Sunday, August 1, 2010

Being in the Neighborhood

On Friday, my kids and I went to the library and the coffee shop, stopped to play in a small park on the way home, and afterwards picked up some dinner supplies from the market.  I was never more than 5 blocks from my house, and we walked.  In fact, on Friday, I never started my car, or used any mode of transportation other than my feet.  I love days like that, and wish I could live my life this way.

Aside from brewer, writer, and father, I am also a city planner.  I love the city, and while I don't live in a dense urban environment, I have a lot of options to do things sans car.  The closest thing to good neighborhood bars are all along Colfax Avenue (between 1 and 1.5 miles) and the closest brewery is a short 2 mile walk through Denver's finest City Beautiful era City Park.

The brewery is the Vine Street Pub.  They are part of the Mountain Sun family of brewpubs, and their only location outside of Boulder, Colorado.  The Vine Street isn't actually a brewery yet.  They have received their approvals to brew, and have ordered equipment, and hired and are training a brewing staff at their other locations.  The servers report that it will be another year before they start brewing, and that they wanted to make sure the Vine Street location was viable.  The pub has been open for two or three years now, and it does great business.  However, The Vine Street Pub is the third bar/restaurant in this location since I moved to the area 7 years ago.

I call the Mountain Sun brewery the hippie brewery, and not just because it is from Boulder.  The brewery's philosophy and operations earn this name/reputation, and does so even against other local breweries who focus on employee ownership, alternative energy and transportation use, collaboration (instead of litigation) amongst breweries, all organic breweries, and a myriad of other sustainable practices.  Many of the breweries in Colorado were even started  by hippies.  The Mountain Sun started in Boulder in 1993 with a focus on service and took its cue from the Oregon neighborhood brewing scene.  They are neighborhood bars, and I love them for it.

The Mountain Sun (Downtown Boulder), The Southern Sun (South Boulder), and the Vine Street (Vine and 17th Avenue in Denver's City Park West neighborhood) are different from the normal pubs in that there are no TVs, they don't offer Wifi, and they accept cash or check, no credit cards.  Their staff are cross trained for all aspects of their service business, as the servers will host, pour beer at the bar, or even cook your food, depending on the need or situation of the moment.  They will never tell you "I'll get your server".  Instead, they will find out what you need and get it for you.  You get a team of knowledgeable servers that are motivated by you, the customer.

Their food is excellent, focusing on fresh ingredients, and offers vegan and healthy menu choices along with standard pub fare.  Kids eat free during the week after 6pm (or did when I was there with my kids...I took them there for a Father's Day celebration), but I don't know if it was a special, or if there are other restrictions to this special.

The beers are mostly hop forward offerings (kind of a philosophy, I think) as they have a number of hop forward regulars along with a number of IPAs, but they have other standard styles (more on stouts later), a golden ale, a nice amber, and a blackberry wheat for people with other tastes.  The Vine Street also offers a number of guest taps having anything ranging from Stone, Belgian, or other local breweries offerings.  Some day, I would like to put one of my beers on tap there (maybe my West Coast Red).  February is Stout month at the Mountain Sun, where they have many (perhaps 10) of their own stouts and many from around the country featured.  It is a great chance to try a lot of different stouts and understand their differences.  I would like to see them do that with other styles (every once in a while).

I especially appreciate the brewery in the neighborhood concept.  There are only a handful of breweries like this (Bull and Bush in Cherry Creek/Glendale and Dry Dock down in a strip mall in South Aurora (Mission Viejo neighborhood).  I would like to see one in my immediate neighborhood (or would like to open one myself).  Visitors can find this place, but it is located for easy access of the residents nearby.

Best of all about the Vine Street is the service.  As I said, the servers are top notch.  They know their beer, they know their menu, and allow you to sample beers to find the one that is right for you.  I have been given a free beer or two just based on conversations I had with the server (both had to do with having a really bad day, days, or year).

The bad thing is, I don't go there as much as I would like to mostly because they don't accept credit cards.  I totally understand their philosophy.  Credit cards shave a few percent off of each purchase, and breweries and restaurants are a margin/volume business.  I can't go there unless I have cash, and unfortunately can usually only have one beer when I am there because of limited funds.  This is good, because it forces me to be more responsible with money and beer, but it hurts their sales (at least from me).  They have an ATM, but who wants to pay a fee (from both the ATM and my banking institution) for a beer?  They also accept checks, but I carry checks less often than cash.  My other complaints are that they don't open for lunch or until 4pm on the weekdays.....I am an afternoon beer drinker.  By 4pm I have other things to do.  And lastly,  I like to sit, have a beer, work or surf the internet, and watch tv, while having lunch or an afternoon snack...none of which I can do at the Vine.

Despite the issues I have, every cool neighborhood should have a brewery like this.  Until I open one, or one opens in my (or your) neighborhood, you have to head down to The Vine at 17th to the City Park West Neighborhood for the great beer, better service, and awesome atmosphere. This is what the city should be.

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