So what makes a great bar? (pretty long)
  Posted by SteveG on 08/09/2004 06:21:56 AM
Good to my word, I made it to Amherst this weekend and can now say I know of the Moan & Dove.

A few weeks ago we were in Cleveland and made it to a place called the Winking Lizard. Small local bar chain, 4 or 5 of them, and a killer beer list. It had a yuppier-bar kinda appearance, new and polished, and the real state of the beer list seemed to be in line with that which was posted. A babbler would have no problem spending hours selecting cool beers. But the bar tender knew nothing of what he was serving, it was the kind of place where they put a lemon in the wiessebier without asking to "bring out the citrus quality". Every bottle came right out of a fridge and thus was too cold. We ordered some nachos, they came covered with this nasty cheese stuff that probably came out of a gallon jug with a pump on top. So it was a terrific looking place with lots of beer that I would not feel compelled to go back to.

The Moan & Dove was not really great looking, my initial instinct reaction was that it seemed kind of divey. But after some closer inspection I saw that it had no shortage of personality, so my perception of "being divey" changed quickly to "having atmosphere" and before long I felt very comfortable. Can't miss the beer list, it is on this huge blackboard you could read from across the bar and probably across the street. Considering what it said I can see why it was so prominent. Some examples from the list are DeRanke Guldenburg, Cantillon Gueuze, Stone Smoked Porter and Rapscallion Premier, maybe 25 draft list items. Remembering why I was there, I asked if anything was on cask and there was not. They tap those Thursdays and run them till they're dry, in this case less than 2 days. I guess it was good. No prob really, I couldn't wait to start hitting that list! I did get some info about the Marcus/Jan cask thing. It was a night when the cask was not good, some mishandling was regrettably involved. The guy next to me said he knew of another night the cask was a problem. It would be unfair to say this is the norm, he's there all the time and only knew of one other case of bad cask. As far as the conversation that occurred between Marcus/Jan and the barman, I got a different version from the barguy (who was not the person Marcus/Jan dealt with). Not having been there, I can't say whose take is more accurate and in the interests of diplomacy I think I need to keep this new perspective to myself and focus on my experience.

Started with a Stone IPA. For a rare usage of French on my part, abso-fuckin-lutely beautiful - what a smashing pint! Beer #2 was the Rapscallion, just great. Then Cantillon whatever you want to call it for coming out of a keg, every drop was perfect. I should mention, the bartender - who I think was the owner but I don't really know - told me his favorite bar is 't Brugs beertje. Being consistant with that, every beer - draft or bottle - came in a very specific glass. He was really good at what he does, pleasent, calm, very knowledgable and personable. Draft 4, I go for the Guldenburg. Awesome. We start talking and I tell him of a popular BB that I don't really like (not Orval). I'd say what that is, but I'd rather avoid the beating! I'm mostly through the Guldenburg and he comes out with a labelless bottle and two glasses. He pops it, pours us both some and asks what I think. Yep, it was the popular unnamed beer I'm not crazy about. He said since I hadn't had it in 4 years I should really give it another go! This is a good beer man.

The music was terrific, though I have no idea what it was. A rocky, jazzy thing that the barguy was doing. They don't pipe in digital music, they have a stereo and play their own CDs. From time to time the bar guy would tweek the volume at a favorite musical moment. The tunes were not an obligatory background thing, they were part of the experience. Another sign of a true Burgundian.

I see the bottle list and realized I have not had an Achel since it was supposed to have gotten good. I ask him which he'd recommend, he brings out a blonde. Man, another home run. By the time the night was done I had the other 2 Achel beers (liked the blonde the most) and another gueuze. I don't know how they keep their bottles, in sharp contrast to the Winking Lizard every one was perfectly cool. Great beers served at optimum temperature in the exact glass.

There was only one occurance of a listed beer not being available. The draft list has one sore spot - Pabst for 2 bucks. While I was sitting there many people came in who had to be carded. In every case except one, the approved person would order a Youngs Chocolate Stout, an Allagash Wit or the like. Young drinkers with a higher standard. There was just one person I saw who asked for a Pabst. This was great - the barguy said, "oh, that tap isn't working today"! It would be funny if that one was never actually working! He suggested a Brooklyn Lahgah, the pup said OK, took a drink and said, "wow, that's great". Who knows, maybe I was there when another Burgundian was born.

The Moan & Dove is a truely outstanding bar, not just because of the beer list but because of the details. As has happened on several occasions in great bars, the bill came and the amount was notably discounted. The bill doesn't spit out of the register as it would in a place like the Lizard, it reflected having come from a person who appreciates a customer who appreciates the bar. I'd recommend the place to anyone - a 3.5 hour drive, I'll be back.

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