Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

11 June, 2017

In the Pines, In the Pines: Pacific Wonderland by Deschutes Brewery

This may very well be my first review of a Deschutes brew. I've certainly had beers from the Portland brewery – their porter and stout – but, for the most part, it's been simply a brewery from Portland that brews a lot of eyepahs for me. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, they go their way and I go mine.

But a few months ago I noticed Pacific Wonderland Lager at Woodman's and I figured I'd give it a try. The brewery apparently decided to do something a little out of left field by brewing a lager and making it a year-round offering. At first I figured it for an eyepul but, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the hops were all German. Granted, one of them, Tettnang Mandarina is citrus flavored so there is a nod to the American hopping regime.

This whole fascination with citrus-flavored hops and very hoppy beers is kind of like Apple products for me. Despite owning Windows computers, I recognize that Apple makes fine equipment. So it's not that I dislike Apple computers, it's more that the people who use them are often times assholes who feel the need to be dismissive of Windows, talk up the usually chimeric advantages of Macs, and make sure you are aware of just how conspicuous their consumption is.

On a recent episode of a beer-related podcast one of the hosts talked about having spent some time in Europe. If I recall, this personal said that he became pilsnered-out to which his co-host remarked something akin to it must have been a relief to return to the States and have a beer with flavor. Right. Because malt and Noble hops are tasteless and beer never had flavor until about ten years ago. What a jagoff. I have no problem with fruit-flavored hops; it's the people who fetishize them and say that without them a beer has no flavor.

So back to Pacific Wonderland. Would it be a lager hopped like an eyepah? Adhere to European tradition? Was something wonderful going to happen?

The beer had a lovely straw color but was oddly hazy. Not exceedingly so, mind you, just unexpected. My pour gave me a medium head of frothy, white foam that, pleasingly, lasted a good amount of time. It was nice and bubbly.

Taking a whiff, I found it to be a little Old World and some New. Some biscuity malt was joined by a variety of hoppy scents including herbal, a dash of pine, and faint lemon/citrus. Not a bad start at all.

I found the taste to be similar with a nice, light cracker maltiness. From the Old World I tasted some herbal and spicy – almost Saaz-like – hoppiness and from the New there was some pine with a dash of citrus for good measure. I will reiterate that all of the hops are German - Hallertau Herkules, Hallertau Mittelfruh, and Tettnang Mandarina.

The finish was crisp and quite dry as that piney hop flavor prevailed although there was a touch of citrus in the background. It was also rather bitter with black pepper and herbal flavors lurking beneath the pine. Schaumhaftvermoegen was everywhere with webs of white lining my mug.

I have to give Deschutes credit for trying to bridge the traditional and the new by brewing a pils that uses all German hops yet including newer ones that have trendy, fruity flavors. However, this beer just did not appeal to me. There was too much pine taste to it. (They likely came from the Herkules hops.) The beer's light body and restrained maltiness seemed defeated by the rather cloying resiny taste. I've had other pine-tasting/spruce tip beers which I enjoyed but here it was almost overwhelming. On the plus side I liked the fruity hop flavor which was more of an accent but nevertheless contrasted deliciously with the herbal and spicy hop tastes and complemented the biscuity malt well too.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Pacific Wonderland with a bag of Jays Garlic and Onion potato chips and a brick of pepper jack processed cheese food product.

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07 June, 2017

Up on Starkweather Creek

Starkweather Creek forms much of the western border of the Eastmorland neighborhood. Indeed, the creek at one time formed part of the eastern city limits. Most shoreline north of Milwaukee Street looks to be private property. Shoreline south of it appears to be mostly city-owned.

I’ll be honest and say that whenever I hear or see the name of the creek, I almost always think of the Starkweather Moore Expedition.


On a recent walk along the eastern shore of the creek I thought about a particular Kansas song upon seeing evidence of Castor Canadensis - “Release the Beavers”, which you can hear live this autumn when the band comes to town. (You are welcome, the marketing division of the Overture Center.)

My Frau and I also saw various and sundry wildlife scenes which the phone on my camera and I were simply not able to capture sufficiently. For instance, we caught a turtle sunning itself on a rock on the far shore; and ducks seems to enjoy the intersection of Starkweather Drive and Leon Street. Mainly, though, wildlife made its presence known by their sounds – birds and frogs, mostly. It is very quiet on the creek’s shoreline with Olbrich Park separating you from Atwood Avenue to the south and the abandoned Garver Feed Mill on the opposite shore.

