In Los Angeles, I regularly find myself so spoiled for choice that it sometimes leaves me distressed; but really, there are surely worse problems than being presented with too many great possibilities with how to spend one’s time. On Sunday there was a nine kilometer hike in the San Gabriel Mountains which culminated with a tea ceremony hosted explorer and prolific writer Clarissa Wei in the ruins of an old Victorian hotel, the Echo Mountain House. In the other corner was a Metro Gold Line beer crawl, led by another explorer, my friend Susie. Although I’d actually taken the day off to participate in the former, when Susie told me about her plan to conduct the latter, I changed course.
I’ve followed the progress of Metro’s 50 kilometer-long Gold Line since it was in the planning stages. If first entered service in 2003, connecting Downtown Los Angeles’s Union Station and Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Station. In 2009, the Eastside Extension pushed one of the termini to East Los Angeles and I rode it on opening day. In 2013, my brother and I walked along the route of the then-under-construction Foothill Extension, from Sierra Madre Villa Station to APU/Citrus College Station. In 2016, Susie, myself, and a couple of friends rode the Foothill Extension on opening day. Although we’d initially planned to disembark and re-board the train at every station, long lines and huge mobs led to our deciding to remain on the train for most of its journey. We did pop off at a couple of stops, however, checking out Azusa’s Congregation Ale House and Monrovia’s Pacific Plate Brewery taproom — but I was abstaining from alcohol for Lent (just for fun) and I vowed to return once I was back on the rails and off the wagon.
The train-enabled bar crawl is surely as old as the train itself. The first public transit line in Los Angeles was the Spring and West 6th Street Railroad, a railway founded in 1874 which served Downtown. Surely some bright 19th Century Angeleno had the brilliant idea of using the horse-drawn railcars to carry them from saloon to saloon. Los Angeles’s primary modern rail systems, Metrolink and Metro, have both been in service for more than a quarter of a century now, so hopefully Angelenos in modern times have also taken advantage of the train to take them from bar to bar. Nevertheless, the first mention that I can locate of a “subway bar crawl” dates only from the distant year of 2011, when someone at the backpacker site, This Boundless World, published “Los Angeles, CA: A Guide to Subway Bar Crawlin” in which the well-meaning author made several suspect claims, including that “The L.A. subway is the safest and cleanest subway in the world,” and that one could use the Red Line to go bar-hopping in “Los Feliz/Silver Lake.” The linkage of Los Feliz and Silver Lake perhaps lends rail-served Los Feliz a bit of Silver Lake’s cultural cache and also suggests that one can use the subway to bar-hop in rail-deprived Silver Lake. In actuality, the closest train station to Silver Lake is located at the intersection of Hel-Mel, Little Armenia, Sunset Junctions, and Virgil Village — and whilst the rail-riding bar hopper can easily walk ten minutes to a leather bar, Eagle LA, popping over to a Silver Lake bar such as Edendale would take more like 45 minutes… although that could easily be rectified if they’d rebuild the Glendale-Burbank Line.
In 2013, a couple of years after the backpacking piece, LA Beer Week organized its first Gold Line Pub Crawl. A year later, Jeff Miller made a map titled “LA’s First-Ever Metro Rail Bar Map” for the listicle factory known as Thrillist. Although the title was accurate, it’s cockiness perhaps invites a bit of criticism. It seemed to me a bit rushed, and probably more based upon laptop research than actually hitting the streets. What else could account for the absence of any bars at Hollywood/Western Station, the inclusion of long-closed establishments, and the exclusion of any picks for half of the Blue Line’s stops and 57% of the Green Line’s? Furthermore, the Silver Line and Orange Line were left off because they’re BRT, and not rail. The editor snarkily countered (before anyone had made the point) “They’re bus lines. You mad?” Mad, no, but the idea that a transit-using bar-crawler wouldn’t lower themselves to use a BRT line strikes me as unlikely — and had the further effect of adding to the “Here be dragons” depiction of the train stations in largely black and Latino communities.
Not to be outdone (but clearly outdone), the LA Weekly soon followed with Andy Hermann’s “me too” piece, “Check Out Our Metro Gold Line Bar Crawl.” In 2016, the opening of the Expo Line Phase II Extension was toasted with an “LA Crawl” (cautiously neglecting to use the words “bar” or “pub”). Someone recently launched something called “L.A. Metro Pub Crawl,” which, although light on information, has a presence across several social media platforms. Five years after the first Red Line pub crawl piece, the Los Angeles Times’ John Verive wrote “How to plan a beer crawl along the Metro Red Line.” Three months later the same author penned “How to plan a craft beer crawl along the Metro Gold Line.” So far, it seems, no one has made a serious effort to undertake a pub crawl along the Blue, Green, Orange, Silver, or Purple lines — some of which admittedly pass through dreaded booze deserts. The Purple Line, though, passes through the third, second, and most densely populated neighborhoods of Los Angeles — Downtown, Westlake, and Koreatown. No one was written about a Metrolink pub crawl, which if distance is the goal, serves six Southern California counties and has a $10 weekend day pass. I won’t even get into the region’s hundreds of bus lines, which although not trains, are often convenient for bar crawls. You mad?
