Our last post, Top 10 Beers, detailed actual brews we loved along our River Ramble. This post targets the actual establishments where we drank some amazing beers along the 487 x 34,585 x 95 x 149 we traveled. However, each of the establishments listed isn’t just about the beer, but also includes other factors such as proximity to the river, overall ambiance, staff friendliness, quantity of beers available, quality of beers available, live music, and other totally subjective measures. So without further ado, here are our Top 10 Beer-Drinking Establishments (and a few honorable mentions!).
10. Rock Inn Mountain Tavern (Estes Park, CO)
We might not have found this one were it not for our good friends Chuck and Marty Raplinger. They’d been to Estes Park, a bit before we got there to fish the Big Thompson River, and recommended Rock Inn to us as a place we should visit. When we arrived at what we thought was an “early” time to beat the crowds, we were met with a full parking lot and headed inside to the bar for a cold beer. We were lucky enough to find two seats at the bar and proceeded to enjoy some Friar Chuck’s from Black Bottle Brewery; 99 Schilling from Odell Brewing and some Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing. Rock Inn has a great selection of craft beers from local breweries, a great menu and live music.
9. Lake Placid Pub & Brewery (Lake Placid, NY)
Our amazing guide on the West Branch of the Ausable, Rachel Finn, highly recommended we head to Lake Placid Pub & Brewery for some Ubu’s. We arrived for lunch on a cold, rainy weekday and found a spot near a window overlooking a lake. Beautiful setting, incredible beer, great food and yes, live music. In addition, while you’re in Lake Placid, just down the street is the Olympic hockey rink where the “Miracle on Ice” occurred, the high school track where Olympic outdoor speed skating happened and a great little downtown area.
8. K-Bar Pizza (Gardiner, MT)
Sure, most pizza places serve beer, but K-Bar takes it to another level. We talked with the owner, who happens to be a big beer aficionado, and he told us he prides himself on making sure K-Bar has the best selection of local craft beer possible. In addition, they have some of the best pizza anywhere. This has been our “go to” spot for a long time at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
7. Smilers Grill and Bar (Dickson City, PA)
After we’d fished the Lackawanna River “Urban Oasis” with Adam Nidoh of A&G Outfitters, we asked him for a lunch/bar recommendation. He immediately suggested Smilers a few blocks away in Dickson City. Turns out, Smilers is a local neighborhood bar and grill in Dickson City, which is really a suburb of Scranton (PA). It’s not a brewery and it’s not in a picturesque setting like all the rest of the “establishments” on this list. So what sets Smilers apart, the people. We were obviously not locals or regulars, and we were still dressed in our fishing pants and shirts, but everyone from staff to the regulars welcomed us the moment we entered. We sat at the bar, had amazing service, amazing food and all the “regular” beers and a great selection of “local” beers you might find in a neighborhood bar. What started as a great place to grab lunch after a 1/2 day on the Lackawanna, quickly turned into a few hours at the bar, sampling food and brews, talking with the owner, the barkeep and others at the bar. Fun!
6. Hitching Post (Melrose, MT)
When you go to fish the Big Hole River, you could stay in Butte or Dillon, but I’d highly recommend staying in Melrose at the Sportsmans Motel. Its right next to the Sunrise Fly Shop which has a bevy of guides ready to row you down the Big (fast) Hole like Cory Calkins. At the beginning or end, or even in the middle of the day, when you need some nourishment and perhaps an adult beverage, just South of the fly shop is the Hitching Post. This is the quintessential Montana bar that has a great food menu. As always, Barb and I bellied up to the bar for several meals and brewskis at the Hitching Post. Like most Montana bars, you’ll find the usual “national” beers, but also a collection of local Montana beers, like my favorite beer, Cold Smoke.
5. Mammoth Brewing Company (Mammoth Lakes, CA)
Golden Trout Kolsch German-Style Ale from Mammoth Brewing was #3 on our Top 10 Beers. Now, combine that with sitting either inside, beside giant picture windows, or outside on the deck, looking up at the Sierra Nevada mountains painted with fluffy white snow, and you have #5 on our “Establishments” list. Top it off with great food service at the brewery tasting room provided by The Eatery and you have a recipe for success.
