Shown herein, courtesy the historic menu collection of Los Angeles Public Library, is the beer list of the legendary Barney’s Beanery in Hollywood, CA c.1980. I first visited L.A. about this time, and the list is exactly as I recall it.
Barney’s was founded in 1920 and continues to this day at the original location. It’s in the same, low-slung wood frame building it always was. New ownership in this millennium has expanded the brand to other locations, all to the good as the original vibe seems a goal of the modern Barney’s.
The image below of the original location is from the restaurant’s website. The exterior is virtually unchanged for generations and the interior too, judging by images I’ve seen online.
Barney’s Beanery was known in the old days in L.A. as beer-central. This was before Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, Lagunitas, and all the rest of beer revival’s royalty. But places like Barney’s paved the way – remember that.
As you see from its menu about 40 years ago there were only a few drafts available: Miller (High Life), Miller Lite, and Lowenbrau. This Lowenbrau was brewed in America by then, not Germany.
The availability of Miller in both light and dark versions reflects an earlier time, when “dark beer” – an American interpretation of Munich (or Dunkel) lager – had a niche market. To beer fans then, a “dark” was an alternative to the mass-market norm.*
But Barney’s bottled list is where the action was, and this too reflects an earlier era, when bottled, pasteurized beer was the form frequently available in the far-flung, pre-AC west coast. Delicate draft beer was not the ideal form to handle at the time there.
Despite advances in logistics by the 1970s, the cultural memory in southern California retained the preference to drink beer from an iced bottle. Of course, this form has never died out and is still popular in the region.
Barney’s beer menu of the time, in fact, is a study in 1970s beery predilections. From Canada came “Molson’s”, type not specified. It may have been Molson’s Golden Ale, or Export Ale, fairly light but tasty mass market ales. Today only the Export Ale survives, and Molson is now called Molson-Coors.
“England”, as many Americans still call the British Union – supplied Bass and Whitbread ale, pretty solid choices. Scotland supplied the dark, weighty McEwan’s Ale, and available currently in Ontario. The brand is now a Marston’s property (in Burton on Trent). The Scotch ale, at 8% ABV, is excellent, malty-winey, and offers a taste of early post-WW II brewing history – of what was on the Barney’s menu of 40 years ago, therefore.
Nearby Mexico offered up the usual suspects including Corona, so one sees the bridgehead of its current world penetration: places like Barney’s made it happen. Beer authority Michael Jackson once described Corona’s emergence in California as an unlikely, “sub-yuppie” phenomenon. That success later went national, and beyond.
Noche Buena was available too, which Jackson always liked. I think it’s still made, a caramel/amber evocation of the old Vienna lager style. It dates from the time Mexico was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
A mainland China beer is a bit of a surprise, perhaps, for the time but Richard Nixon had recently opened up China trade, that probably explains it.
No craft beers are represented even though the craft pioneer Anchor Brewing’s beers were available in L.A. then. And, if the menu is post-1977, theoretically beer from New Albion Brewing in Sonoma could have been listed. (New Albion was the first modern craft brewery, given that Anchor Brewing actually originated in 1896).
But it was too soon for craft beer to appear even on a menu like this one: “craft” was on virtually no one’s radar at the time.
Wouldn’t it be great to recreate a Barney’s-style 1970s brunch today? Say, an avocado omelette, sourdough bread (the Bay Area is close enough), a Cobb salad, Crenshaw melon, and some of those bottled 1970s beers. You would have, not just a great retro meal, but a good one for any time. With a great disco soundtrack to match, of course.
Finally, that Barney’s cared about good beer is especially obvious, not just from the dozen or so German beers on the list but Pilsner Urquell, San Miguel Dark, and Carlsberg Dark.
San Miguel Dark in particular is a rich, delicious beer almost never seen in North America, from the Philippines. (Its blonde lager is far more available). Hark all importers, or craft brewers looking to make an interesting Dunkel emulation.
Net net, beer was honoured at Barney’s in the disco era. The range of beers today is much greater, for styles as well as source given the thousands of breweries nation-wide, but that doesn’t mean beer fans didn’t have excellent choices then, too. The Barney’s menu shows that they did.
N.B. Thanks to Tim Holt, editor of the journal Brewery History, who indirectly suggested the theme of this post.
Note re images: the images above were obtained from the sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Two forms of bottled Lowenbrau are classified as German, but either this was a, um, printing hangover from earlier days when the beer was German-brewed, or perhaps the bar offered German Lowenbrau in bottles and American-brewed Lowenbrau for the draft.