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Gimme a Beer, Hold the Shot

Beer-only taverns appeal to drinkers searching for a bargain.

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Drinking will always be in. But beer-only bars seem to be attracting more attention than usual during these days of economic hardship. From Beer Revolution and The Trappist in Oakland to Cafe Biere in Emeryville, The Bistro in Hayward, The Warehouse in Port Costa, and even Toronado in San Francisco, taverns specializing in beer are on the rise for a reason, fans say.

Even on a normally sleepy Tuesday evening, the crowd at Beer Revolution rivals in size the masses at other Oakland bars on Friday and Saturday nights. At the beer garden, customers have the choice of choosing one of about thirteen local or imported microbrews on tap from a chalkboard menu above the bar, or perusing the many coolers alongside the back wall, which are filled with more than four hundred different domestic and foreign beer bottles. Regular customer Richard Walsh patronizes both.

"Sure, you could stick with the pricey off-the-tap, or you could just grab one out of the cooler and pay three bucks with the pouring service," Walsh said as he nursed a Flathead Lake Porter. Walsh said he wouldn't have it any other way. The prices that most bars charge today for mixed drinks put too large a hole in his wallet, he said. Being able to purchase an obscure beer from a cooler and drink it at the bar is financially preferable and yet no less effective way to accomplish his goal. Walsh, who resembles a heavier Hulk Hogan but speaks more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, said he was already "comfortably numb."

Although Beer Revolution has been open for only about nine months, it already has become as popular as more established brew bars in the Bay Area. At Toronado, in San Francisco's Lower Haight, the crowd is equally large no matter what day of the week it is. Toronado, which mirrors its sister location in San Diego, is dark and divey. It doesn't offer beer-filled coolers, but it makes up for it with more beers on tap than Beer Revolution. The people who come in want beer and only beer, said Daniel Martinez, a Toronado neighbor and regular patron.

The 23-year-old San Francisco City College student said he prefers grabbing one of the bar's 46 different beers on tap to visiting nearby Molotov's or Noc Noc, where he knows he would end up spending more on hard liquor. Bars such as The Bistro share a similar menu, offering up to thirty different Belgium brews and a handful of local microbrews from the Russian River area.

Back at Beer Revolution, Fraggle, one of the tavern's co-owners, is trying to get off the phone with someone trying to sell him a beer pong kit. "No, I'm not interested in beer pong," he says before hanging up. He looks toward the assembled patrons and quips, "does this place look like we should have a beer pong tournament?" Everyone laughs.

When asked about the beer coolers, where patrons can choose their beer for here or to go, Fraggle said it's the only such facility in the East Bay. He's not sure that his establishment's opening marks a full-fledged shift toward beer taverns and away from full bars, but he's enjoying the crowds whatever the long-term trend.

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