Cold Beer, Hot Chicken: The New City Beer Store

SoMa's recently relocated restaurant, bar, and bottle shop is casual in some respects, but very serious about the beer.

Smoked trout rillettes.Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

Some murals are more didactic than others. Behind the bar at City Beer Store is a veritable Sebastian-the-crab’s-orchestra of sea animals chilling and partying, from a polychromatic jellyfish to a goldfish admiring a hop cone with its pectoral fin. There’s a platypus who’s either Swiss or a registered lifeguard, snorkeling along next to a a pink octopus who managed to pry open a treasure chest full of brewskis but who’s got only one in its tentacles. A fox wearing a bowtie has flippers on and the bumblebee looks like he’s delivering ice cubes, but I don’t even know what’s up with the sea turtle.

A sea lion swimming with a burger under a cloche dome on its back almost looks like a resident of Pacific Ocean City from BoJack Horseman. But stare at all this long enough and you’ll see the faint outline of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. Is this a cute homage to S.F., or is this a post-apocalyptic future in which sea levels have risen 1,000 feet? Have a beer, because you’ve officially over-thought this.

Since “Donald Trump is president” is the new “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” and City Beer Store is open from noon to midnight, you should have it here. Having relocated last year from the subterranean cavern on Folsom Street it had occupied since 2006, the former Coachman space on Mission Street near Eighth is where Craig and Beth Wathen are serving high-end beer food with assistance from Harper Matheson of now-closed City Counter.

While it’s great to sip a seven-ounce pour of The Shrew, a dry sour from San Diego brewery Societe, it’s even better to have a bowl of tart roasted wild mushrooms dusted with hazelnut oil and a bit of pecorino ($11). But among the many well thought-out and reasonably priced snacks and entrees, one stands out: Nashville Hot Mochiko chicken ($10). Although it’s not actually all that hot — otherwise, all you’d ever want is a lager — the sweet-rice flour batter makes it one of the most addicting bar snacks in San Francisco, made all the more so by the peanutty tahini dip and its drizzle of chili oil.

Smoked trout rillettes ($13) made a fine use of yogurt, although they too, weren’t as spicy as the presence of Fresno chilies would suggest. Yogurt shows up again and again at City Beer Store, making its greatest appearance in an excitable, creamy tomato bisque ($8) jazzed up with vadouvan. (A tipsy Ohioan in town for a conference and who sat next to me at the bar one night had ordered it three times in as many days.)

A good old double-patty burger with fries ($22 all told) would probably appeal most to people who want food in their belly primarily for alcohol-absorption purposes, and apart from the paprika on the fries, it’s only average in flavor. (Where are those porcini-braised onions? Hard to detect.) The slow-roasted lamb sandwich ($16) was on the dry side, too. Stick to genuine rib-stickers like the cleverly acidic grilled sausage and spätzle, with its pop of cherry and slather of huckleberry mustard ($16). So thick it’s almost better eaten with a spoon, the winter squash gnocchi ($15) with delicate kale crisps and slightly overdone gnocchi was buttery and soft, the cure-all for a drizzly night.

If you’re in the school of Broke-Ass Stuart, whose tenets include telling people to stop pretending to like IPAs, there’s plenty here for you, like Long Beach Beer Lab’s Oud Blue’b, which somehow tastes sharp but not razor-sharp against everything. But unlike the wonderful Almanac Taproom (R.I.P.) there’s more than just sours.

City Beer Store is three things at once: a bar, a restaurant, and a retail shop. You can weave all three into one, but not with a few seams showing. Table service is pretty clean and easy — and it will be nice when we can eat on this outdoor patio — but the bar itself is a little odd. Unlike restaurants with bar seating, it’s a full-on bar-bar with people jockeying for coveted seats, and a self-service water station off to the side. Tell a host you’d like to sit at the bar, and you might be told, “Sure, seat yourself” even when there are no open seats, giving you pause if you start eyeing the tables. The most attractive section is way up front, near the kitchen, but it almost feels like an overflow area, and I just don’t understand why you’d have a category on the menu for beers that are specifically listed as “not available yet unless otherwise indicated.” Anecdotally, things seem busier at happy hour than on Saturday nights — although Wednesdays are when you can get the clam chowder special with garlic-rubbed sourdough.

That said, there are numerous advantages to making City Beer Store your jumping-off point for beer exploration, among them the ability to buy a cool can of something with help from the bottle shop staff then pay a nominal corkage fee to drink it on-premises. Peek around in there for five minutes and all you’re going to want to do is add to cart. Asked if it was the biggest such bottle shop in S.F., a worker disavowed the premise of the question, as if it were simply too macho to admit, and insisting that a BevMo or two was “probably” larger. Well, OK, but does BevMo have 16-ounce cans of Against the Grain’s London Balling barleywine-style ale? Claim your awesomeness, City Beer Store.

City Beer Store, 1148 Mission St., 415-503-1033 or citybeerstore.com

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