Draft Magazine is a nationally published magazine focused beer culture. They have been around since 2006, sometimes featuring celebrities on their covers. All in all, its not the nerds guide to beer. Its more of a sassy celebration of all things barley pop.
Don’t let my description drive you away. Draft Magazine is good. In fact, all 3 of the Beer Blotter writers are subscribers. We enjoy the fact that Draft presents a global expose on happenings in the beer world. Its really a good way to locate beer venues from around the world.
Just this week, Draft released its annual Top 100 beer bars list. This list is sorted geographically into 4 regions. I was afraid that they were attempting to force options for each of these regions, but it appears that the selections are not equally divided (for example, the Northeast has many more than the South). So, it appears that the choices are without prejudice.
In scouring the list, I was very pleased to see places like Avenue Pub (New Orleans), Apex (Portland), Blind Lady Alehouse (San Diego) and our very own Monk’s hole – The Stumbling Monk (Seattle).
But, one cannot peruse the list without finding their own list of absentees. While less deserving pubs made it (i.e. Cooter Browns (New Orleans), Green Dragon (Portland), McNulty’s Bier Markt (Cleveland)), some of the nation’s most celebrated beer venues are missing.
While that absentee list will differ for each of us, here are my Top 5 Absentees:
- Brouwers Cafe (Seattle) – They must have pissed off a Draft Magazine writer. Many of us know that Brouwers can sometimes rub the wrong way (and its been stated by commenters here on the site), but there is no better selection of ale in the NW. Brouwers routinely procures 60 taps of rare beer, one of the best bottle lists in the country and an unprecedented number of unmatched in-house beer festivals (See Sour Fest, Hopfest, Big Wood, and Hard Liver). Again, they must have pissed someone off.
- Bangers & Lace (Chicago) – This might simply be too early for Draft to call this place a winner. But, Bangers & Lace has quickly ascended to the top of the Chicago beer world. Presenting an unmatched selection of rare beer, along with phenomenal food, B&L deserves a spot. Guest writer For Whom the Bell Toales agrees that this is the #1 beer venue in Chi-town.
- Small Bar (San Diego) – Ok Ok, they got it mostly right. Hamilton’s Tavern, Blind Lady Alehouse, and O’Brien’s Pub should all be on the list. But, Small Bar gives that Top 3 a run for their money. Mixing a spectacular beer selection with epic food and spunky surroundings, I think it deserved a spot above many of the LA selections.
- Brew Kettle (Strongsville, OH) – Draft picked one of the many Cleveland suburb favorites – Buckeye Beer Engine. But, I think they got the wrong one. The Brew Kettle blends an incredible draft lineup (thank god for the connection with Founders), house made ales, and some spectactular bar grub. Get drunk enough? Go brew a batch in the back. Beyond that – its just a cool dark place to grab a beer.
- New York’s Forgotten Trio – Ginger Man, Mug’s Alehouse and d.b.a. (NY, NY) – They picked a lot of NY spots. I can understand that its pretty tough to run into your editor’s office and say we picked the Top 100 – 20 of them are in NY. Its a tough job to pick between the excellent spots in NYC. In my mind, they got the top 3 on the list – Rattle N Hum, Blind Tiger and Spuyten Duyvil. Those three are iconic, and the three places that I spend the most time while in NY. But, the above three all deserve a shot at the list. The Ginger Man is just a few blocks from Rattle N Hum – many would say its the cooler bar. Mug’s is tucked away in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But unlike the uber-hipster crowd at Spuyten Duyvil, you will find comfort at this grog spot. d.b.a. is the lone East Village fave. d.b.a. has been pouring beer for a long time and has an excellent wide spread selection.
I will say, writing the Top 5 absentees was pretty tough. All in all they did a great job finding the appropriate bars. The Top 100 is a worthy list and you should take a glance.
What else is missing!?
On to the next saga in our “Top 5 Lists” column. We won’t stop until we hit all of the cities we have visited since our beer mania spawned. There are quite a bit of cities – we travel often.
Again, lets revisit the rules and disclaimer:
This will be a quick rundown of the 5 places that we would tell you to visit, if you happened across one of these fair cities. The reason that we want to do this is that we have been getting a lot of inquiries from readers who are simply traveling and want to know where to find beer mecca. The goal is to put this on the site in an easy to read format, cataloged for viewing at any time.
First, the rules:
- We go places because we want, not because someone asked. I cannot stress this enough. We were never enticed to these places by promises of freebies, attention, pats on the back or back room happy endings – we just went because we heard the word.
- We cannot be everywhere. Typically when we visit a city, its for a few days only. This severely limits what we can visit. If there is a critically-acclaimed otherworldly place that we did not make it to, we will try and asterisk it in the Top 5 list so that you know it exists.
- We are not millionaires. Wow, bet you could have guessed that one. We cannot purchase the best of the best all of the time. This limits what we might get out of a particular venue. Just want you to know.
- We like all types of places. These lists are not “beer bar” centric – far from it. In fact, you may find places that make you shake your head. But, if they have the total package of beer, character, service, food and aura – they get the mark.
