An Office of Importance

All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard…
            – From “All I Wanna Do”, Sheryl Crow, 1999

Father’s Office (FO) is a historic craft beer bar in Santa Monica, CA (Culver City). A conventional bar dating from 1953, it was re-made as a beer-aware destination in 1985, prefiguring the craft beer bar found nation-wide today and beyond.

Earlier, I profiled an early beer list of another influential L.A. beer bar, Barney’s Beanery, see here.

Barney’s approach was fundamentally different from that of FO. Barney’s continued an older tradition of vaunting a wide selection of international beers, mostly bottled. Famous brands from Britain and Germany predominated.

Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco was originally of this type, too. So was the Brickseller in Washington, D.C., and the Peculier Pub in Greenwich Village, NYC.

In time, this type of bar embraced – merged with – the craft beer bar. It took time, in other words, for the old school (one version of it) to develop confidence in a home-grown brewing culture.

But FO was not, it appears, an imported beer emporium before 1985. This 2007 LA Times article by Todd Martens depicts FO as coming to the role directly after 1985.

Thenceforward certainly, the FO offered no Budweiser or other industrial American beer, and no imports. In the first years some customers made the inevitable protests. The bar countered by providing education on  artisan beer. For further details, this account of its phoenix years will illuminate.

The quality + home-grown focus was particularly significant as L.A. had resisted for years the craft brewing trend warmly embraced in northern California, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and the East Coast. Why did southern California (the odd exception apart) tarry?

In his 1991 Pocket Beer Guide (3rd ed.) Michael Jackson speculated that the hot climate discouraged the taste for big-bodied beers. He considered as well that the transient nature of L.A. culture kept the attention span short for such off-beat interests.

Todd Martens noted that Eureka, a splashy L.A. brewpub started by trendy chef Wolfgang Puck, failed in 1990. He thought this discouraged craft brewing in the area for many years. Greg Stone of now widely-known Stone Brewing in Escondido, CA, interviewed for the story, agreed with that theory.

FO filled the gap by offering a good selection of California and West Coast microbrewery beers. In its earliest years, the beer list had a classic simplicity, as seen in the c.1988 beer menu above.

Jackson stated in his 1991 Pocket Guide that at time of writing California had between 65 and 70 craft breweries and brewpubs. The country as a whole had about 200. The craft beer scene was still very small, and almost nil in Southern California.

Yet, FO prospered with its quality regional selection. Its success showed the crutch of famous-name imports was not necessary to for a quality beer bar. Almost all the beers, too, were top-fermented (ale or porter, mainly) even though a number of craft lager breweries were operating in California when Jackson wrote.

This reflected the bias of early craft brewing towards top-fermentation beer, generally more characterful than cool-fermented lagers.

FO offered an assortment of ales, porter or stout including imperial stout, and wheat beer. Numerous beers as well were offered from iconic Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, founded in 1896 but a bridge to the craft era due to being re-imagined by beer legend Fritz Maytag, a scion of the washing machine fortune.

I visited FO a few times in the 1990s. By then the beer selection had broadened but the bar has always retained an unvarnished, laid-back feeling. I recall a wheat beer flavoured with desert white sage that was particularly good, the kind of brew one only saw nationally years later. The 1988 list looks conservative today but was revolutionary for the time.

FO today comprises two locations, with a third planned. It is known for its innovative food menu as well as great craft beer – currently 36 drafts are offered. Physically, the original location, on Montana Blvd., looks pretty much as it always did, maybe a bit sleeker. See this L.A. visitor’s page for a tour d’horizon.

FO was a tastemaker and path-blazer, setting the tone for early beer bars like Toronado in San Francisco, C’est What in Toronto, Horse Brass in Portland, and Arendsnest in Amsterdam. These bars in turn inspired countless others to vaunt “small is beautiful” and “drink local” with success.

Footnote re Grapevine Brewery. The Grapevine Brewery, mentioned in Jackson’s 1991 Pocket Guide, was a rare, early, southern California brewpub. It appears to have opened in 1987. By 1990 it had changed ownership, and became Okie Girl Eatery. A quake did it in a few years later, as detailed in this 1994 news account.

Note re images: the first image, the interior of Father’s Office as it is today, was sourced from Pinterest, here. The next two were sourced from the historic menu collection of Los Angeles Public Library. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.