CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 2 San Fernando Valley Pubs
The Blue Dog Tavern, 4524 Saugus Avenue, Sherman Oaks, California
Tony's Darts Away, 1710 West Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, California
Recently I made another visit to my home country of America. Although most of the 3 weeks was spent with my family in Long Beach, California, I did make it out to sample some pubs in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Considering I was highly impressed on my last visit 2 years ago to discover that Southern California brewers have finally figured out what they're doing, I was looking very forward to some new pint explorations.
One day I took the Metro Rail up to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Here I met my fellow brewpub adventurer Mistah Rick, who had driven down from the Bay Area. After taking in a bit of the local architecture and industrial archaeology, we headed with our thirsts up to the southern end of the San Fernando Valley.
Having grown up in Long Beach, whose name rightly suggests that it's along the coast, I used to think of "The Valley" as a hot, dry, flat place devoid of interesting features. And when the film Valley Girl came out in 1983, not only making Nicholas Cage a star but propelling valleyspeak into the modern tongue of the entire English-speaking world, I still wasn't impressed. It was when I first befriended Mistah Rick, who grew up in Glendale, that I realised the Valley spawned some very worthwhile things -- and people, of course.
Our first stop was the Blue Dog Tavern in Sherman Oaks. One of the first Valley communities to experience intensive real estate development, Sherman Oaks is named after General Moses Mazeltine Sherman, a land developer famous for building the Phoenix Street Railway in Phoenix, Arizona. The only occasion I'd ever had to visit Sherman Oaks was years ago when I was coerced into attending a Jewish singles' party at a huge suburban house. Although the Blue Dog pub itself started life as a 1940s California bungalow that was used as a doctor's office, when we walked in we sensed no trace of either suburban party snacks or surgical equipment. The walls are covered with photos of dogs, the vast majority of them not of a blue colour. I read later in a local weekly that the Blue Dog was "voted the top 10 sports bars in Los Angeles". Although the pub seems quite small for being described in the plural, it did have 6 TVs screening sports, thankfully with the sound turned off.
It was lunchtime and the pub was very crowded. I had a pint of Green Flash West Coast IPA (7.3% ABV, Green Flash Brewing Company, San Diego, CA), and Rick had a pint of Colette Farmhouse Ale (7.3% ABV, Great Divide Brewing, Denver, CO), served in an 8-ounce glass. A Belgian Saisson style brew, the Farmhouse Ale tasted like silky bananas, or a super banana smoothie filtered through silk stockings. My pint elicited a Yezzzza! from me. From my last visit to California I recognised that familiarly great taste in a 16-ounce pint. Yes, make mine a Green Flash IPA. (Perhaps I should be Green Flash's advertising manager...)
Our lunches were good as well. Passing on the "hand-formed" burgers served on grilled artisan potato buns, the giant sandwiches, and the hand-cut fries, I had a very nice Caesar salad made with Tabasco sauce and Rick had a vegan Spa salad that was very colourful and fresh. According to the pub's website, since it opened in 2009 over half a million meals have been served. I would be more interested to find out how many pints have been poured. With 8 taps featuring a regular rotation of California, Oregon, and European beers, I imagine a local micro fancier could rack up an impressive score.
After our lunch we headed closer to Rick's old neck of the woods. Situated north of the Hollywood Hills and west of the Verdugo Woodlands, Burbank is famous for its entertainment industry connections, being the home of Warner Brothers, Universal, Walt Disney Studios, ABC, and Nickelodeon, as well as the Bob Hope Airport. Burbank is also the home of Tony's Darts Away, a delightfully named tavern that opened back in 1978 in the pre-microbrew days. Today Tony's offers 40 taps featuring California craft beers. No bottled beers are sold because of owner Tony Yanow's commitment to minimising the pub's environmental impact. Likewise all paper and supplies are made out of sustainably produced biodegradable materials, and all produce used is local when possible, the only exception being the vegan sausages which are imported from the Pacific Northwest.
So one can definitely relax here and enjoy a guilt-free pint, served in an oversized glass to ensure one gets a full pint. The beer menu is divided into "IPAs" and "Non IPAs". Rick and I sat at the long bar and had tastes of Smog XPA (4.8% ABV, Tustin Brewing Company, Tustin, CA) which reminded me of the view from the top of Signal Hill. It tasted like leather sandals in a new car. I thought of those old scented Crayolas and imagined a combination of the "leather" grey and the "new car" blue. We also had a taste of Habañero Sculpin (7.0% ABV, Ballast Point Brewing Co, San Diego, CA) which produced a hot bite in the back of the throat. We decided on pints of Baby Idiot (4.5% ABV, Coronado Brewing Co, Coronado, CA). Having known the people who started the Coronado Brewery, and having been disappointed with their very first brews back in 1999, I was totally impressed and gratified with what experience can do to a brewery. My god, this is a good classic American IPA. It's the nice super-American-hopped pale IPA I had been craving.
Our second pint was of Columbus IPA (7.0% ABV, Hanger 24, Redlands, CA), a nice follower to Baby Idiot. It was like a mellow person who's very fond of babies but still a good conversationalist.
As we sipped our pints we spotted the pool table and dart board at the back of the pub, which made my expat self feel a bit more at home. And as we finished our first day of Los Angeles pub crawling we both agreed that we are really quite fond of Baby Idiot.
The beer, that is...