Starkweather Drive ends at Dawes Street and becomes a bicycle path leading into (O.B.) Sherry Park.

According to Historic Madison, Inc.:

Leon Park, also known as Lansing Park, was renamed O. B. Sherry Park in 1974 in honor of Orven B. Sherry, a Madison real estate dealer, who donated land for the park’s expansion that eliminated Willow Street and the eastern portion of Thorp Street. Wayne Street was reduced to a remnant that is now so short there is only room for one house on one side of the street.

You can see the original street layout of the area in this map from 1943.

And here is the lone remaining remnant of Wayne Street. All 20 feet or so of it:

Notice on the map that Harding Street was much lengthier back then. Not only did it go south to Atwood Avenue, but also east. The southern portion became Walter Street and I presume the latter section was 86d when the schools were built. Also note that Sargent Street was Grand View Street back then.

The blurb above makes it sound like there has been a park at the current site of Sherry Park. I wonder if any homes were demolished on Thorp, Willow, and Wayne Streets. Oh, and Starkweather Drive too. It occurs to me that getting rid of Thorp Street explains that island of grass at the intersection of Leon and Milwaukee. There’s the sidewalk along Milwaukee but another one closer to the house at 1 Leon. Thorp must have gone through the trees that now form the park’s northern border.

Here is the park:

There are some old trees in the park which must surely pre-date the removal of the streets such as this quadro-trunk. Or is it a tri-trunk?

The bike path goes across the creek and over to Ivy Street. Swallows love to chase each other underneath the bridge. Here I am looking north with Milwaukee Street in the distance.

And here’s the view south with the western branch of the creek heading off to the right.

Down by the intersection of Hargrove Street and Starkweather Drive, there are a couple paths into the woods which lead to the railroad tracks. There are 3 bridges in short succession which would send a Jungian into spasms of interpretive overload.

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04 June, 2017

The Neighborhood: Eastmorland

I have lived in the Eastmorland neighborhood for about a year now but only recently began taking walks with my Frau which has helped me to get to know the area. Having grown up in Chicago, I have always seen the neighborhood as a defining unit of a city. Chicagoans often answer the question of where they live by giving their neighborhood. (Either that or an intersection.) Neighborhoods there provide identity to one degree or another. By saying you live in or are from a particular one locates your home within the city. But it also gives clues as to what class your family is or was; it often signifies ethnic groups as well with enclaves developing in various neighborhoods. Some have a large number of residents from a certain age group or are home to LGBT communities. Others are known for examples of architectural styles within their borders. In short, a neighborhood in Chicago isn't simply a geographical place.

Madison doesn't embrace the neighborhood like Chicago. This is likely because of the city's relatively small size, far fewer immigrants establishing enclaves, et al. No, Madisonians mainly refer to sides of town with the traditional east vs. west still predominant although the utility of this distinction has lost a lot of its meaning as the city has grown.

Madison has about 100 official neighborhoods but many are quite small. Last year the Wisconsin State Journal profiled 20 of them, including Eastmorland. While the article itself wasn't particularly informative – it basically said we're all neighborly – it did yield this handy map.

Highway 30 forms the border to the north, with Highway 51 being the eastern edge and Cottage Grove Road the southern. The western border is mostly Starkweather Creek but also a bit of Lake Monona and Monona Drive. Eastmorland is pretty quiet as there are only 2 collector streets linking larger roads - Walters Street and Dempsey Road - which link Milwaukee Street to Atwood Avenue and Cottage Grove Road, respectively. Historic Madison, Inc. has a nice guide to street names for the area which offers some history as well.

An ad in The Capital Times on June 23, 1928, announced an auction sale of lots in Lansing Place on Milwaukee Street, east of Fair Oaks Avenue, adjoining the city limits. The owner was George C. Rowley, an established Madison developer. He seems to have chosen the first and last names of local residents for all of the street names.

Having mainly been developed in the 1950s, most of Eastmorland is post-war bungalows/cottages that look like this:

Early suburban with larger lots than you'd find in the older parts of Madison and set back farther from the street.

