The following post is opinion, and opinion only. Hell, all of my posts are opinions. I just thinks it’s important to state that from the outset; unlike the abundance of craft beer related sites where they proclaim unequivocally that what they are reporting is from Gawd hisself, and that if you don’t agree with them that you are some kind of heathen not worthy of drinking another craft beer. I should also preface by saying that the wife and I came of age in the Seventies and early Eighties, and that we both remember the Sixties, however young we may have been. Neither of us have ever been what you’d consider mainstream. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
In my previous post, on Trinity Brewing, I started off by saying that one’s preference for a beer or brewery is subjective. How experiences and other intangibles can color how you feel about either. This is especially true in our feelings about Vine Street Pub in the Park West neighborhood of Denver, the latest location of the Mountain Sun breweries from Boulder.
I’ve struggled to write this post without coming off as too judgmental, but all in all, the vibe we got from this place wasn’t to our personal liking.
We tasted their beers and met one of their reps at a beer festival the year before. The conversation we had gave us the impression that they were brewing onsite, so we mentally marked it as a place we had to visit, especially since they’re located very close to our home. A different situation presented itself when we arrived on a sunny March day in 2011; they were still in the process of building the onsite brewery. No biggy, some of my favorite places are taphouses.
My first impression as we walked in, was that I had stepped back in time to a hip place from the early Seventies. Paintings and murals cover the walls and other surfaces throughout, earth tones complimenting the expanses of lightly stained wood. The artwork is the first hint that this is a place trying to make an impression beyond the norm. Much of it having the same style as album covers of art rock bands of my youth. A considerable number of branded t-shirts displayed above the bar only added to the sentiment.
The place was fairly full, the tables, booths, and bar occupied by both couples and families out for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. The bar to table ratio was hard to calculate because of how busy it was. The people at the bar may have been just as inclined to sit at a table if any were available. The number of stools at the bar reflect on how much they want to pack people in. Even without anyone sitting in them, it would have been a challenge to get on and off of them, they were crammed in there that much. Which I think is a mistake, patrons should feel at ease when bellying up to the bar, not crammed in like a Tokyo subway. You’re more inclined to sit and while away the afternoon if you don’t have somebody’s elbow in your side. You’d also spend more money.
We hadn’t heard anything about Vine Street before we came, so we gradually caught on to the situation as we sipped our first beers, an Illusion Dweller IPA and Korova Cream Stout. They had an admirable working policy in that everyone who works there performs every job; throughout the day each employee switches between server, bartender, bussing tables, and cooking. In practice we found it a little disjointed. I feel there’s a good reason why most places have dedicated staff for each position, especially in the case of your bartender, you get better, more thoughtful service. Over the course of your visit, a good bartender gets in tune with what you’re drinking, you can say give me another of what I’m having without having to explain over and over again what that was. That afternoon we had three to four different bartenders, each having to ask what we had been drinking or squinting at the printed tab in front of each patron; and with the number of stools packed in it was easy to mistake tabs.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for people in any profession to be cross trained in areas not normally under their purview. In addition to my chosen profession of graphic design, I’ve worked in everything from construction to factory work, and a considerable time of my youth was spent in restaurants. Having the kitchen and wait staff know what the other is going through makes the job go much easier, not to mention fewer flairs of ego when you’re jamming during lunch and dinner rushes.
An area where this policy was most evidently lacking was the usual banter between patron and bartender. You can get a good gauge on what kind of philosophy a brewery holds from talking to it’s wait staff, how passionate they are about the beers they brew and how involved in their community they are. We barely got two words with any of our servers before they had to rush off and begin their next career that day. The only extended conversation we had with any of the staff was when one of them was cashing out and couldn’t get away from our inquiries; I’ll go into more of that further on.
The lunch we ordered off of a menu loaded mainly with chicken and vegan offerings was okay, just that, okay. And it was served promptly, which was amazing considering how packed the place was. If you’re a red meat eater, you’ll have to settle for a burger.
With our bodies sufficiently fueled, we ordered a flight of eight of what was on tap that day. They are among the very few breweries whose tap list is dauntingly vast, both in their brews and the number of guest taps. The larger than average taster glasses held a mixed bag of brews; from the Belgian Cherry Chocolate Dip Stout on nitro that neither of us could stomach, to the hoppy Nihilist Imperial Stout that appealed to my taste and was reminiscent of a Scottish ale. My main observation of their beers was a prevalent tang which could have been my taste buds that day since the wife didn’t discern any of the same flavor. Overall they were all well thought out brews, if a little eclectic.
Normally at this stage of our visit to a brewery we would order one more pint of whatever had impressed us the most from a flight, not so this day. Our mood was considerably dampened from our interactions, or lack thereof from both the staff and patrons. So it was at this point where we paid up and had the previously mentioned conversation with the staff member cashing out.
We asked for the obligatory branded pint glass to add to the collection and were told that they didn’t offer any. Taking into consideration the number of t-shirts they sold, we were told the most hypocritical statement I have ever heard in a brewery: branded pint glasses were ‘too corporate’ for them. Please. I can understand not wanting to expend a considerable amount of money on pint glasses that could sit there for who knows how long before you see a return on your investment; some brewers have told me exactly that when I’ve asked to purchase a glass. I don’t need a pint glass from every brewery I visit, it’s just a physical reminder of the places we’ve enjoyed; memories alone are more than adequate. But to hear the justification for not doing so from Vine’s server that day seemed like ridiculous posturing. The wife, who considers herself part of the tail end of the hippie generation, was rubbed the wrong way more so than even I.
Since that day I’ve talked to numerous brewers, owners, and acquaintances whose feelings about Vine Street and Mountain Sun range from love and passion to almost hateful. One brewer told me he thought the whole setup was pretend socialism, while another admired their beers regardless of how they operate. Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I hate making up my mind about a place after just one visit, particularly after a mixed experience like we had. If I can talk the wife into it (which will be hard), maybe we’ll go back sometime; there’s just too many breweries we want to stop in at, that it’ll be awhile.
I encourage you, as always, to make up your own mind about Vine Street Pub. It could become your next favorite brewery, or you could just write it off, as we did, to another experience in your own personal Brew Trek.