Big Sur Taphouse
Tapping Excitement: Big Sur Taphouse pours out great value and a surprising amount of character.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
After the Big Sur Bazaar closed in 2008, the Mayer family, who owns the space as well as the adjoining Big Sur Deli next to the post office, put out a suggestion box asking what locals wanted in the vacated business. Among the ideas submitted were recommendations that the spot be transformed into an auto parts store, a hardware store and a gentlemen’s club. But this past Nov. 11, the Mayers opened Big Sur Taphouse, a cozy and eclectic beer bar with 10 California microbrews on tap and a small menu.
Since Big Sur already has its fair share of popular watering holes including Fernwood, the Maiden Publick House and a range of restaurant bars, it might seem like the last thing the area needs is another place to sip a pint. Yet a recent visit to the new establishment proves the Big Sur Taphouse is a welcome addition to the region, and it has enough character to carve out its own niche in the mountainous Big Sur terrain.
Initially, with just one server/bartender/cashier standing behind the hammered copper bar, I was a bit worried that we might be neglected on this surprisingly crowded Tuesday night. But even though there were a dozen people spread out at different tables, our jack-of-all-trades Steve Mayer was a superb host, casual but attentive.
The Bazaar, a former gift shop, has been remodeled into a comfortable but no-frills taproom with wood benches, several nooks and a gas fireplace. There are two big screen TVs for taking in sporting events. For the less sports obsessed, the Taphouse has a collection of board games and a small library of books that includes former Big Sur resident Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn.
This being a taproom, my three pals and I began by ordering some draft beers. I chose a Lost Coast Brewery Tangerine Wheat ($4.75), a light, floral beer that came with a wedge of orange in a nicely chilled Taphouse pint glass adorned with a drawing of a California condor in mid-flight. Other offerings include the Big Sur Golden Ale ($5) from Marina’s English Ales Brewery and the Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout ($5.50). Eventually, all four of us found our way to the tasty Taphouse Brown ($5), a beer made for the Taphouse by the Firestone Walker Brewing Company. It quickly became the crowd favorite.
While the Taphouse’s food options are limited to eight regular menu items and a soup of the day – customers are allowed to bring in food like the smoked turkey sandwich ($6.25), the avocado and cheese sandwich ($5.75) and the indulgent jalapeño poppers ($9.95/pound) from the Big Sur Deli next door – everything that came to our table did not disappoint. First off, we received an order of the bruschetta ($7) that differentiated itself from other versions of the Italian antipasto by having Humboldt Fog cheese smeared on the toasted baguette slices, under a jumble of diced tomatoes, basil and olive oil. It scored extra points by coming with a generous pile of greens.
We also dove deep into the soup of the day, a cheddar beer soup ($4/cup, $8/bowl) that was as rich as a porter. It came with four planks of toasted bread that we dipped into the robust creation.
After another round of beer, we took on the barbecue pork sliders ($10), which included the typically southern addition of coleslaw to the sandwich. Though it usually comes as an order of three baseball-sized sliders, the thoughtful Mayer brought out four so everyone in our party could try one.
In addition, our now somewhat sauced group got the Taphouse Tacos ($10), three tacos of carnitas, carne asada or pollo. I particularly enjoyed the asada version, which came topped with a tart salsa verde. Both the taco plate and the sliders rank up there in Big Sur’s bang-for-the-buck category.
While the food, service, beer and company had already made for a memorable evening, the unexpected spontaneous performance of two acoustic acts passing through Big Sur bred a one-of-a-kind night. The Slaves, an acoustic quartet hailing from New York, were drawn into the taproom by a two-dollar beer special – a metal trough of ice held Anchor Holiday Ales, Coors Lights and other chilled bottles and cans.
The Slaves, who evoke the spirit and sound of fellow acoustic players like Old Crow Medicine Show, got the whole joint clapping and some people dancing to their originals as well as covers of classics by Townes Van Zandt and Leadbelly. They were followed up by an unnamed male/female Canadian duo who yodeled over banjo and concertina. As the crowd went wild, a middle-aged Big Sur lady started shouting: “Big Sur is starting to live again! Back to the future!”
In the future, the Big Sur Taphouse will be setting up an outdoor seating area with picnic benches on a flattened plot of land up from the building. They also plan to expand into catering and events.
While it would be hard to guarantee a visit to the Big Sur Taphouse will be as singular as my night there, the establishment warrants a visit for its beers, tasty pub fare and generous service.
BIG SUR TAPHOUSE 47520 Highway 1, Big Sur. Noon-10pm Mon-Thu; noon-midnight Fri; 10am-midnight Sat; 10am-10pm Sun. • 667-2225.