describe the Blind Lady. One of the owners of the Blind Lady Alehouse is Lee Chase, the brewer at Automatic Brewing. While they have a lot of other beer on tap, you kind of get the feeling that the Blind Lady Alehouse is sort of like Automatic Brewing’s brewpub. In fact, Lee was there working behind the bar when we visited.

Lee Chase was kind enough to come out from behind the bar to talk about his brewery and share information about the San Diego beer scene. Although the place was packed, and there were plenty of things he could have been doing, he was very generous with his time. As I mentioned, a friend who had recently moved to San Diego joined us at the Blind Lady. She is young, she is blond, and even by Southern California’s standards, the Tater is hot. That may or may not have had something to do with Lee’s willingness to entertain us for so long. (Sorry Lee, likely the only brewers she’d be interested in play baseball in Milwaukee.)

The Blind Lady should be high on your list of San Diego beer destinations. Ask about the vast collection of vintage beer cans. It’s very impressive and there is a story behind it. One of the most impressive collections I have ever seen.

The Small Bar

This is a relatively new bar in San Diego’s University Heights neighborhood, a new joint from the owner of San Diego’s Hamilton’s Tavern (which we missed hitting because they weren’t open yet when we drove by). There is nothing small about the beer selection. The Small Bar boasts over 40 beers on tap. Compared to the relaxed, comfy atmosphere at the Toronado and the pizza-hall, almost familyish atmosphere at the Blind Lady, the Small Bar is hip and cool.

The rain. Very familiar to us, but terrifying to the locals.

We arrived and found the Small Bar packed with people of every age and description. When Kim made her way through the crowd to the bar to fetch our beers, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting next to me. “It usually doesn’t get this packed until later,” he explained, “It’s because of the weather.”

A hip and cool bar, in a "great beer selection" kind of way.

It all started to make sense. That’s why all these places were so packed on a Saturday afternoon. This was, after all, the height of San Diego’s two-day monsoon season. These people were paralyzed by the rain. It’s probably all they can do to wander out of their houses and up the street to the local pub. The only reason the Tater was able to make it across town to join us at the Blind Lady was because she’s a Seattle transplant. It all made sense.

To be honest, though we really appreciated the vast selection of beer and the place seemed pretty cool, it was too crowded for our comfort. Also, the music was loud—I’m talking club volume. Although they have great beer, the Small Bar was perhaps a bit too young and hip for our taste. Maybe we just caught them at a bad time.

Tapping into the Taproom

Later that evening, after a bit of downtime, we ventured out of our hotel room and took a short walk up the street to the Taproom. As I described earlier, you’re at Pacific Beach and you have to deal with the Pacific Beach crowd. The Taproom makes it very much worth your while.

The Taproom - Amazing beer selection near the beach.

Not only does the Taproom have over 40 beers on tap, they lean heavily towards local craft beer. They do something at the Taproom that is especially valuable to wayfaring beer gypsies like us. Not only did they have AleSmith on tap, they had four AleSmith beers on tap. Furthermore, they had five offerings from Green Flash, four from Karl Strauss, five from Ballast Point and… you get my point. This is the place to go if you want to sample a lot of different beer from local breweries.

The crowd was young and rowdy, but they all seemed friendly enough. The Taproom offers a kind of a sports bar atmosphere. No doubt many of the patrons were opting for the lighter bodied beers on the menu, but we liked the Taproom.

Hasta Luego, San Diego!

The next day we woke up impossibly early, needing to be in Long Beach by 10:00 a.m. Our visit to San Diego seemed like a whirlwind—like a beautiful beer tornado sucked us up for a couple of days. We loved San Diego and look forward to going back and picking up the pieces. There’s so much we did not see: Green Flash, Lost Abbey, and Alpine, to name just a few.

One comment

  1. the taproom is awesome because it’s walkable from mission beach, and because of their website. they have all the kegs listed, how much is left in each keg, and what’s coming up after the keg blows. i wish every place did that!

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