NOBODY—or at least nobody I know—wants to go to brewpubs. Even when you offer to buy all the beer that they could possibly drink on the Weekly's tab. The conversation goes something like this: "So, seriously, you're telling me you won't go, even for a little while, even if I pay for everything?" "No." "Are you kidding?" "No."
A couple of friends, Sean and Amy, were charitable enough to join me at Hale's Ales (4301 Leary, 782-0737). So it's not like I had to drink alone at all of these places. But they were going to see Iron Monkey later, and I think they just wanted a free dinner. Which was pretty good: a pretzel, a sloppy grilled pastrami Reuben, a bratwurst with a ton of onions, and some kind of fish taco thing.
A thing I learned at Hale's: Apparently at elementary schools, a lot of the teachers feel free to fart whenever they want. According to Amy (who teaches second grade and claims to be more circumspect with her farting), people feel like they've got a license to cut loose because it always smells kind of bad at an elementary school and—given that you're constantly dealing with farting and fart jokes anyway—it's not like anybody's ever going to suspect that it's you.
Anyway, brewpubs: You can buy beer for about a dime an ounce. Hale's also sells curiously small bulk portions of beer: four-packs and "microkegs," both of which indicate (I think) a disappointing lack of commitment.
Another thing: Going from Hale's to Redhook's Trolleyman (3400 Phinney, 548-8000), you might decide that these are essentially adjoining rooms in the same bar. The decor is subdued Nordic, sort of ski lodge, with wood-slat ceilings, institutional floors, blond paneling, yellowy lights. The furniture, especially at Redhook, makes you want to talk to strangers (if you go in for that sort of thing): comfy couches, long tables meant to share. Plus, a fireside jigsaw-puzzle night at the Trolleyman. Yes, jigsaw puzzles.
And the baseball caps? Eerily clean, all of them. Fitted. Lots of jeans, shirts tucked in, with belts, on straight men. Live blues music, for white people, by white people. All white people. Everyone.
IF YOU KEEP going down Leary, you'll get to the Jolly Roger Taproom (1514 Leary, 782-6181), Maritime's brewpub. It's just under 15th, past the Ballard Bridge, and this tiny step into industrial-zoned land makes a huge difference. The Jolly Roger actually seems like a real bar (i.e., a place to get drunk), with a feel that's more accidental, if a bit silly (the floor is a giant pirate treasure map). The M on the men's room is a brass upside-down W. Whoops. The bartender doesn't care about keeping your credit card to run a tab. This is what I learned here: Look at what's across the street from where you're drinking. Across from Hale's: the 172,000-square-foot Fred Meyer. Across from the Trolleyman in Fremont: the Center for Movement Arts and Therapy. Across from the Jolly Roger, in big black block letters: Ballard Auto Wrecking.
Across from the last brewpub I went to: an empty bank parking lot. The Elysian (1221 Pike, 860-1920), fittingly, only coincidentally seems to be a brewpub. It's got the requisite neutered decor and the big, alchemical beermaking tanks, but they serve liquor and even Rainier. Some other friends showed up, finally. (Although in fairness, one was just there to see Eleni Mandell. "Boy, I hate seeing shows at the Elysian," he said, but there he was.)
If you like the beer (which, OK, I don't), I can imagine the appeal. The lack of artifice can be charming, in its way: the wedding bands, the serious disclosure of alcohol percentages and "starting gravity," the low-maintenance haircuts. But you can buy this beer anywhere, right? I suppose it depends on what you're expecting from your evening. And if you want to hear the Axel F. theme, if you want to bellow out excerpts from some choral performance you just saw, if you want to smoke something described as "the Space Joint" in the bathroom, if you want to hurtle across Broadway at high speed toward the Taco Bell atop a shopping cart pushed by a drunken red-haired Californian, then you can begin your evening at a brewpub. Just don't finish it there.