But there are exceptions. On Milwaukee Street by Leon you find a few older looking homes.

I assume that these were built in the 1930s by folks who bought plots in Lansing Place from George Rowley. Another older home sits at Hargrove and Dennett. It's the only house in that grassy strip that runs between Hargrove and the railroad tracks for 2 or 3 blocks.

This house is at the corner of Johns and Margaret.

It has a very large yard and I am guessing it was built by someone of means back in the day who wanted to live out in the country near Lake Monona yet still in fairly close proximity to Madison. There's another older home on the northwest corner of Tulane and Dempsey.

I moved to Eastmorland from the Marquette on the isthmus. The variety of homes here pales in comparison to my former neighborhood but we have tons of trees. And not just ones planted in the 1950s when the area was developed. There are still a smattering of very old trees. Plus there is a fair number of evergreens which makes for nice scenery during the winter. Unlike the isthmus, there are parts of Eastmorland where they had the sense to run utility lines through backyards instead of out on the street. Thusly there are a lot fewer trees that have had their canopies butchered to make way for cable. This mainly seems to be on streets west of Schenk. Here, for example is a scene from Dempsey Road.

If Eastmorland has an architectural claim to fame it must be the number of lean-tos. While there are plenty of garages, lean-tos are not uncommon.

I spied this house on a recent walk.

I suppose it's still post-war bungalow but you have more space on the second story with the roof nearly flat on the back half. There's another like it across the creek on Fair Oaks near Thorp.

I'll finish with some stats from the Wisconsin State Journal neighborhood profile site. Eastmorland is very white – nearly 90% as of 2010. Not many renters. Home values are generally below the city average with most of the neighborhood averaging around $178,000 although the western section is lower at $162,500. This area was developed earlier and I suspect houses are smaller on average with the eastern section having some of what look like proto-ranch homes and some larger lots.

Eastmorland is a quiet middle class kind of place.

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28 April, 2017

Gateway Beer: Schnickelfritz by Urban Chestnut Brewing Company

Last month I spent a little time in St. Louis. While there I got to sample some fine food, see the tourist sights, and drink some of the Gateway City's beers.

Amongst the brewies I visited was Urban Chestnut and I brought home a 4-pack of their weissbier, Schnickelfritz. According to Wikipedia the name "is a Pennsylvania Dutch term of affection usually for young mischievous or talkative children". It is part of the brewery's Reverence series which consists of traditional style beers.

Urban Chestnut, founded in 2011, was one of the larger establishments I visited in St. Louis though not as old nor as large as Schlafly. Brewmaster Florian Kuplent cut his brewing teeth in Germany and so Urban Chestnut unsurprisingly offers plenty of German biers. But they also have a variety of other and newer styles on their roster. The Midtown Brewery & Biergarten was a nice spot to take in a brew on a sunny almost spring day.

In addition to the beer, the cans showed some reverence to old packaging styles with their pull tabs. My mind was immediately cast back to my youth and the pull tab chains in the workshops and garages of family and friends' fathers. (As well as the cans of Old Style my friends and I stole from our dads.) These were neo-pull tabs, however, as they removed the whole top of the can.

With my weissbier glasses still packed away in the basement, I ended up drinking from a plain mug.

Schnickelfritz was certainly traditional in appearance. It was a lovely light yellow and hazy. Sadly, the head was small and disappeared with some haste. There was a fair number of bubbles inside.

My preference in weissbiers is for more of an emphasis on those estery banana scents and flavors with phenolic clove and bubble gum taking supporting roles. Schnickelfritz did not disappoint as banana took pride of place on the nose with clove lurking in the background. I also caught the wonderful, toasty, smell of wheat. Not even having tasted it, the bier had me pining for warmer, sunnier days.

As with the aroma, the taste was full of that banana goodness with just a touch of clove and a hint of bubble gum. It had an eminently quaffable light body with a sizable wheatiness. There was a little acidic bite to it and a firm fizzyness.