- We try to poll our choices, but sometimes there is bias. There are 3 primary writers for BeerBlotter.com. We always try to discuss what we like best and poll our choices. Unfortunately, you cannot do it all the time because we are all not at the same places at the same time. As the variables change, so do our opinions. Thus, you might get some choices that are filled with bias. Again, just a warning.
Ok, now that we are through with the rules, lets move on to the Top 5 list for New Orleans, Louisiana.
New Orleans, LA.
- Visits: Man oh man. We have been here many times. The most recent being May 2009, July 2009, and October 2009.
- Area Brewers of Note: Not too many. A recent growth has significantly expanded the list – Abita Brewing, Nola Brewing, Lazy Magnolia Brewery (MS), Heiner Brau, Parish Brewing Co., and to some extent Dixie Brewing Co (though now made up in Wisconsin)
- Town Favorite: There is only one actual brewery in NOLA – Nola Brewing Co. They make some tasty beer. But the town favorite continues to be Abita Brewing Co., who makes beer up north about 45 minutes in Abita Springs. Read more about them below!
- The Top 5…..
Honorable Mentions – Generally a brewery and a beer store make it into the Top 5. Unfortunately, New Orleans lacks a Top 5 brewery to visit that is in New Orleans. As for bottle stores – almost non-existent.
NOLA Brewing (New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing) is emerging and the staff is incredible, but its not a “place to go drink a beer” (unless there are changes since 2009). Abita Brewing is a very cool place, and probably would have made the list if it rested within the boundaries of New Orleans (NOLA). Abita is out in Abita Springs, about 45 minutes north of NOLA, close to gator farms, swamps and back country Louisiana. Its a very good visit.
In the past, Abita had a self-serving tasting room! You’d guzzle endless beer in preparation for a brewery tour that began and ended in the beer room. Great fun. Since then, Abita invested quite a bit in making an incredible taproom. Their beer selection has expanded as well – including an IPA, Satsuma Ale and now….an Imperial Stout (would love to try that). If you visit, make sure to hit both the brewery and the pub, where you can sample some bottled ales and decent NOLA food.
Bottle Shop. There is only one that can be mentioned: Steins Market & Deli, 2207 Magazine, Lower Garden District. At Stein’s, you can find bottles from Brooklyn Brewing, Harpoon Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin, St. Somewhere and breweries across Belgium. If you don’t make it to Stein’s – Whole Foods (Magazine St) is not too bad and generally has some Brooklyn beers.
Now on to the Top 5…..
#5 -Turtle Bay -1119 Decatur St., French Quarter
This place makes it for a combination of good tap selection and excellent location. The place is located beside or across the street from three of our favorite places in New Orleans – Molly’s at the Market (excellent cocktails, incredible culture), Coops Place (our favorite restaurant in the city) and Fiorella’s (best fried chicken in the city).
But lets talk about Turtle Bay. Nothing flashy, but the same great edgy, back of the quarter, atmosphere that you expect from the Decatur bars. Turtle Bay has about 24 taps, including most of the best from the LA/MS scene. While we were there we had a NOLA Brewing Hopitoulas IPA and a Lazy Magnolia Sweet Potato Stout. These are our two favorite New Orleans beers.
Hopitoulas IPA is lightly bitter with a wonderfully delightful sweetness that has you coming back for more. The beer is named for New Orleans’ famed Tchoupitoulas Avenue that runs from downtown to uptown.
Lazy Magnolia’s Jefferson Sweet Potato Stout is typically poured on nitro and served as a sweet, creamy stout. The beer has a light smokey flavor with an incredible smoothness. A very good late fall beer in New Orleans.
Back to the place – it does the job. Go there and start up with a few beers. Head next door to Coops for their famous jambalaya, grab a few pieces of fried chicken at Fiorella’s and then head to Molly’s for an after drink cocktail. After that – head to Frenchmen Street…..more on that later.
#4 – The Bulldog – 3236 Magazine St., Garden District
This place is perpetually on the “must visit” list for beer bars in New Orleans. Its not our favorite, but its one of the original beer bars in the city, with one of the largest tap lists.
The thing that holds Bulldog back in our mind is that though they have a ton of taps, they are generally stuffed full of international macrobrews and beers that would not interest the beer aficionado. I do not want to dog the Bulldog (no pun intended), but the atmosphere here is directed towards college students and young professionals. Its more of a party joint – which is fine by us. We have had amazing times there over the years.
But, the Bulldog stays up here on the list for a combination of a few things. First, they are brilliantly located in the heart of Magazine’s bar district, walking distance to other entertaining watering holes. Second, they have really good food. Try the wings and any of their sandwiches. Finally, they do have an incredible outdoor seating area right on Magazine St. This has been the perfect spot to watch Magazine parades over the years.
Stop by and grab something from Abita on tap. Check the bottle list as well. Its pretty substantial.
