In the 1920s, as prohibition reigned and lovers of the suds had to go underground to enjoy a good brew, the speakeasy provided a haven for friends to meet, enjoy laughs and escape for a few hours from the drudgery of day to day life.
Luckily for us, while that sad period of American history is long dead, the tradition of the speakeasy lives on in downtown San Luis Obispo thanks to the newly opened Creekside Brewery.
“The brewery, of course, is the showcase,” co-owner Eric Beaton said. “We’re really focused on the beers that we brew and the food rather than entertainment, like some of the other breweries in town. We also have a decent selection of quality bottled beers. It’s a bit of a beer destination — a beer geek destination.”
Sitting inconspicuously along the creek just outside of the crowded row of bars on the main drag, the main floor of the two-story building that formerly housed Grappolo’s opens up to the spacious restaurant section. The balcony on the northwestern side offers a view of a peaceful section of the creek for a dining experience complimented by the natural sounds of the flowing water.
A quick descent down a short flight of stairs leads to the coolly-lit barroom, the only subterranean bar in the county, where one first notices the silver tanks of the brewing system next to the sleek bar that hoists a row of the signature Creekside beer tap handles and rests in front of rows of fine liquor.
Beyond the aesthetic qualities of the building, Creekside Brewery offers quality food and, of course, the signature Creekside brews.
“We’ve gone through 12 batches of beers so far and only a couple of them have been repeated,” Beaton said. “The ones that we’re going to try to keep are our bases, like our pale ale, our IPA, probably our blonde and our stout.”
According to Beaton, the blonde is one of most popular among patrons. An “introductory” beer, the blonde is light in color, not flavor.
“It’s got a lot of flavor, a lot more than say, Budweiser,” he said. “It’s one of those beers for people who come in and try to order a Bud or Coors Light, which we right now do not carry. We’ll give them a sample of that and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah! I’ll take this.’ It’s sort of an intro beer for the craft beer scene for people who drink Coors Light and the other little yellow, fizzy beers.”
The Creekside Pale Ale is a hoppier version of your standard western pale ale with the noticeable dominance of Cascade hops and a reasonable alcohol content at six percent. The I.P.A. on the other hand is a bit maltier with a nice balance between the bitterness and the fresh Centennial and Cascade hops aroma, coming in at just under 7.5 percent alcohol. Creekside’s stout also contains 7.5 percent with a nice body and a filling blend of coffee and chocolate notes.
“Serving the beer is really cool,” Beaton said. “All the beers so far have come out really well. I’ve been really proud of them and people seem to like them. I’ll tell you, it’s a real boost to your ego when you’re brewing the beer and people like it.”
In addition to their home brews, Creekside Brewery offers a variety of domestic and imported bottled beers rarely found in even the upscale bars in town, and at a reasonable price. Two of the biggest sellers in the exotic category are the Lindemans Lambic Framboise, a sweet and sour so fruited it tastes like soda (the raspberry flavor is most popular), as well as the Franziskaner Dunkel Weissen, a dark, chocolaty Hefeweissen.
Make Creekside your first bar experience on your 21st and you will be greeted with the establishment’s own Dirty Creek Water, a tasty specialty shot made with Blue Curacao and Chambord raspberry liquor. The red and blue mix together to give a blackish, murky color.
Though the brewery is certainly more beer-oriented, its wine menu offers a list of local wines, and true to fashion, Creekside’s very own brand, made by Autry Cellars.
“We do have a nice selection of local wines,” Beaton said. “Most of the wines we have are decent quality from the area, although we have a couple that are priced on the low-end for those who would just like a nice glass of wine for a reasonable price. Because a lot of the wines around here are really good quality and you end up paying $15 a glass.”
With all the tastes downstairs, it could be easy to forget that the establishment is also a restaurant. Like the beer and wine selection, the lunch and dinner menus boast a variety of options that promise not to drain your wallet. For lunch, warm up with their signature plant-ripened jalapeno bottle caps and chase them with the popular live oak sandwich, a filling smoked beef brisket, topped with pepper jack cheese and grilled onions on ciabatta bread. For dinner, the half rack of smoked baby back pork ribs are very popular, as is the lime and tequila chicken.
Creekside opened in January of this year, the brainchild of Cal Poly engineering alums Beaton and Jon Moule, who met through a local homebrew shop. Realizing they both had the same idea for opening a Central Coast brewery, the pair decided to collaborate instead of compete and within a year found the perfect location in downtown San Luis Obispo.
According to Beaton, the brewery is in the process of securing their entertainment license and they hope to continue the Thursday Nights Jazz series made popular by Grappolo’s.
Though less than six months old, Creekside is quickly developing a fan base among people looking for something different than bland beer at a crowded and noisy bar.
“It’s a lot different from other bars in town. I come here to actually hang out with my friends — it’s not your warehouse bar,” said San Luis Obispo resident Mike Coughlin. “It kind of has that aura of the prohibition era, you know, where it’s a classy bar underground.”
San Luis Obispo native and Creekside regular Christina Bertsch sites the selection and atmosphere as what brings her back. “I like the whole brewery system and that you can get a beer that you can’t find in stores. It’s also a small town local business and what’s not to like about that? We have to help each other out. It’s also a little hidden bar that a lot of people don’t know about yet, which is kind of good because it’s not crowded all the time.”
“If you want to learn about beer and try good quality beer, come on down,” Beaton encourages. “We have tasters and you can get four tasters for $5. And tasters are about five ounces, so you can try a bunch of different beers without getting hammered. We can walk you through it and explain all the different beers and what you’re supposed to be tasting and what the different styles are.”
More proof for how seriously Creekside Brewery takes slinging suds is their pledge to use the proper glassware to accompany a particular beer. “Well, as best as we can, anyway,” Beaton added.
The Creekside Brewery is located at 1040 Broad Street and open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and for dinner from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The bar is open late. To view the menu visit www.creeksidebrewing.com.