It may sound too obvious, but my favorite place to drink beer is at a bar.
Some of my longtime go-to places in Atlanta include Manuel’s Tavern, Brick Store Pub and the Porter Beer Bar.
Manuel’s has been around for 60 years. Brick Store will mark 20 years in 2017. And the Porter turned 8 earlier this month.
Another place I like a lot, but is a little less known, is Steinbeck’s Ale House, which celebrates its 10th anniversary with a six-course, sold-out beer dinner on Oct. 3.
Steinbeck’s occupies a small storefront in Oakhurst that feels even smaller when you get inside. The funhouse effect is sort of like the half-floor office in “Being John Malkovich” — except the ceiling appears to be much higher than the sum of the square footage.
The best seat is among the 10 squat stools lined up along the ornate bar that dominates the space. A scattering of tables and chairs are crowded together to resemble a dining room. And there’s a thin wooden rail across the front windows, where you can squeeze in to perch with a drink.
If you’re lucky, Jimmy will be working. An Irish ex-pat with a gabby disposition that can go from kindly to surly, depending on the situation, he mostly tends to neighborhood regulars with an air of barroom jocularity.
But owing to Steinbeck’s Double-Double cheeseburger (now dubbed the Tower of Power) being named to multiple Atlanta best-of lists, Jimmy has a steady flow of “tourists” to contend with, too. And that can be extremely entertaining to watch.
Chef Andy Gonzales is the man behind the cheeseburger, on an eclectic menu featuring dishes such as the Chinese Breakfast bowl, and regular Mexican specials, many of which come from his mom’s favorite recipes.
Burned out by a string of fine dining jobs, Gonzales landed at Steinbeck’s some eight years ago. After taking over the tiny kitchen, and getting rid of the fledgling seafood and oyster bar concept, he set about upping the food and beverage offerings. He describes his cooking style as “aggressive comfort food” and the menu as “very diverse without being very big.”
“It’s an interesting rebranding story, because we didn’t change the name or anything,” Gonzales says. “I walked in the back door and cleaned the entire place from top to bottom and just started fresh with a weird, non-designed menu. Whatever we had and whatever I found at the market is what we made and how we started.”
Even more under the radar, Gonzales presides over an appropriately small but estimable beer list, with 13 taps and an adventurous attitude.
“I’d enjoyed beer for a long time,” Gonzales says. “But here, I was given the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. The only criteria is, I taste it, I like it, I pour it. We always have Guinness. We always have a cider. We always have a really good, high-quality lager. The other 10 taps are up to me.
“And so when you only have 10 taps to play with, you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. My goal is to curate our list so that you don’t have to worry about it. I taste the beer and I know it’s good beer and I stand behind it.”