With 225 Magazine releasing their Best of Food and Drink winners today, I feel it’s appropriate for me to sum up my thoughts on the best restaurants or bars for craft beer here in the Baton Rouge area. This is strictly my opinion and nobody else’s. So there.
The Top 5
1. The Chimes Highland – The Chimes was the original craft beer bar in Baton Rouge, and after a period of time when they fell off for a bit, they’ve roared back with their draft expansion in late 2013. Now featuring 80 taps to go along with their extensive food menu, The Chimes is just comfortable. Granted, nostalgia may play a role, but nowhere else in town can you take the entire family out for a meal with such an extensive craft beer selection. Whether you want to relax at the bar, hang out and watch the game, drop in for a quick bite, or bring the kids to brunch, The Chimes has you covered. It’s first and foremost a restaurant, so that means there’s no smoking allowed. This is rule #1 in my book for a craft beer establishment. They also serve all of their beer in room temperature glasses, either 20oz imperial pints or 13oz snifters. Never do you have to worry about getting that imperial Russian stout in a frosted shaker pint glass. The selection is a great mix and constantly changing. It’s a place you can go for lunch, dinner, or late-night food, as well as weekend brunch and always get a craft beer, and it’s by far my favorite place to go in Baton Rouge.
2. The Cove – The battle for 2nd place was tight among a pair of contenders, but The Cove edged out the Pelican House by a nose. Why? Because The Cove gets the most coveted beers in town. If Baton Rouge only gets one keg of a rare beer, more often than not, it’s going to The Cove. One look at their beer list tells you that they take their beer seriously. While the main bar allows smoking, the draft room does not, so that’s a plus for me. And most of my visits there, I don’t venture out of the draft room. The downside is that they don’t open until 5:00, and they don’t serve food. So it’s strictly a bar, and definitely not family friendly. But the selection helps make up for that. They also serve most of their draft beers in room temperature 10oz pours. The bottle selection is unmatched in the city. It truly has to be seen to be believed.
3. The Pelican House – As I mentioned, there was a tight battle for #2, and despite The Cove taking that spot, The Pelican House has a lot going for it. It is completely non-smoking, which is great. They feature 136 taps, so you can always find something good to drink, no matter your favorite style. They do a good job with their food as well, but it’s still a bar, which is kind of a bummer for me because the space lends itself to being a place you could have nice lunch or early dinner with the family. It also can get rather loud and boisterous, especially when they feature live music. It’s kind of a turnoff to have to yell at the person next to you just to hold a conversation. But the courtyard patio area is a really nice place to sit when the weather is good. The beer list is good, but I’d like to see them update their Beer Menus site a bit more often. Sometimes it can be weeks between updates, and with 136 taps, staying up to date is important. The standard pour is in a frosted shaker pint glass, but you can ask for a room temperature one or a snifter, which I suggest doing. I wish that none of them were served in a frozen glass, but I digress. A plus is that there are no Bud, Miller or Coors beers on tap. If you want that, you have to get it in a bottle and show everybody else what a sheep you are.
4. The Chimes East – OK, maybe it’s not fair to have a second location of one of the establishments on this list. But it’s my damn list, and I made the rules. The Chimes East is very similar to their big brother with many of the same qualities. The draft list is not quite as extensive with around 50 taps, but the quality of those taps is really solid. The horseshoe shaped bar is great and the bartenders friendly. Again, this is a restaurant first, but one with a great craft beer list. That means it’s family friendly and generally just a great place to chill and hang out.
5. The Bulldog – It’s hard to believe that The Bulldog is #5 on this list. But there’s one reason for that: smoke. Don’t go here expecting to enjoy the aroma of your freshly poured double IPA. Just walking in, the smokey barroom smell hits you. And if you think you can escape it by heading to the patio with the great fountain, well, good luck. Every now and then you can get away from it, but more often than not, the table next to you will be full of people puffing on their cancer sticks. The beer selection varies from good to great depending on the week. There are times when I’ve had trouble picking out a beer to drink from their 80+ taps. Sometimes it’s because there are so many great things to try, yet other times it’s full of meh. I’ve been there when there has been only one IPA on tap. And it baffles me why they don’t use BeerMenus.com as a way to track their selection. Instead, their website shows just an alphabetical list of beers they have, with no mention of which are draft vs. bottle nor a date it was last updated. Still, if you go at a non-peak time, you can get a good beer to drink as well as some pretty tasty bar food. Just plan on taking a shower as soon as you get home.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
The Londoner – The selection can be hit or miss, but sometimes the end up with a few gems (they currently have Stone Enjoy By IPA on tap). If soccer is your thing, this is a great place to watch games with fellow American Outlaws. It’s also family friendly.
Leroy’s Kitchen – Though not a craft beer hot spot, Leroy’s is another family friendly place with some good beer on tap. They hosted a beer fest in the spring, and have done a good job getting some craft beers that few other places in town have been able to secure.
Olive or Twist – While known more for their cocktails, Olive or Twist has long had a really nice bottle selection. With the recent addition of 8 taps of craft beer, they are upping their game.
Red Zeppelin – Pizza and beer go together well, and no other pizza joint in town features the selection that Red Zeppelin does. Another family friendly place, you’ll satisfy your craving for a pie and a pint here.
Burgersmith – We just covered pizza and beer, now for burgers and beer. The big draw is that all of their taps and bottles are Louisiana beers. I can respect that. Good on them for truly being local.
Places that need to step up their game:
Walk-Ons – Seriously guys. How can you have 50 taps full of meh? Come on. Bring in some IPAs, stouts and porters.
Happy’s Irish Pub – For a place that features no Bud, Miller or Coors beers, the selection will leave you scratching your head. Not a single IPA is on tap at either location, despite 22 and 26 drafts respectively. Shame on you.
Ivar’s Sports Bar – This place has a great location in the Perkins overpass area, but is overpriced with a bad selection. And when was the last time they cleaned their beer lines?
Downtown Baton Rouge – how the hell is there not a decent place in downtown Baton Rouge to get craft beer on tap? Not a one. Stroube’s has a decent bottle selection. Third Street Pub and Red Star Bar have a few craft beers on tap, but there’s not one craft-centric restaurant or bar downtown. There was talk of the The Draft House opening in late 2013, but all has been quiet on that front, so I’m wondering if that fell through. But downtown is sorely lacking in craft beer.
So that’s my opinion. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments below.