STOP 1 — CONGREGATION ALE HOUSE
As with our previous adventure, we began with Congregation Ale House, a small brewpub chain with a somewhat half-realized church theme. Don’t expect clouds of frankincense or myrrh, staff wearing religious habits, or a playlist ranging from Mahalia Jackson to Hildegard von Bingen. The church theme is mostly superficial. The music was commercial ‘90s rock and the staff seem to be dressed like Mormon missionaries. And while I’d personally rather watch Jim Bakker fill doomsday buckets with queso than professional athletes doing what they do, Congregation Ale House is also a sports bar.
There’s a menu — heavy on Biblically forbidden swine — but I didn’t eat because in preparation for a day of drinking I was still digesting a full breakfast. I limited myself to a single flight and once we were finished, we headed back to the train, me already a little buzzed as conversation turned to the topic of Los Angeles’s least architecturally significant parking structures.
- Monday – Wednesday 11:30 am – 11:00 pm
- Thursday – 11:30 am – 12:00 am
- Friday – Saturday 11:30 am – 1:00 am
- Sunday – 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
- Monday all day, other weekdays 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm, Tuesday – Thursday 12:00 am – close
- 619 North Azusa Avenue, Azusa
- Foothill Transit 185, 187, 280, 494; Metro Gold Line
STOP 2 – PACIFIC PLATE BREWERY
Next we headed to Pacific Plate Brewery’s tap room. More on account of breakfast tea than beer, I already had to pop into a public facility in Station Square Park and rated it a B (an almost unheard of grade for a public restroom). Several peoples’ shoes improbably seemed to untie at the same time as we shuffled along toward the brewery, located inconspicuously in the back of a particularly modest office park, Elm-Jensen Park.
There’s no apparent theme to Pacific Plate, although drinking there feels a bit like drinking inside of a smog check station or mechanic’s garage (which I kind of prefer to gimmicks anyway). For a brewery it’s quite small — the smallest licensed brewery in Southern California, apparently. There are board games, and more televisions showing more sports. Several of the beers have a Latino angle (e.g. horchata stout and agave wheat). Last time I remember someone barbecuing in the parking lot but there was no food this time, just a flight split three ways.
- Monday – Friday 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- Saturday and Sunday 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
- 1999 South Myrtle Ave, Monrovia
- Foothill Transit 270 and 494; and Metro 267/264 and Gold Line
STOP 3 — LUCKY BALDWIN’S PUB
After just two stops we were already behind schedule to meet others and so we skipped Der Wolfskopf and Stone Company Store, opting instead for Lucky Baldwin’s, a British pub then celebrating their 18th annual Belgian Beer Festival.
There we added another member to our party and I obliged her offer for a slice of pizza, little knowing it would be the only proper food I’d consume for the rest of the crawl. Quite by accident I forgot to photograph the bar.
- Monday – Friday 11:00 am – 1:30 am
- Saturday – Sunday 8:00 am – 1:30 am
- Monday – Friday 4:00 – 6:00 pm
- Wednesday and Sunday 10:00 pm – close
- 17 South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena
- Foothill Transit 177 and 187; Pasadena ARTS 20cc, 20cw, 40, 50, 52; Metro 256, 260, 687/686, Rapid 762, and Gold Line
STOP 4 — MISSION WINE & SPIRITS
The fourth stop was Mission Wine & Spirits in South Pasadena. The focus is on wine, as the name suggests — Mission is the street on which it’s located, and not necessarily related to its assigned purpose. More than a bar, it’s a wine shop, really, although since last I was there both the shop and bar seem to have doubled in size.
At Mission Wines we picked up a couple more. Although the end of Phase 1, I was already feeling a bit beered-out and broke with the group to have a glass of pinot noir, as a palette cleanser. It was just starting to get dark as we began Phase 2.
- Monday – Saturday 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
- Sunday 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
- Wine Wednesday happy hour: Wednesday 3:00 pm – 6:00 pm
- Super Saturday wine tasting: Saturday 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
- 1114 Mission Street, South Pasadena
- Metro 176, 260, Rapid 762, and Gold Line
STOP 5 — THE GREYHOUND
The Greyhound Bar & Grill is a sports bar. It’s the kind of sports bar where bros with backward baseball caps yell at televisions and eat chicken wings (although the cauliflower wings are quite good). I remember reading somewhere (but not where) that it has a “New York” or “East Coast” vibe, although I’m not sure what that’s supposed to me… maybe they meant a “Northeast” vibe, as it’s in Northeast Los Angeles, although it doesn’t really strike me as especially Highland Park-ish. Then again, my notions of Highland Park are mostly informed by experiences from 15-20 years ago and probably doesn’t have much to do with the Highland Park of today.