The banana and wheat stuck around at the finish while that acidulous tang was heightened taking on a prominent lemony tartness. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

Schnickelfritz is a fine weissbier. But I'd expect nothing less than a bier from a Reverence series formulated by a brewmaster who trained in Germany. If Urban Chestnut distributed here in Madison this would definitely be in my refrigerator summer long. Light-bodied and a modest 4.8% A.B.V., it was still flavorful with plenty of my preferred banana taste while clove and bubble gum took back seats. A perfect balance, to my palate. Plus it was nice'n'fizzy. Simply wonderful.

Junk food pairing: In keeping with the reverence theme, pair Schnickelfritz with soft pretzels and plenty of warm cheese food product dip.

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19 April, 2017

St. Louis: Final Thoughts

Some final thoughts on my weekend in St. Louis...

On the whole I liked St. Louis. But there was one scene which summed up the city for me. As we were driving west over to The Cellar, I spied a new or newly remodeled apartment building. Lovely red brick dotted with black iron balconies. Next to it was a vacant lot overgrown with weeds and ringed by a fence topped with barbed wire. That juxtaposition really encapsulated the city for me. Signs of life and prosperity sitting uneasily next to abandonment and decay. (It was easy to see where all the melancholy in Jay Farrar's songs comes from.) At its peak in the 1950s St. Louis was home to 850,000 people while the most recent census estimate places that figure at just over 312,000. So vacant lots and boarded up buildings are to be expected.

As a public transit advocate I looked for buses but didn't see many. Before I knew where we were going to be staying I gave the Metro Transit site a perusal in case I had time to wander on my own. Bus service was a lot like Madison's in that headway dropped to 30-40 minutes, generally, outside of rush hour. I did see one of the MetroLink trains over in East St. Louis heading across the river. (Parts of East St. Louis seen from the interstate look almost like war zones with abandoned and burned out buildings.) But we didn't spend much time near the train's route.

The lack of public transit and the near absence of bicyclists and pedestrians that I mentioned in a previous post meant that St. Louis lacked that vital pulse that makes cities what they are. Most folks got in their cars, drove, parked, and went inside, it seemed. A week before going to St. Louis I was in Chicago to see "Hamilton" and the contrast between the downtowns is remarkable.

Comparing St. Louis and Chicago comes with a lot of caveats – size, population, and so on. Still, St. Louis' downtown was indeed eerily quiet. It just didn't seem to have a great density of shops and whatnot to keep drawing people. I mean, if you're a St. Louisan, how many times can you go see the Arch? I don't recall seeing any theatres and the City Museum is west of the CBD. I'll note that we only covered a limited area. However, it appears that most of the touristy attractions in St. Louis are outside of downtown and really rather dispersed around the city.

I've already written two posts about the St. Louis beer scene so I won't say too much here besides that I was mightily impressed. A good variety of new and old. Sour beers, English milds, German lagers, eyepahs heavy on fruity American hops – it was all there. And that $2.50 half pints at Civil Life were a real treat.

The food was great. Plenty of pork. Smoked salmon was rather common which surprised me. Next time I'm down there I must try out the unique culinary treats on offer though I reserve the right to be patently offended by Provel.

I consider St. Louis to be part of the South though everyone I ran into spoke with a Midwestern accent. People were also uniformly friendly.

So that's my take on St. Louis. There was a palpable sense of decline though there certainly were bright spots. Not only was there was great contrast to The Loop but even to Madison. Despite all of its problems, its small townness, and envy of larger cities, Madison is a city on the make and growing. Two very different vibes.

I have only scratched the surface of St. Louis, though. The city may only be 312,000 people but the metro area, depending on your definition, is somewhere between 2.2-2.8 million. Not insignificant. There's still much of the area to see and experience.

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15 April, 2017

St. Louis: The Tourist Stuff

Sunday was the day for doing the tourist thing. I arose and ate the Long John I bought at Strange Doughnuts which was quite tasty. We headed downtown with our first destination being the Old Courthouse.

It had a really hoopy dome.

No longer used to mete out justice, it is now a museum free and open to the public. I had no idea of the building's storied history which included these folks:

That would be Dred and Harriet Scott who filed separate lawsuits in their collective bid for freedom and to simply be treated as people as opposed to mere human chattel.

It was rather humbling and awe-inspiring to be in the very room that the Scotts were as they began their legal quest.

In addition to that hallowed room, there were a couple other courtrooms preserved in their 19th century glory such as this one.

