For most, laying claim to three of the most widely respected craft-beer bars in a city obsessed with artisanal suds would be enough. But not for Scot Blair. The neighborhood-watering-hole mogul behind Hamilton’s Tavern, Small Bar, and Eleven decided to go from beer seller to beer producer last summer. From day one, Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery (Blair’s vehicle for doing so) has attracted a mix of thirsty East Village denizens and beerophiles to the former site of the Jewel Box to check out a line of beers that, for the most part, bucks traditional style strategy.
805 16th Street, East Village
Enjoy rarities such as an Oatmeal Pale Ale (when’s the last time you heard oatmeal without the word stout?) or Monkey Gose Bananas, a sour brewed with water salted to match that of the region of Germany from which the ancient gose style originates. It’s a low-frills environ that, with its communal seating and faux-stained-glass windows in brewing-inspired scenes, can feel like the church of craft beer.
With both his beer and his bars, Blair’s all about filling voids. Geographically, Monkey Paw brings a social center to the easternmost expanses of East Village, an area in need of such a business. From a beer perspective, the quaffs that Blair and brewer Derek Freese work up bring lesser-found flavors that drinkers can’t readily find in San Diego County. That’s saying something.
The variety, along with Monkey Paw’s come-as-you-are-and-drink-what-you-like tone, lures in beer drinkers yet discourages irritating beer-geek behavior. Crowded or sparsely populated — you never know which to expect — you’ll find regulars holding down stools and mowing on Philly cheesesteaks while drinking pints from a tap list over two dozen handles strong.
Monkey Paw succeeds in providing quality without pomp and glitter. Whether you’re there to chill, play beer connoisseur, socialize, get a snack, or party, you’ll stumble in happy and stumble out even happier.
— Brandon Hernández
13670 Poway Road, Poway
(No longer in business.)
Company Pub and Kitchen
Company Pub just celebrated its one-year anniversary — awesome food (try the Fish n’ Chips and Lamb Lollipops), a wide tap selection, and the owner’s British accent make this a great place for beer and grub. Every Tuesday night, starting at 7:30, patrons test their knowledge of useless facts: prizes are awarded. Happy hour (3:00–6:00 p.m.) is a steal, with $2 discounts on all Pub Bites. Come hang out on the patio, on the lively bar-side, or in a cozy booth. Be patient: the kitchen is small, so food won’t hit the table quickly.
1220 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego
(No longer in business.)
Downtown Johnny Brown's
Claiming to be the first craft-beer bar in town (and the first to carry Arrogant Bastard), this hidden Civic Center pub has a lot to live up to. The lovechild of a sports bar and an Irish dive, Johnny Brown’s walls are spackled with old license plates, football photos, and flatscreens streaming sports to a mixed salad of professionals, Civic Theatre crowds, sports fans, and tap hounds. Living up to the legend, the bar’s 17 rotating taps host pilsners, wheats, IPAs, and other microbrews, which go for $3 as the featured Pint of the Day.
3519 El Cajon Boulevard, City Heights
(No longer in business.)
The crowd at this musical epicenter fluctuates based on the giggers du noir, but one thing’s always the same. Whether head-bobbing groovers or head-banging rockers, not a single spectator crowded around the stage will ever be seen hoisting a Coors Light. It’s every bit as much about the beer as it is the tunes — an ideology carried over from flagship sister operation, Hamilton’s Tavern.
1521 30th Street, South Park
This neighborhood bar in South Park is beloved for its craft-beer selection. Each month, they hosts several cask events, often featuring new beers. When Ballast Point or Stone reveal a specialized brew at Hamilton’s, it’s best to arrive early. South Park locals, craft-beer devotees, and mariachis (who always know what’s up) frequent the bar. The place gets full and everybody is friendly — probably because they’re drinking some of the best beer in the world.
1801 Morena Boulevard, Bay Park
At this neighborhood watering hole, Bay-Parkers, burger addicts, and beer nerds mingle in the night amid an always-stocked tap list, jalapeño-stuffed patties, and wall-to-wall kitsch. Take a seat around a pinball machine pressed into service as a table. Behold the nostalgic eye candy that is the wall of retro lunchboxes. Grab a pint and some pine and feed off the convivial, inviting crowd and decadent, unpretentious menu.
2218 Cable Street, Ocean Beach
OB Noodle House
Ballgames and B movies of the martial-arts kind fill a screen which also serves as the chief light source above the bar. Stool-sitters from all walks of life slurp up bowls of pho and knock down pints and chalices of everything from gueuzes and dopplebocks to saisons and double IPAs. There’s almost always a line leading into this crowded house.
