First off, kudos to Hop Talk for selecting “Atmosphere” as the subject for Session #5. If you read / look at this little blog more than a couple of times you’ll realize that Molly and I enjoy beer culture — people and places â€“ as much as the beer itself. So “Atmosphere” is a topic right up our alley.
The Deck: Quiet Comfort
When we first considered our ideal location, both Molly and I agreed that our deck was a great place. I built it off our master bedroom a couple of years back as a private retreat.
Surrounded by kiwi vines and a small fountain, it’s got a bar, a fridge well-stocked with all sorts of beverages (8 or 9 types of beer among them), lounge chairs a small BBQ and a table with umbrella perfect for ourselves and a couple of friends to sit and watch the sunset over the Pacific.
Because the weather is nice here in San Diego most of the time, and it’s comfortable and convenient, we spend a lot of time out there. It’s also nice because if Molly wants to lie out in the sun with her top off (a behavior I thoroughly encourage) she can without worry.
Lost Abbey Brewery: The “Living Room”
Anyone who’s read this blog more than once or twice knows that we’re regulars behind the bar in the Port Brewing / Lost Abbey tasting room. Friday nights are always a lot of fun because all the regulars stop by on their way home from work to chit chat, recount their week and get a growler or bottle or two before heading on home for the weekend.
And because the folks at PB/LA (notably Brewmeister Tomme Arthur) are who they are, the setting often turns into what Pink-Booted Roadbrewer Teri Fahrendorf once referred to as “a friendly living room sort of place with people bringing in their dogs, babies, friends, and what-have-you.
It’s always a great time, and it’s fun to have a weekly “check-in” with the various regulars as well as meet the tremendous number of vacationers who visit Sand Diego from all over the world and make a point of stopping at the brewery for a taste or two before moving on to some other adventure.
Churchill’s Pub & Grille: #1 Pub in Northern San Diego
For pure pub atmosphere it’s hard to beat Churchill’s Pub & Grille in San Marcos in “North County” San Diego. Molly and I have loved the place since we first walked into it one evening after pulling a shift behind the bar at Lost Abbey.
Located in a converted ranch house that dates back to the days when San Marcos was a sleepy cattle and farming town, it’s an English pub setting with 20 or so taps, eight rotational beers, and an incredible bottle list of probably 200 or more.
The low ceilings, mismatched wooded tables and chairs, aged beams and slap-dash combination of neon beer signs, dart boards, photographs and televisions beaming soccer and Australian rugby 24/7 contribute to the cozy, casual and slightly funky ambiance of the establishment.
Here you’ll always find San Diego’s best breweries on tap â€“ Stone, Lost Abbey, Port, Alpine. Green Flash and so on â€“ as well as those from the rest of California (Russian River, Bear Republic, Firestone-Walker), and the rest of the west coast. You’ll also find a great selection of East Coast and European beers just a handle pull away.
The patrons are an eclectic mix of working class, professionals, and college students from the nearby Cal State San Marcos, all with a common love of great beer and animated conversation. Laughter rising from the pub’s patio and pool table can often be heard all the way around back of Churchill’s cramped parking lot.
Two things really set Churchill’s apart from similar pubs. The first is the staff. Tony the English bartender with a dry wit; Megan the young waitress who always greets you with a little dance; and the rest of the staff who are always happy, engaged and glad to sit with you and share a pint (for “just a moment”, of course).
Ivan makes every once of his patrons feel welcome, shaking hands, hugging and greeting people by name. (How does he remember all those names?) Often sitting with them, sharing stories, playing darts and, yes, even having a beer or two.
The other thing that really sets Churchill’s head and shoulders above others is the food. Quite simply, the food is amazing. A combination of traditional English pub fare (bangers and mash, Scottish eggs, etc.) and American eats (hamburgers, club sandwiches, etc.), the portions are huge, the food outstanding, and the prices extremely reasonable. (Molly and I can have a couple of pints and dinner and still get away for around $30.)
Food, Ivan once noted, is a weak spot for many a pub. “A great beer selection, but they forget that good beer calls for good food,” he said the other day while we had lunch at his place.
No doubt it’s Ivan’s dedication to his menu that landed him a spot on a local TV station’s “top eateries” spotlight just a few days ago. Curiously, no mention was made of the outstanding beer selection.
All combined â€“ setting, beer, people, food â€“ it’s what makes Churchill’s Pub & Grille our top pick for atmosphere in this month’s Session.
If you’re ever in San Diego, make sure to drop on by. Tell him Molly & Sage sent you. (Not that it’ll get you anything, but I like writing it.)