Aside from legal history, the museum also had exhibits depicting the history of St. Louis and its role as the Gateway to the West. The area is rich in Native American history with the site of the Mississippian metropolis, Cahokia, right across the river. Then came explorers, trappers, and traders. I have to say that the depiction of a couple trappers hunched over a fire in a small shelter during the winter made me quite thankful for modern amenities.

The city was the terminal stop for aspiring pioneers who would take on food, wagons, supplies, and whatever else they required before heeding Horace Greeley's plea. And so one exhibit had a wagon and all the kit used by those seeking their fortune out west. Again, I was thankful for being a denizen of the 21st century.

Outside was a statue of the Scotts.

And across the street was The Arch. Unfortunately it was undergoing renovations both to the museum underneath and to area around the base so we couldn't get particularly close.

It was truly a spectacle to behold and warrants a return trip to take the tram ride up to the top. There was a tram in the Courthouse and either the Arch's design didn't warrant anything larger or people were considerably smaller back in the 1960s.

Since Madison does a poor job of opening its lakefronts to the public, I was curious as to what St. Louis did with its riverfront but the construction prevented me from checking that out.

Here's the Courthouse looking west from the Arch.

St. Louis' downtown is setup rather neatly. West of the Arch is the Old Courthouse. Extending five or six blocks behind it are a series of parks each taking up a block. Some really nice greenspaces with modern sculpture aplenty including a couple rabbits and a heading lying on its side. At 11th Street where the parks end there are a couple courthouses done up in Greek Revival featuring wonderful colonnades.

Downtown was really nice with some gorgeous buildings. Many of them are fairly tall but the wide streets and open spaces kept away that canyon feel like you get in Chicago. I wish we'd had more time because it was eminently walkable and I'd have loved to have wander around. The sad part was that there were very few people around – at least for what I'd think a downtown would have. A few families dotted the parks while the Arch and Courthouse hosted a fair number of tourists including a school group or perhaps Girl Scout troop. Granted, it was a Sunday morning but I still thought there'd be more folks milling about.

This is apparently par for the course. I found an article about the decline of St. Loius which notes "Downtown St. Louis sits eerily quiet on most days, despite millions of taxpayer dollars spent on upgrades." I should give the caveat that we did not look around all of downtown. But the parts we did seemed to lack draws. While I'm sure downtown is overflowing with humanity when there's a baseball or football game – both stadiums are near the riverfront – but I didn't see many stores or other attractions to keep people coming.

Soon enough it was time to head out for some barbecue. On our way we drove by the City Museum with its funky outdoor playground.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was to indulge in smoked meat at Pappy's Smokehouse in Midtown which is a little west of downtown. We arrived around opening time and the line was almost, but not quite, out the door. I had discovered the reason that downtown was so bereft of people.

As we neared the counter, I noticed a couple of St. Louis' finest making their way out having had an early lunch. The place was hoppin'. We placed our orders and found a table. My friend Charles swears that Pappy's has the best ribs in all of Christendom so I got a half slab along with a chicken quarter. (Plus some pulled pork and brisket to take home.) Also on tap were Fitz's sodas, St. Louis' own. I did not try them, alas.

The ribs were quite excellent. To my taste, Pappy's sauces are merely OK, offering too little beyond sweetness. And so I dug into my ribs – dry. They were cooked perfectly, tender but not falling off the bone. The rub was slightly sweet with a peppery tang and a hint of thyme. My chicken was also very tasty. (I later found the pork to be good while the brisket was excellent.)

Here are the smokers taking a rest out on the sidewalk.

There mere sight of this is Madison would send neighborhood association presidents into immediate cardiac arrest.

With lunch done, we packed our coolers and hit the road home.
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10 April, 2017

Beer Me in St. Louis: First Impression Part Two

Our hotel was way out west, next to an I270 off ramp. I don't think it was actually in the city of St. Louis proper. Before making the trek out there for check-in, we decided to stop for one more beer. This time it would be Side Project Brewing's The Cellar out in Maplewood.

Stepping out of our vehicle we saw this in one direction.

And in the other…

We had to stop in at Strange Donuts. Each of us bought a pastry for breakfast the following morning. (They were tasty.) There were also t-shirts on offer such as this hoopy one.