4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
A strip-mall on Convoy Street in Kearny Mesa is where this small pub/oasis resides. Twenty local, domestic, and Belgian craft beers are available on tap, and the quality of bottled beers is unsurpassed for miles. A collection of personal mugs hangs behind the bar; many must belong to the loyal, older locals who take refuge here during the day. The evening crowd is eclectic — there are some rehearsal spaces nearby. The sport of choice is soccer. The bar opens and closes earlier than most: 11:00 a.m.–10:30 p.m. on Monday; 11:00 a.m.–11:30 p.m. Tuesday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m.–midnight on Friday; 11:30 a.m.–midnight on Saturday; 11:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m. on Sunday.
830 Kline Street, La Jolla
Public House La Jolla
Forty-three taps, 350 bottles — the winning is easy when the math’s so clear. Public House La Jolla is small, with primarily outdoor seating under heat lamps, but none of the nearly 400 beers are typical watery domestics. It’s not a super-hip, urban joint, but a place filled with ordinary folks, vacationers, and locals. Beer is served in the proper glass, and the staff knows the answer to whatever question you might ask. Hit them up during happy hour for $2-off drafts and half-price appetizers, or come on Tuesday’s 2-for-1 burger night, or take flight with their “80 beers in 80 days” club.
3659 India Street #101, Mission Hills
Youthful urbanites and veteran barflies swarm to this low-frills joint and rush the counter. The dim, cavernous space provides anonymity for gorging on strong ales and 20-percent bacon Hungarian Kolbasz from local frankery T&H Prime Meats. An outdoor deck is the perfect spot to enjoy the nightly sausage fest with a side of people-watching.
4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights
A color palate — black, red, brown, and gold — sums up this intimate-by-design neighborhood bar. Elbow-to-elbow late-night crowds enjoy an extensive selection of brown liquor and liquid gold (in the form of exceptional craft-beer offerings) amid a scarlet glow that bounces off bottles, glasses, and the shiny, happy faces of the young and the inebriated. Many of these will return for the hangover-curing brunch fare on weekends.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido
When asking a handful of Stone employees what they’d most like readers to know, without hesitation they said, “We have the most attractive staff.” Yes, these folks are humble, indeed. But the brewery boys want us to know that they really are here to help, and that this isn’t fast food. They believe the menu’s gotten a bad rep because people “don’t understand it.” Everything here is local, organic, and fresh, designed for pairing with Stone’s beer offerings. Foodwise, employees suggest the BLT or Tilapia Ceviche. Also worth checking out: Wednesday-night movies in the garden.
Tasca de la Sexta
Think TJ’s cerveza culture begins with Corona and ends with Tecate? Think again. Baja is home to dozens of craft breweries, many of which are putting out beer as good as (in some cases, better than) U.S. breweries. Test drive a Belgian-style tripel brewed in Guadalajara, or an anise-heavy imperial stout made mere miles from this Zona Centro bar within a bar. Hopheads make the pilgrimage to TJ just to get an early sip of this burgeoning suds scene.
1108 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Union Kitchen & Tap
Family-friendly, even a bit dull by day, once the sun goes down, this gastropub transforms into one of Highway 101’s most lively spots. Singles (aged roughly 20–40) enjoy matchmaking, upscale pub bites, and deal-sealing liquid courage in the form of local craft beer. This reclaimed-chic “meet” market overflows with energy and libido.
16761 Bernardo Center Drive, Rancho Bernardo
Farm-to-table food (via chef Marc Liautard), the largest tap list in North County, and a boastful list of 100 bottled beers — need I say more? Urge features an intimate bar, a private dining room, and a cozy patio, but this is not a top social spot, maybe because they close shop at midnight. Bring a friend or two and grab a stool. Bartenders can make recommendations about the overwhelming options. No rowdy drunkards or loud music, just a mix of customers and a staff that really knows its beer. August 3 is Urge’s second anniversary: there’s likely to be suds flowing off the handle and special surprises.
2103 El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights
This venerable bar is hitting the big two-zero this year. It’s got a little Ponce de Leon thing going on — the place has remained lovably straightforward and quintessentially blue collar while the world outside keeps on spinning.
As the longest tenured of its regular clientele can attest, the craft-beer program — intact longer than most beer bars have been in existence — has eluded the time warp, advancing with trends and remaining a local standout.
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