#3 – Cooter Browns – 509 S Carrollton Ave., Uptown
Oh baby. Cooter’s is a lot like The Bulldog. Classic Uptown bar, extensive taps and bottle list, and even better food. Its probably the #1 spot on most “must visit” lists.
But unlike The Bulldog this one passes all our tests. The crowd can be strange, but the space is large and you are certainly never bothered. The tap selection is impressive, typically carrying everything that Abita, Lazy Magnolia and NOLA Brewing each offer. Their bottle list is the most extensive in the city. If for some reason you aren’t intrigued by any of their 50+ taps, you will find something in their bottle cooler, which generally has a few hundred selections, including many European ales.
The best part about Cooter Browns is the extensive and tasty food. Cooter’s is one of the only places in Uptown where you can have oysters on the half shell. Not only are their oysters affordable and delicious, but they come with the full gamut of toppings.
Head to the ordering space off the front and grab one of their famous po boy sandwiches. A favorite is the crawfish pie po boy, filled with two deep fried crawfish pies, gravy and all the fixins.
Stop by Cooters for any sporting event. They have about 12 large screen plasmas and a projector for New Orleans and LSU games. Its the perfect place for a mid-day beer stop.
#2 – d.b.a. - 618 Frenchman St., Marigny
#1 and #2 were very close, but for the wrong reasons. Since beer is the focus, I think this order is best.
d.b.a is a close #2 for one major reason – its on Frenchmen St. Frenchmen is the center of the musical universe in New Orleans. Besides having some of the most incredible music you will ever hear, the bars are also incredibly alive and filled with the culture that you expect to see in New Orleans. We spent many a day on Frenchmen during our times down there.
d.b.a is also one of probably three bars on Frenchmen that have music almost every night; and boy do they have music. This used to be the frequent home of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers (Now Cottonmouth Kings), and we have seen many impressive national blues and folk acts travel through those doors over the years.
On to the beer. d.b.a. New Orleans is the follow up to its sister bar in the East Village of NYC. The New Orleans version has typically slacked behind in the beer realm, but it seems to have a growing tap list. In the past two years, we have noticed that they are being more creative with what fills the taps. Now you will see Harpoon Leviathan Imperial IPA, Stone Smoked Porter, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine, Lazy Magnolia Pecan Brown, and Nola Hopitoulas.
During our last visit we saw an impressive swing band over a couple Leviathan Imperial IPAs. If you visit, check out Frenchmen extensively. Visit the Apple Barrel and the Spotted Cat, both icons seen in the HBO series, Treme. Also, try a bite at the authentic Japanese Izakaya (tavern), Yuki. Hint: get the beef tongue and mini fried crabs.
#1 – Avenue Pub - 1732 St. Charles Ave., Lower Garden District
Avenue Pub is situated in a rather unknown area on St. Charles up from downtown. Its essentially a place that visitors do not find. For these reasons, it had to be amazing to unseat d.b.a. for #1 on our list – it is.
Avenue Pub has the best of both worlds: the best beer selection and the best bar food of any place on the list. What makes it so head and shoulders above the rest is its creative beer and food menus.
The beer selection rivals that of your typical NW and NE beer bars. Its diverse, style-fulfilling, and unique to the area. They have a great relationship with Stone, who gives them vintage ales for their taps. They also have a cask on some days, and other beer events that are impressive. While we were there they had a Amarillo dry-hopped version of Hopitoulas on cask.
Their bottle list includes some favorites from Mikkeller and Brooklyn. They have approximately 50 selections in the bottle, and none of them are beers to frown upon.
Their food is almost as unique. The bar operates J’anita’s, a tiny kitchen/stand connected to the backside of the bar top. J’anita’s menu requires a double take. It has some items you would never think to see on a bar menu. Lets go over a few favorties…..
Buddha’s Temptation – bleu cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped, deep fried apricots!?!
Crunchy Duck Balls - duck breast rolled in Panko and fried, served with berry chipotle sauce.
Beach Sammich – blackened redfish, spicy slaw, and ceaser on a toasted ciabatta.
Swamp Reuben – this isnt anything amazingly weird, but its the best reuben we’ve ever had. Lose the pastrami, this one comes with pulled pork or beef brisket.
St. Chuck Duck – grilled sourdough w/ currant tapenade, topped with chedder and bleu cheese, over cabernet sauteed duck and granny smith apples. Wow.
Sweet Spot – Cabernet soaked burger with caramelized onions, pears, bleu cheese and balsamic reduction.
Got your appetite going yet? Whats cool about Avenue Pub is that they feed you normal pub grub – something you might get a hankering for after your 12th po boy, 6th bowl of gumbo, 4th order of jambalaya and 35th friend crawfish/crab/shrimp/fish.
Oh yes, we don’t want to forget to tell you about the balcony. Avenue Pub is right along the streetcar line. Their rooftop balcony peers over St. Charles and the streetcar as its passes you by every 20-30 minutes.
Go and grab some Buddha’s temptation over a Jefferson Stout. Love life.
Live in New Orleans? Know the area? Hate something we wrote? Let us know below in our comments, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.