I meet Blair on a sunny Friday afternoon – the day after St. Patrick’s Day – in front of Hamilton’s Tavern, the South Park bar he opened in 2006. It’s a busy day for him and his crew. They blasted through no less than 8 kegs of Guinness between two bars in one night and were scrambling to replace them.
We step through the door of Hamilton’s and the midday sun dissolves into warm dim light, the corner jukebox jangles out The Stone’s “Aint too Proud to Beg” and suddenly I feel like this is the best place to be – the only place to be – on this sunny afternoon. The bar is buzzing with young hipsters, middle-aged couples, post-work colleagues, and seasoned barflies. A diverse crowd to say the least, all contentedly coexisting under the giant chalkboard listing the 28 taps of the day.
With the causal, comfy vibe, the chalkboard, the perfect jukebox, and the incredible selection of beer, Blair has crafted a bar that embodies all of the best alehouses, taverns and pubs he’s been to around the world. And the neighborhood obviously agrees.
The key to Blair’s success seems to be offering up just what the area needs, even if the neighborhood doesn’t know it yet. Small Bar in University Heights opened in late 2009 and quickly gained a dedicated clientele. It’s part gastropub, part alehouse, with a top-notch cocktail menu to boot. Simple, well crafted food and drink that was exactly what Park Blvd. needed. Eleven, which opened in Normal Heights last year is a rock bar and live music venue. Blair collaborated with Hamilton’s/Small Bar partner Dennis Borlek and brought in Louis Mello (of Liar’s Club fame) to run the joint. The result is the perfect rock and roll bar with a killer sound system and a savvy beer list.
Blair’s passion for finding good beer and good places to get it are infectious and this enthusiasm spills from each of his venues. He’s also a certified Cicerone™ and accomplished home brewer and more than happy to pass along the knowledge and insight that comes with it. Blair wants us all to live better lives and if that involves some great beer, good food and killer music, he can give you a few suggestions on where to start.
Hamilton’s Tavern: 1521 30th St., South Park, San Diego, 92102
Small Bar: 4628 Park Blvd., University Heights, San Diego, 92116
Eleven: 3519 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego, CA 92104
All photos ©2011 Gary Allard
I moved from Seattle to San Diego in late 1993. At that time the northwest had a very active micro-brew scene. I was particularly smitten with local breweries Red Hook, Pyramid and Pike Place Brewery and spent many a night tasting their latest offering. When I arrived in San Diego the locals seemed happy with swilling MGD and Bud Light and the Corona (with a lime!) came out for special occasions. Maybe this lack of true ales and lagers is what turned a handful of San Diegans into home brewers, lighting the fuse to something that would put the city on the map for more than a beach town or retirement community.
This project aims a spotlight on the San Diego brewing culture: The home brewers, craft beer makers, pub owners, alehouses and individuals that have been key players in defining San Diego as a world class beer region.
Hopped Up is inspired by my side-project Thursday Happy Hour and the many great beers introduced to me by our contributing editor. As I started to search out more unique beers and taste new styles, surprisingly often the path to great craft beer led back to San Diego.
By exploring the passion of these individuals, hearing their stories and seeing their dedication I hope to create a portrait of San Diego’s unique face as a world-class craft beer producer.