Los Angeles has long been bereft of beer culture, but an exciting new crop of beer bars recently debuted on the Eastside. Pure Luck, in east Hollywood, is popular with bike messengers and mechanics who donate their time across the street at Bicycle Kitchen. Mitchell Frank, who runs the area’s two most influential music clubs – Spaceland and The Echo – has partnered on El Prado in emerging Echo Park. Blue Palms Brewhouse just opened adjacent to the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. Still, the Eastside’s best beer selection is probably found on an inconspicuous stretch of residential Glassell Park, at Verdugo Bar.
In November 2007, Kyle Bilowitz, Brandon Bradford, Cherith Spicer and Ryan Sweeney partnered on Verdugo Bar, named for its street address. The bar used to be a dive bar called the Kopper Keg, but any hints of “dive” are long gone, unless you include the community pool down the block.
Outside, an illuminated “COCKTAILS” sign is the only clue that you’re in the right place. Inside, there’s a beautiful S-shaped wood bar, twin flat screens showing obscure movies like “Dynomite” and our evening’s entertainment – Johnny Depp in “Dead Man.” There are dark leather booths against the opposite wall, which sports diamond shaped wood wall hangings and a triptych of screens featuring stenciled branches. An exhibition window showcases the nightly DJ. There’s a room further back that serves as a lounge, with more branch-themed art, and clusters of actual branches. Out back, there’s a patio with plenty of seating and a ping-pong table that’s known to host some fierce beer pong tournaments.
Verdugo offers cocktails, but the real reason to come is for their 20 rotating beers on draft and the varied bottled list. We ordered four different draft beers, including a sky-high weizen glass designed specifically to host German wheat beers. This glass hosted a summery Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan Hefe Weiss, a hefeweizen from the world’s oldest brewery, founded in 1040 by Benedictine monks. “Staatsbrauerei” is a Bavarian state run brewery. That’s anonymous ale on the left. On the right: a glass of warm cask ale that smelled better than it tasted. Beginning August 11, Verdugo housed a firkin of Craftsman Southern Brown Mild Ale. In case you’re wondering (I sure was), a firkin is the English equivalent of a quarter-barrel of beer.
My brother and sister-in-law both ordered glasses of Kasteel Rouge ($7), an 8% Belgian cherry beer that was too sweet for my palate.
On previous visits, I’ve enjoyed Craftsman Beir de Mars ($6) a 7.5% beer from Pasadena; St. Bernardus ABT 12 ($7), a powerful 10.5% beer from Belgium; and Harviestoun Ola Dubh ($9), an 8% Scottish ale aged in Highland Park 30 year whiskey barrels. The beer clearly tasted like whiskey.
Verdugo has fast become my favorite Eastside bar. Not only are their beers compelling, but the booths are comfortable and the music’s interesting. There are also occasional beer-tasting events that will no doubt draw me back for additional posts.
Note: Special guest photographer Matt (Mattatouille) Kang captured Verdugo on film.