The Greyhound has twenty taps and yet, the few times I’ve gone, I feel inevitably get something in a can. The waitress, I think, talked me into adding a whiskey to my beer order. Having just had a slice of pizza, I skipped the food and instead opted only to eat a single tater tot.
After we left the rowdy bar, we popped into Highland Park Bowl where I again failed to make reconcile the space with my memory of the literally stabby scene at Mr. T’s Bowl. Next we poked our beaks into Cafe Birdie. In the back, apparently, there’s a speakeasy — albeit not in the true sense of a place which serves alcohol without a license — but rather the current colloquial usage referring to a bar that everyone knows about but is for some reason expected to pretend is secret.
- Monday – Thursday 12:00 pm – 1:00 am
- Friday 12:00 pm – 2:00 am
- Saturday 10:30 am – 2:00 am
- Sunday 10:30 am – 12:00 am
- Daily 4 pm – 7 pm
- 5570 North Figueroa Street, Highland Park, Los Angeles
- DASH Highland Park/El Sereno, Metro 83, 256, and Gold Line
STOP 6 — MELODY LOUNGE
On account of its distance from the train station, Adrienne was adamant that we skip Footsies… and so we did. Instead we headed to The Melody Lounge. Feeling even more beered out, I asked the bartender whether or not there were any non-beer drinks. She said no, so I had another beer. There were about two dozen on tap, and maybe a cider. I can’t remember what I had.
Melody Lounge is a small space, with a few tables and usually room to dance, if the DJ or karaokists so compel you. It’s pleasantly dark, lit mainly by red paper lanterns. The last time I was at there was do DJ an-all-Los Angeles set with Tim “DJ Modern Brit” Shimbles on a night we called “To Live and Dee Jay LA.” (You can hear my 9,500-ish song Los Angeles playlist here).
- Monday-Sunday 5:00 pm – 2:00 am
- 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
- 939 North Hill Street, Chinatown, Los Angeles
- DASH Downtown B and DASH Lincoln Heights/Chinatown; Metro 28, 45, 81, 83, 90/91, 94, 96, and Gold Line
STOP 7 – BOOMTOWN BREWERY
We skipped Far Bar in Little Tokyo and staggered down Vignes Street — named after Jean-Louis Vignes when the area was French Town and the wine-capital of California. At the brewery, however, we’d be drinking more beer — I think — I don’t actually remember what I drank there. Although Boomtown began brewing in 2014, the tasting room has only been open for a couple of weeks.
We passed through the patio, past a David Bowie mural — although wouldn’t a Bob Geldof mural be more appropriate? The tap room is itself rather cavernous, although it was filled with a crowd of healthy size. There were a lot of couches on which to sit and, naturally, communal seating. There’s also a DJ/live music platform, a couple of dart boards, giant chess, foosball, table tennis, and pool. A big, clunky wooden heart sits in a corner, presumably to lure Millennials into taking Instagram photos of themselves and their friends. #nothanks
- Monday-Thurday 4:00 pm – 12:00 am
- Friday 4:00 pm – 1:00 am
- Saturday 12:00 pm – 1:00 am
- Sunday 12:00 pm – 12:00 am
- 700 Jackson Street, Arts District, Los Angeles
- DASH Downtown A, DASH Downtown D, Metro 30/330 and Gold Line
STOP 8 – ARTS DISTRICT BREWING COMPANY
Afterward we skipped Angel City Brewery and instead popped into the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery/art space. By that point I was past fuzzy and both somewhat confused about exactly where we were… but I was still enjoying the experience.
Our final stop was at the Arts District Brewing Company, a brewery which began operation in 2015. As with Boomtown, it’s located inside a large, converted warehouse and feels a bit like an arcade, with pinball, Skee-Ball, cornhole, table tennis, darts, board games, and a photo booth. There’s food too, although I didn’t have any (mostly burgers, hot dogs, and pretzels), and two dozen beers on tap, although as with most of the places we stopped, I can’t remember which I drank.
- Monday – Thursday 3:00 pm – 12:00 am
- Friday 3:00 pm – 2:00 am
- Saturday 12:00 pm – 2:00 am
- Sunday 12:00 pm – 12:00 am
- Monday – Thursday $5 house beers
- 828 Traction Avenue, Arts District, Los Angeles
- DASH Downtown A
There were loads of people, it seemed like. Our party seemed all to have glowing skin and glassy eyes and it seemed pretty quiet at our table. I was exhausted. It was drizzling outside on the patio. I don’t actually remember whether or not I properly said goodbye or just headed out, as is often my wont. I did have a great time, popping in and out of bars, popping on and off the train, though… and I hope that there’s a Purple Line Bar Crawl in the near future.