Donuts safely stowed in the car, it was off to The Cellar.

Side Project brews "Belgian-inspired" beers. Although I am not unfamiliar with Belgian styles, I really don't know a whole lot about them beyond some basics. The menu wasn't exactly Greek to me but it sure highlighted my ignorance. I ordered a grisette and when my friend asked what I was drinking, the conversation went thusly:

Friend: What did you get?
Me: A grisette.
Friend: What's that?
Me (looking at menu): A brett-fermented farmhouse ale aged in oak.

I'd heard of the grisette but had no idea what it was. And nobody else really knows either as descriptions of it prior to its recent revival here in the States have apparently all been lost. There is general agreement that it was a low-alcohol brew made for miners in the Hainaut region of Belgium at some point in the dim and distant past. Having had some, I can imagine those miners quaffing this stuff by the gallon.

It was light, slightly funky-tart, a little oaky, and just all-around tasty. However, the irony of me drinking a less than 12oz pour of a beer originally made for working stiffs costing about as much as the minimum wage in this country was not lost on me.

The Cellar was definitely a place for craft beer aficionados and fairly well-heeled ones at that. Look at the menu. Notice the serving temperatures listed as well as the level of toasting of the foedre used for aging the Foedre Fermier. Not quite the place for hoi polloi like myself.

Still, I really enjoyed my grisette as well as the rye my friend James ordered. There were two ice cubes in the glass and they were nearly flawless. You'd need some kind of laser to detect the imperfections.

The room itself was bright and had some nice rustic charm to it. The Cellar was also the second place in a row whose men's room had but one single solitary toilet.

We made it to the hotel, which was located in a light industrial area, only to find that not enough rooms had been booked and that most of those that were were not yet ready. A real charley foxtrot but also not really that big of a deal. The food, drink, and company more than made up for it.

Once things were sorted, we hit the road back into the city for dinner at Iron Barley Eating Establishment. We had a short wait for a table and so we settled at the bar. I ordered a Zwickel from Urban Chestnut although I was impressed that there was a beer engine back there and it foreshadowed our last stop of the night. Someone else who was waiting struck up a conversation with my friend Randy. He told the gentleman that we were from out of town and looking forward to hitting Pappy's Smokehouse the next day. Randy's interlocutor remarked that there was a new barbecue place in town, a pretender to Pappy's throne, and that their smoked salmon was fantastic.

For dinner I had about an entire pig's worth of ribs perched atop a bed of braised sauerkraut. Quite tasty. I noticed that the menu also offered smoked salmon. A pattern was developing here. Smoked salmon was seemingly quite common. I sampled some toasted barley and it too was delicious. The place reminded me of The Weary Traveler here in Madison though the tavern side of things was smaller. And it was more ragged but not in a forced or kitschy way. I will add that the waitress was wonderful and managed to rattle off a list of what seemed like a dozen specials with ease. Very impressive. The water closet had but one commode. I don't know how much a "Jethro sized" vessel holds, but you could get one of soup.

The neighborhood that Iron Barley is located in was...distressed? It wasn't bad in the sense of there being drug dealers and prostitutes on every corner but there were a lot of vacant buildings in the area. The street was lined with these two-story apartments and just about every other one was boarded up. I didn't see any broken windows nor graffiti, though.

For a nightcap it was off to Civil Life Brewing. It was tucked away off of an arterial street and had a nice old-time tavern look about it.

My comrade Charles was especially keen on Civil Life as they specialize in beers of the British Isles. He had lived in England for a spell where he acquired a taste for milds and ESBs and has a hard time finding versions of these beers here in the States that match the taste of those he had in their homeland. According to him Civil Life gets as close as you can this side of the Atlantic.

Full English pints were available but also half pints for $2.50. It was a steal especially considering how tasty the beer was. I had a British Bitter.

Cracker and caramel on the malt side with herbal, almost medicinal, hoppiness. Simply tasty. I sampled Charles' ESB and it to was great.

And, yes, the restroom had but a lone toilet. St. Louis regulations must stipulate 1 toilet per 300 people because Civil Life is not small. There's the main bar area with a dart area in back and more room upstairs. Plus there's seating outside to boot. There must be long lines during the summer.

Civil Life closed at 11:00 and we were on the road back to the hotel by then.

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