November 12, 2008

Best Beer Bar Concepts

I've used this term before but it has relevance in the beer world: barrier to entry. The beer world can be sort of intimidating if you don't know the ropes, and often requires you to ask a lot of questions, sometimes of people that don't want to be bothered even though its to their benefit they answer them.

For whatever reason, many beer bars have this speakeasy feel where you are supposed to either know everything by the tap handles (which might be all over the bar instead of in one place, or away from where you're seated and blocked by the heads of the people sitting directly in front of handle row) or ask a million questions to find out.

I've gotten accustomed to this and rarely complain, but there's something not right about it. Sure its more social but paradoxically isn't all that inviting either.

The places I've most appreciated remove that information barrier.

For example, the bars the have an ever-updated tote board of wooden signs with the names of the beers (and their brewery) available on tap. Better yet ones that also mention the style of beer, its alcohol percentage and if it will be served in something other than a standard pint glass.

We need more of those.

In the absence of that, paperwork showing what's available. The problem with the papers is that they cost money and are out of date as soon as a new beer is added and another one removed but at least they provide the general feel for what's going on and a few simple questions can usually bring you up to speed on what is available.

I'm a huge fan of two things they do at Frisco Grille in Columbia. Number one, they post the available tap beers on their website, so ahead of time I can look them up and see if there's something I want and/or Google the items I'm less familiar with. They also do a great job of keeping that listing up to date, as its posted online the minute they take a few seconds to make a simple update in their website.

For example, I saw yesterday they had Lagunitas' Hop Stoopid on tap and made sure to trek on down there to get a pour. Maybe some of my other favorite places have an interesting item on tap, but I don't know and would rather avoid the guesswork and that makes me a less frequent customer than I could be.

Once at the restaurant, they also have a video board high on one of the walls listing what's available. It would help to also list the style and ABV, but this is already more than most places do and you can look at the board from the entire establishment if you're not sitting at the bar and still know whats available.

Those are some of the concepts I prefer in good beer establishments. What say you?


Brian P said...

You just brought up one of my biggest issues when it comes to a good beer place. Please don't make it difficult to know what's on tap. A lot of places here in Philly use the multiple chaulkboard approach which is great or at least they have a printed beer list. I want as much info as possible. Give me abv, ibu, gravity, style, type of glass, etc. All the info most beer fanatics want. Breweries/brew pubs are great at getting current info out on their websites but unless a bar truly specializes in beer you typically arn't getting updated lists online. One of my favorite places, TJ's Restaurant & Drinkery, gives a current draft list, what's on deck, bottle list by style and cellar list. It's one of the most detailed bar websites in Philly.

HowChow said...

Beer places are going to have far more success catering to the aficianado rather than the light drinker.

But, as a light drinker, I would love to be able to buy beer in less than a pint. In England, I loved the "half pours" because I sampled twice the varieties without falling down in front of co-workers. I'd pay a premium at Frisco Grille for half-pours or flights where I could try a few varieties. I can get *one* good beer in lots of places. The draw of Frisco is that it has a dozen that I want to sample.

Dwight said...

Have you seen It's great for finding craft beer and beer bars and beer events in NYC. Many of the bars that are constantly changing their draft selections update their menus on the site directly. It's started by two brothers, with a mother from Balto and one is married to a girl from Philly so it seems like those two cities may be next on the list after they figure things out in NYC. You can find the ABV and descriptions of the beers. Other features reportedly are coming.

BeerGuy said...

I haven't seen but that's another great idea, but sort of falls flat unless a majority of the key players participate and stay up to date on all of that.

Hopefully that's working really well in NYC though and I've love to see it tried in Md. Thanks!

Dwight said...

That was a big question when they started but they have 60 of the best bars updating regularly, some several times a week and they automatically send emails to the bars that haven't updated recently and that has been working too. The number of bars in NYC with a huge number of taps that change frequently is really something.

It is amazing how tough it is sometimes to discover a bar's beer menu.