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Ten things beer geeks look for in a bar

A few taps and bottles at Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore
A few taps and bottles at Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore
Mark Burlet

Yeah, I was going to do a listicle - maybe throw up some hot pics of cold beers in a slideshow to get you peeps hooked - then watch the ad revenue meter go "cha-ching" with every single click. But then I thought: DAMN do I hate those things!

And no, I'm not really doing some Top Ten designed to intentionally alienate or piss off certain people, ensuring multipe tweets shouting, "Hey read how stupid this guy is!" Those are great for granting the "stupid" posters a lot of money... or at least attention, which is what they really crave. In fact, I'll be surprised if I come up with ten things here. I won't be counting, but I will be attempting to identify those little factors that make me (and my fellow geek friends) smile and nod when we see them in a bar.

We can all see that the craft beer scene is growing steadily, but the watering holes in this town are lagging well behind. New Orleans is gaining more and more bars that serve craft beer, but there are very few craft beer bars. So let's take a look at what that even means... in no particular order.

  • Beer Selection
    I don't simply mean different number of beers they sell. One of my favorites in Baltimore (and recently voted Best Beer Bar in their Best Of... contest) has something like 20 taps. I could have said "only 20 taps" because the runner up in that category has over 140. So do the math... 20 > 140, right? Well not really, but Mahaffey's Pub (the winner) is constantly rotating their selection (meaning a week from now you will see 20 completely different brews), regularly features new and exciting products, and always includes a variety of styles: IPAs, barrel-aged stouts, saisons, porters, pilsners, pales, imports, and whatever seasonals are hanging around. And maybe throw in a few high-end or rare bottles behind the bar for the saucy geek with a few extra bucks. That works for me.
  • Proper Glassware
    Pints are fine for some brews, but others are wanting a little more tailored approach. Not that a good beer is terrible in a plain ole pint, but maybe it's just a wee bit better in a goblet or a snifter. This is no deal breaker, but when my bartender serves me that Belgian golden ale in a tulip glass, I know the establishment is paying attention to the details, and that usually means a better shot at having a great boozy experience. And the deal breaker? That is definitely the frosted glass. To me, this lets me know that the bar/manager hasn't researched anything about how to serve good beer since, oh... the 90's?
  • Server Knowledge
    Wouldn't you hate asking a bartender how that new Smoked Porter is, only to have him shrug and say, "it's kind of a dark beer," as he turns to "help" the next customer? (True story.) Sadly, this type of interaction is all too common in New Orleans when it comes to craft beer. Look, it's great that you added those new fancy tap handles to your bar, but please know what the hell you're selling! Especially when attempting to reach customers new to the scene. An educated bartender will be able to describe the taste of each beer on tap, at least in a general sense, and be able to assist the patron in his or her search for a good brew. A great server will know exactly what hops are in the glass, tell you a little something about the brewery, and point you toward the latest and greatest beer they've released. Always refreshing to have that conversation.
  • Cleanliness
    This is a pretty big deal in the drinking world. First, keep your draft lines (those tubes that run from the kegs to the taps) clean, people! So much nastiness can be avoided by that simple step, and a dirty draft line is a dead giveaway that they are cutting corners. And this applies to your glassware as well. A dirty or soapy glass can really throw off a beer's flavor. You might not notice these things at first - maybe the beer you ordered just isn't very tasty - but when you're drinking a favorite and it just doesn't taste right... Yeah, pay attention and you might find that happens regularly at the same spots. Not good for business... the bar's or the brewer's! And also, just keeping the premises clean in general (wiping down the tables is a good start) is a great idea... for every bar.
  • Attitude and Atmosphere
    So this one might be a bit subjective - some people love a crowded sports bar setting, while others prefer a quieter pub feel - but there is a common thread to be found here: Comfort. Is the staff friendly and helpful, or brusque and pretentious? Are the other customers courteous, or rude and obnoxious? Is the music too loud, or the smoke too thick? All of these things contribute to your enjoyment of any establishment, and no amount (well, no small amount) of liquid gold can turn an uncomfortable experience into a positive. So whether it's a festive, rollicking evening you seek, or a quiet night of conversation, a quality bar will know how to control its environment to meet its clientele's needs.
  • Events
    Here's a secret: BEER GEEKS LOVE SPECIAL EVENTS! (OK, so maybe it's not such a secret, but it's out there now, so...) Throw a new brew release party with the local brewer! Cook up a beer-and-food pairing dinner! Have a pint night that gives money to charity! Host a Marktoberfest(tm) party (this October 18th*) with your favorite local Examiner blogger and invite all his friends (and both his fans)! People eat that crap up! Seriously though, special occasions are a great way to get people in the door who might otherwise have never visited, and it is a fantastic way to create returning customers, if done right.
  • Connection
    This may just be a personal pet peeve of mine, but when you own a beer bar in the 21st Century, it should be possible to view a list of your brews online, or at least in a printed sheet somewhere in the place. It can be difficult, especially for someone of my (ahem) "vintage" stature, to see every tap in the house from the corner of the bar. Oh, and engage with your customers in the digital arena - social media, Facebook, even just an old email newsletter. These things show that you care about your customers and want them to be aware of what's happening in your world. That can go a long way toward forging relationships that are the heart of the service industry.

Alright, so I didn't quite get to ten, but I told you that would happen! So get off my case already, geez...

But otherwise, what do you think? Are there other things you look for that I'm missing? Or do you think some of this is nonsense - pretentious hipster beer crap, if you will - and you just need good brew in your mouth? For me, these aren't necessary in order to enjoy myself, but they definitely contribute to my opinion of the establishment, or at least its craft beer cred.

And what do you think of the craft beer scene here in New Orleans? Are there enough bars to satisfy your quest for variety? How do you rate the beer bars we have in town, like The Avenue Pub or The Bulldog? Is there something missing? Let me know what you look for in a beer bar and maybe I can help you find it.

Until then, you'll just have to find some other clickbait to complain about. Think I'm done pontificating for the week.

Drink well, my friends - wherever you may drink.

Mark Burlet
Drunken Intellectual
Twitter: @DrunkIntellect

*No fooling! Any beer bar seriously willing to host a German-themed Marktoberfest(tm) celebration on October 18th, contact me and we'll get this party started!

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