Essential Long Beach Bars & Breweries: 2018 Edition • Long Beach Post

Long Beach is, unquestionable, a dive bar city—and I expounded on this virtue with a list of ugly-pretty watering holes that are essential divey cogs in the drinking world of Long Beachers.


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But that doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things and this list is one that honors strict watering holes. There are no restaurants on this list so that means joints like Beachwood and Joe Jost’s and Beer Belly and the BBC… Well, they shall be reserved for another list.

What this list is all about is showing off one simple thing: Long Beach’s drinking scene is one of the most unique and rewarding in the region.

And now, in no particular order…

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The Hawk (468 W Anaheim St.)

Photo courtesy of Kyle Flavin.

The Hawk owner Kyle Flavin was, essentially, the mastermind that made The Blind Donkey in DTLB what it was: he took a space that had much potential that few could see and turn it into a gem. Though he didn’t own the Donkey, he knew the same energy he gave it could be applied to his own place.

This is precisely what he did with The Hawk, what is arguably the most Long Beach bar to come out of the scene in years thanks to Flavin’s keen eye that mixes a respect for the old and an introduction of the new, a perfect blend of high-brow and low-brow, dive-ness and flat-out awesome cocktails.

Formerly The Nugget, it was what Flavin called “a neighborhood institution,” and in order to keep that respected status, he had to pay careful attention to what would be scrapped and what would be kept, the aura and vibe of the space, and the overall goal of the space.

Now approaching its first year, The Hawk is not only a neighborhood staple but a citywide one—proof that it won’t be going anywhere soon.

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The Blind Donkey (149 Linden Ave.)

Photo by Brian Addison

Speaking of The Blind Donkey, there is perhaps no bar with a more lascivious history: long before becoming one of Long Beach’s most solid whiskey-centric watering holes, it was at was a notorious swingers club, decked out with a pseudo-castle theme and fake fire sconces that likely inspired Kubrick (and clearly inspired filmmaker Damien Chazelle, who turned the underground bar into one of the key joints for his Ode to LA, La La Land).

A true whiskey bar at its core—there are over 100 variations of the brown liquid for palates of all types—this food-free underground space is filled with games that go beyond pool and an aura that has made it one of the city’s most essential watering holes.

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Alex’s Bar (2913 E Anaheim St.)

Photo by Brian Addison

Much like the Donkey, the aura of Alex’s Bar is one that attracts Hollywood types—the producers of HBO’s True Blood used the bar for its Fangtasia vamp bar throughout the series—but in reality, it is a space for music-lovers.

Owner Alex Hernandez opened the joint in 2000 and has since created a concert calendar that has had the likes of The Melvins, Black Flag, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Hell, last month they had The Crystal Method.

But beyond that, this giant room of a space—open, small stage, defined by low and red lighting—is one that offers a spectacular array of beer and a cocktail list that feels precisely the opposite of a concert venue bar.

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Mezcalero (525 E Broadway [Upstairs])

Photo by Brian Addison

Mezcalero’s OG location in DTLA hinted at what was to come for its second location in Long Beach, taking over the upstairs space above Padre in DTLB: it will offer thirsty patrons an onslaught of mixed concoctions that are simultaneous odes to Latin America and classic cocktail creation.

And this is all thanks to the talent of their beverage program curator, Nathan McCullough, the kind of white guy who has carnitas and pozole rather than turkey and green bean casserole for Thanksgiving.

McCullough’s talent shines by blending the common flavors of the American drinking palate—sweet, fruity, basic—with uncommon ingredients across the lands south of our border—hoja santa, cactus, stolo blanco (a spirit made from the Mexican desert spoon plant at Chihuahua-based distillery Sotol por Siempre).

Add onto this gorgeous presentation and a sophisticated layer of flavors and you have yourself a DTLB whet-your-whistle wonder.

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Beachwood Blendery (247 Long Beach Blvd.)

Photo by Brian Addison

This taproom and brewery, right next door to Recreational Coffee in DTLB, is a hidden gem that has been slowly gathering a cult-like following for those seeking sour beers.

As the craft beer scene becomes more and more obsessed with those sours, I will be quite clear on one thing. Make no mistake that some of the nation’s most thoughtful — if not outright intellectual — sours are being made locally at the Beachwood Blendery in Long Beach.

Everything you taste is thanks to the complex, wonderfully nerdy, and experimental brain of master brewer Ryan Fields, whose talent for layering both subtle and strong flavors results in the types of beers you won’t find elsewhere.

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The Stache Bar (941 E 4th St.)

Photo courtesy of Ashley Bermudez

Stache was the first place I experienced Hudson Baby Bourbon—for $10, no less—as well the first place I experienced having that sipper with a can of PBR.

My fellow writer Sarah Bennett said it best—and forgive me, I am not trying to be lazy in my writing but genuinely love her distinct reflection on this 4th Street staple:

Yes, name’s short for “moustache,” but there aren’t as many hipsters at this Fourth Street dive as you might think. Instead, you’ll find a Dodgers bar with a not-so-secret stock of top-shelf liquors (think: Rogue’s Spruce gin and Michter’s rye) at middle-shelf prices and bartenders who know how to use them in your new favorite drink. Alternately, you can order a PBR tall boy or Jack and Coke, and no one will bat an eye.

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Liberation Brewing Co. (3630 Atlantic Ave.)

Photo by Brian Addison

Liberation Brewing Co. has been more than a decade in the making and, being the newest addition to our city that is featured on this list, it is on here because of its distinct vibe that was built on the backs of a handful of dedicated locals.

Local brewer and co-owner Eric McLaughlin, with a long-held interest in brewing his own beer, has been developing the idea behind Liberation for the past four years.

Having moved to San Francisco for film school, the former Lakewooder-now-Long Beacher was surrounded by NorCal’s vast craft beer scene, from breweries like Russian River and Rogue to beer bars like Toronado and Zeitgeist in the city that served nothing but locally crafted brews.

McLaughlin’s talents in home brewing were honed entirely auto-didactically. Brew after brew, over and over, failure after failure, McLaughlin learned from his mistakes and continued his uphill journey toward being a bona fide brewmaster. After a stint at Ohana Brewing in Los Angeles as brewmaster, he has taken his talents to the community of Bixby Knolls.

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The Exhibition Room (1117 E Wardlow Rd. [behind telephone])

Owner Robert Molina—as I’ve pointed out before—is a restless man.

He opened with Roxanne’s, his Latin-inspired restaurant and bar that essentially introduced craft cocktail making to Long Beach when it opened in Cal Heights over five years ago.

And as always, given that restlessness, there’s been more to Roxanne’s than meets the eye. Its happy red, playfully-retro logo could easily be mistaken as the brand of a 50s-style family diner but when you step inside, you see the embossed tin tile ceiling, the apothecary scale, the iconic old-school phone booth, and, of course, the vast array of rare and high-end liquors dedicated to their love of craft cocktails.

Beyond being a hidden gem in its own right, Roxanne’s has one of the (now not-so) best kept secrets in town: The Exhibition Room, its no-joke, password-required speakeasy that serves as an homage to Dennis McCarthy’s then-illegal alcohol operation in Long Beach during the Prohibition Era.

As always, you gotta know the password—so put on your investigative cap and dig into it Long Beach.

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Are you a fan of Long Beach food? Scroll through our archives to catch up. Wanna see more listicles? Click here for our full list of lists.

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