A View From the Golden Gate
Some cities have charm, some have beauty and some make you come back again and again. San Francisco has all of those attributes. To paraphrase an old lyric, you really can leave your heart in San Francisco.
It’s a sentimental place for us. It was one of the first cities we explored after we got married. No matter how many times we visit, there’s still a long list of things to do, or see, on top of the things to do one more time. When the Giants built a new ballpark, another trip became a must. Long-time readers should be familiar with our love of baseball and our quest to visit every ballpark in the nation.
So put on your Beer Traveling shoes, we have a lot of ground to cover. Luckily, the Bay Area has excellent, affordable public transportation. Let’s begin at the 21st Amendment Brewery (563 2nd St.), located less than three blocks from the AT&T Park, where the Giants play. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a couple of beers before and after a game. We found both the brewery and the large, adjacent patio overflowing with fans.
The 21st Amendment’s clean and modern interior fits perfectly into the surrounding industrial area that’s undergoing revitalization. Just beyond the entrance is a horseshoe-shaped bar, followed by a large dining area. Make yourself comfortable and order from their full range of beers and extensive menu.
This establishment has joined the growing list of breweries now also canning their brew. In fact, before games their patio sells cans exclusively—both from “21A” and several other breweries. The chalkboard is one of the most interesting we’ve ever seen. It not only lists the canned selections, but also displays the cans themselves.
High Times in the Haight
Not far from the Moscone Center, and within walking distance of the cable car turnaround off Market Street, you’ll find the Thirsty Bear Brewing Co. (661 Howard St.). Located in a historic building, it too has a modern feel—high brick walls contrasted with blonde wood tables and metal chairs. It’s certified organic and also claims to be the first brewery restaurant to serve a Spanish menu.
A rich aroma of malts greets you at the door. You’ll find the beer menu displayed on framed chalkboards hanging on the back bar, and the brewing equipment is visible from the dining room. There are normally nine beers on tap, two of which are seasonal. Thirsty Bear also taps a cask every Tuesday. We ordered a Meyer E.S.B. and Kozlov Stout, both on nitro, and thoroughly enjoyed each.
People of a certain age still associate the Haight-Ashbury district with the‘ counterculture movement of the ‘60s. We even overheard a lady from Texas asking people waiting at a bus stop on Market Street: “How can I get to the ‘hippie district’?” Yikes! We were tempted to say, “Set your watch back about 40 years.”
Haight is home to one of the best beer bars in America, Toronado (547 Haight St.) Hold your fire, please! We didn’t include Toronado in the last issue about beer bars because we knew we’d talk about it now. The draft list is absolutely amazing. We couldn’t even count all the tap handles because some were located inside a walk-in cooler. Suffice it to say, there are more than 40. This establishment has quite a following, so you should go in the afternoon when it’s less crowded. Besides, their happy hour is one of the most generous you’ll find anywhere.
Toronado’s beer list is on a chalkboard that hangs from the ceiling, about half way through the main bar area. From that list, we picked out a Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Ale, Kern River Just Outstanding IPA, Bear Republic Red Rye on cask, and Napa Smith Porter. At happy hour prices, they set us back just $3 a piece. Can your local match that? If it can, let us know; you have a treasure that the rest of us should know about.
We’ve seen reviews in various online sites that accuse Toronado’s staff of being—well—gruff. Their attitude fits right in with the interior, which screams, “drinking bar.” Just remember a golden rule of beer traveling—“you’re here for the beer.” Let the folks who want fruit drinks with umbrellas move on to somewhere else while you have another round.
When you exit Toronado’s front door, turn right, keep going until you get to Masonic Avenue, and cross the street as you face north. You’re now standing in front of The Magnolia Pub& Brewery (1398 Haight St.), another great place for a beer traveler to quaff and eat. Once you’re inside, you can either find a quiet corner or make friends at the bar.
The interior has recently changed. The enormous mural is gone, and the overall feel now is artsy and rustic. There are about 10 beers on tap, plus five more on hand pull. We ordered a pale ale and a porter and found them spot-on. The staff was knowledgeable about their products, but perhaps a bit hurried. Don’t expect traditional pub grub here. Magnolia subscribes to a “Slow Food” philosophy, which means the menu has a little bit of everything—pork cracklings, charcuterie and cheese platters, braised oxtails and pizza just to name a few.
Entrepreneurs and, of course, beer lovers are familiar with the story of Fritz Maytag and his beloved Anchor Brewing (1705 Mariposa St.). The brewery offers two public tours a day, so we were lucky enough to see the operation first-hand. Once again, the city’s public transportation system didn’t disappoint: the 22 bus dropped us just three blocks from the front door. The tour lasts about two hours and is a wonderful way to spend a morning.
Every bottle label of Anchor Steam, the flagship beer, says “Made in San Francisco since 1896.” It’s been far from smooth sailing for the little brewery, though. Between the earthquakes, fires, untimely deaths of owners and Prohibition, it’s more than amazing that this little gem has survived. At least six owners have struggled keeping Anchor alive over the years. In 1965, bankruptcy was looming and the owner of one of the few remaining tap accounts mentioned Anchor’s imminent closing to Fritz, the grandson of the Maytag appliance founder. Not long afterward, Maytag bought 51 percent of the ailing operation for about the price of a car. Four years later, he acquired the rest of Anchor’s shares. In 1971, Anchor began bottling. Growth and popularity came slowly but today, its products are distributed in all 50 states. Nevertheless, at about 100,000 barrels a year, Anchor remains very much a craft brewery.
For years “steam” was a generic name for West Coast beers that were made with lager yeast but fermented at ale temperatures. There are differing opinions about why it was called “steam.” The two most popular explanations include the need to let off some of the carbon dioxide pressure, or steam, generated during the fermenting process before being able to serve the beer. Another is the appearance of “steam” rising from the shallow cooling tanks used to drop the wort temperature. In any event, “steam” is trademarked by Anchor, but the style is officially referred to as “California common.”
Our last stop is located along Memory Lane. The first brewpub we ever visited was San Francisco Brewing Co. (155 Columbus Ave.). It enjoys a fantastic location: the intersection of Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial District in a Gold Rush-era restored saloon. The brewpub has many touches from yesteryear—its mahogany bar and beveled glass back bar are stunning. Over the years we’ve found the beer quality variable. For that reason we thought long and hard about leaving it out of this story. But cooler heads prevailed: We decided to include it because of its early role in the formative years of craft beer history, as well as the Bay Area’s.
If you’ve decided to stop in, be sure to check out the custom-made copper brew kettle. But if this brewpub isn’t for you, don’t worry—you’re only a few blocks away from the Rogue Ales Public House (673 Union St.). We’ve sung Rogue’s praises in other issues, and the North Beach location won’t disappoint you.