Shown, 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 provided they keep the original style.
The image shown below of the original location is from the restaurant’s website. The exterior has been virtually unchanged for generations and the interior, judging by images I’ve viewed online, looks pretty much the same too.
Barney’s Beanery was known in the old days as beer-central. This was before Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, Lagunitas, and all the rest of the beer revival royalty. But places like Barney’s paved the way – remember that.
As you see there were only a few drafts available: Miller (High Life), Miller Lite, and Lowenbrau. Lowenbrau was brewed in America by then. The availability of Miller in both light and dark reflects an earlier time, when “dark beer”, an American interpretation of Munich (Dunkel) lager, had a niche market. To beer fans then, it was an alternative to the mass-market norm.*
The bottled list is where the action was, and this too reflects an earlier time, when bottled, pasteurized beer was often the main form of beer available on the far-flung, often very hot west coast where draft beer was not the ideal form to handle.
The selection on the menu is a study in 1970s beery predilections. From Canada they had “Molson’s”, type not specified, but this is L.A. man, all rules are suspended, go with it. (It was probably Molson Golden Ale).
England – not U.K., England, as many Americans still call the Union – supplied Bass and Whitbread, pretty solid choices. Scotland, separately treated therefore, supplied McEwan’s, reintroduced some years ago by Wells of Bedford and available currently in Ontario. The brand with others has been sold to Marston, but I hope it’s still made as the beer is quite excellent and a taste of post-WW II brewing history.
Nearby Mexico offered up the usual suspects including Corona, so you see the bridgehead of its current world penetration: places like Barney’s made it happen. Beer authority Michael Jackson described Corona as an early, unlikely “sub-yuppie” favourite in California. That success later went national, and beyond.
Noche Buena was available too, which Jackson always liked, I think it’s still made, a nice caramel/amber evocation of the old Vienna style, from the time Mexico was in the Austrian Empire.
The mainland China beer is a bit of a surprise, as Barney’s was always staunchly American but Richard Nixon had recently opened up China trade, that probably explains it.
There are no craft beers even though Anchor Brewing’s beers were available in San Francisco in the 1970s. If the menu is actually post-1977, theoretically beer from New Albion Brewing in Sonoma, the first modern craft brewery, could have been offered. But this was much too soon for craft beer to appear, it was on almost no one’s radar when this menu was printed.
You could do a Barney’s-style brunch today with one of the avocado omelettes, say, and some sourdough bread (the Bay Area is close enough). Add a Cobb salad, Crenshaw melon, and some of those beers and you’ve got a great dinner from the 1970s, or for any time.
Finally, that Barney’s cared about good beer is obvious not just from the dozen German beers on the list but from the Pilsner Urquell, San Miguel Dark, or Carlsberg Dark. In our argot, it was all good.
(San Miguel Dark in particular is a rich, delicious beer almost never seen in North America, from Philippines. Hark all importers or craft brewers looking to make a great Dunkel emulation).
N.B. Thanks to Tim Holt, editor of the journal Brewery History who indirectly suggested the topic of this post to me.
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 it was German-brewed, or, perhaps the bar offered German Lowenbrau in bottles and American-brewed Lowenbrau for the draft.