Restaurants + Cocktails

East Liberty Tap House

2/26/2015 |
Kerri Fukui

America’s days as a fledgling republic, just stretching its fuzzy baby eagle wings into nationhood [to steal some of our favorite Colbert Report imagery], centered on face-to-face conversations. Theoretical and eventually subversive political debates between men—and more than a few under-recognized women—we now see as giants in history: Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abigail Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere. But in a time of wide-spread illiteracy and news that could only travel as fast as the courier’s fleetest horse, the vast majority of the early republic’s revolutionary-minded populace learned about current events and formed their opinions about them by word of mouth. And that information transmission almost always originated at the local tavern. Only the wealthiest folks paid for personal subscriptions; most newspapers and political pamphlets were sent directly to taverns or roadside inns, where in turn the few literate customers present would read them aloud to their curious and unlettered neighbors. Lawyers, doctors, and ministers sat elbow-to-elbow with farmers, barbers, and farriers.

Discussions ran late into the night, with good ale or bad rum a common--hell, necessary--accompaniment.

Taverns, by their nature, were places where patrons expected to get the triumvirate of camaraderie, the glue that held, and still holds, secular communities together: a good beer, a bit of sustenance, and great conversation. Fortunately for we denizens of this Salty City, the folks at the newly opened East Liberty Tap House have brought the spirit of this venerable institution to our doorstep, and stepped up the interpretation with a modern flair.

Gone are the dark sticky walls, suspicious stew, and generic ales of yore.

This tavern in the imminently walkable and charming 9th & 9th neighborhood east of Liberty Park keeps the social vibe alive, but with clean, bright design lines, thanks to architect Brad Waltman [the one-man-show at Inhabit Design], outrageously good food, and a beer lover’s nirvana of carefully-curated brews. It’s a cozy and boisterous space, as you’ll realize if you stop in for a beer after work some Friday night, or for lunch on a snowy Sunday. The place has been packed to the Danish-modern-influenced rafters with happy customers from the get-go since it opened just weeks ago. And with Scott Evans in charge of ELTH’s concept and execution [you know, the talented guy behind two of our favorite spots, Pago and Finca], patrons can be sure to find food that’s as delicious and original as it is locally grown and conscionably sourced.

Along with business partners Caroline and Josh Stewart, Evans also brought in his team of ringers to keep that ship tight on the daily. Phelix Gardner’s the executive chef, with Chris Henry as the Tap House’s chef de cuisine and with the front-of-house expertise of operations manager Jameel Gaskins, you know the service is going to be on point. We don’t even want know what kind of fuck-tastic, labyrinthine, regulatory hoops Evans has had to jump through to make this bit of wonderment happen, but the joint operates with two licenses: part of the set-up has a 21+ tavern area, and the rest of the space operates like a casual restaurant with a full liquor license.

patrons 21+ can sit or stand in the designated area and enjoy a draft beer without having to order food. Gasp! 

Keeping the innovation going, in a market where most of the beer tap handles across town look distressingly the same, Scott Evans hopes to keep patrons happy with an ever-changing selection of seasonal brews, and more hard-to-find imports by the bottle, like Belgian sours and a great roster of hard ciders. Of course he’s offering some spot-on cocktails to celebrate their newly minted full bar license; run over there and try their delish Utah spin on the Prohibition classic “Last Word” cocktail [traditionally made with green Chartreuse and citrus], which Scott calls “The Last Ward.” Even the small wine-by-the-glass selection pushes the market spectrum, or you can bring your own bottle for a nominal corkage fee [seven bucks].

Fair warning: you’ll be sorely tempted to request some bites when you see what’s rolling out of the restaurant’s miniscule kitchen, and at a tempting price point, to boot [some of the best reinterpretations of “bar snacks” we’ve had in a while, most coming in at six bucks and under]. For example, you can tuck into what may be the valley’s best pairing with stout beer currently available: beef chichirones. In keeping with their nose-to-tail philosophy of carnivorous deliciousness, Gardner and team painstakingly remove all of the beef tendons during butchering, dehydrate them, and then pop them in a fryer, which makes them immediately puff up like a cloud of airy pork rinds sent directly from heaven. They hit ‘em while they’re hot with a sprinkle of white soy, chili, and lime [Oh. My. Gawd.] 

Beyond the snack delights, Tap House patrons have a generous handful of small plate options to share, and a satisfying list of larger plates and sammies sure to please. Every bar’s gotta have chicken wings, true, but the ones at ELTH are far from that pedestrian shit you've come to know. Friends starting the New Year with moderation in mind will love the the open-faced Trout Tartine platter [share the bounty of fries with your hedonistic tablemates]. The spectacularly sloppy [really, who wants a wimpy Sloppy Joe?] sandwich comes with two options: rosemary lamb for meat-eaters with a serious appetite, or a smoked mushroom version with goat cheese for the veg heads. And the organization’s dessert diva, Courtney McDowell, has come up with even more devious ways to derail our sugar detox plan with German chocolate cake and share-ables like the frighteningly-addictive bacon and peanut studded caramel popcorn bowl of sweet-salty-savory glory. Can we step off the balls of that popcorn? No. No, we cannot.

Yes, at East Liberty Tap House, our fair city’s first neighborhood-zoned tavern [cue the chorus: Hallelujah!], your children can accompany you the front room of this warm, convivial spot and witness impressionable and subversive behaviors such as adults consuming alcohol responsibly, people engaging in social niceties like sitting elbow-to-elbow alongside and greeting strangers with courtesy, and ordering food off of a menu that doesn’t come with crayons and a word jumble. Scandalous! That said, it does get a bit loud and feisty during the evening hours, like any good party that goes strong until midnight; with 80 people in the room it’s bound to happen. Different strokes and all that shit. Roll with it. Come warm weather, that gorgeous patio with primo 9th & 9th groovy people-watching is going to be our go-to après ski destination. Hell, we may even cut out skiing early and spend the whole damn afternoon at the East Liberty Tap House. Vive la révolution!

East Liberty Tap House | 850 East 900 South | 801.441.2845

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