4. Boiling Springs Tavern (Boiling Springs, PA)
Boiling Springs (PA) was founded in 1750 and the Boiling Springs Tavern came into existence in 1832, originally established as the Boiling Springs Hotel. It sits at the half-way point of the Appalachian Trail and directly across the street from the TCO Fly Shop. We frequented the Tavern on a few occasions. On our first visit, yes, sitting at the bar, we chatted with a hiker fresh off the Trail and then bought his beer when he was a little short of funds. Our next visit was after we’d caught the most elusive fish of our trip, a LeTort Spring Run brown trout, fishing with Jake Vilwock. While we didn’t venture into the dining room (a little too dressed up for us and we still in our fishing clothes), the bar is very comfortable, lots of polished wood and period pictures. They have great beers on tap, an awesome appetizer selection and friendly people all around.
3. Innovation Brewing (Sylva, NC)
We’d had a great day fishing on the Tuckaseegee River with Miller Watson and were doing our riverside “Guide Talk” with him when we asked about best beer. In a heartbeat he said, “Innovation Brewing”. We all decided to meet there for a beer and headed toward downtown Sylva. Miller arrived and we sampled a few Innovation Brews and met the barkeep, who is a part of the duo, Bird in Hand, that plays at Innovation Brewing as well as many other regional and national venues. In true brewery style, they’ve got a food truck on site for the munchies. Sylva is one of those special places we found along our River Ramble, and Innovation Brewing, Bird in Hand and Miller Watson helped make it that way for sure.
2. Ouray Brewery (Ouray, CO)
Ouray is a cool little town nestled among some of the most rugged and spectacular peaks in the Rocky Mountains, touting itself as the “Switzerland of America”. It has a tourist feeling in the summer as people from all over the world converge on the town to wander through the downtown shops, take advantage of the plethora of outdoor activities available, and yes, drink beer. But, it’s not just tourists who find themselves at the corner of 6th and Main, but locals as well. We sat at the bar in, how to describe them, swinging chairs held up by giant ski slope cables attached to the ceiling. The place was popping on a Sunday afternoon, the beer was cold and the food was delicious.
Number 1: Izakk’s (Craig, MT)
We were introduced to fishing the Missouri River and hanging out in Craig by good friends Sue Doss and Dud Lutton of Bozeman. After a great float on the Missouri and checking into our rooms at the old mercantile in town, we headed across the street to Izakk’s. To be honest, in a list of our top 10 “Trout Towns”, Craig would be #1. So of course, the local bar/restaurant in our #1 town, Izakk’s, would occupy this spot. We always find a seat in the bar, order up a good local Montana brew, and tell fish stories…. repeating this process…. ordering some food…. and continuing. To continue the #1’s in this town, our “go to” beer is our #1 beer as well, Cold Smoke. Not a bad trifecta, drinking our #1 beer, in our #1 establishment in our #1 trout town.
Honorable Mention Establishments:
Sawtooth Brewery (Ketchum, ID)
Three Creeks Brewing (Sisters, OR)
Nantahala Brewing (Bryson City, NC)
TroutHunters Lodge (Island Park, ID)
Phillipsburg Brewing (Phillipsburg, MT)
Roaring Fork Beer Company (Carbondale, CO)
Steamworks Brewing (Durango, CO)
…. yes yes…. we visited a LOT of breweries!
Clinch River Brewing (Clinton, TN)
Kern River Brewing Company (Kernville, CA)
Maine Beer Company (Freeport, ME)
Moody’s Bistro, Bar and Beats (Truckee, CA)
Happy Valley Brewing (State College, PA)
Ska Brewing (Durango, CO)
Thunderbird Inn (Florissant, CO)
Yaks (Dunsmuir, CA)
The Corral (Big Sky, MT)
Spike’s Keg O’ Nails (Grayling, MI)