A perfect pairing. Drafts at Gainesville’s beer hideaway Alcove followed by a meal at what some call the best restaurant in Gainesville, Paramount Grill.
Alcove opens at 5pm on weekdays. I came in on a Monday as Evan, owner and bartender, was pulling the string of the neon “OPEN “sign. He unlocked the door, greeted me with a handshake, yawned and flipped on the recast of the day’s Premiership game.
Evan is young and organized, his style and attention to detail put forth in the clean feng shui of Alcove. He rides a snappy, customized single-speed bicycle to work every day. Calm and accessible, he appears to have a chill gig, but maybe that is because I am the only customer at the moment and am not too needy.
A local entrepreneur, Evan is, wisely, a local enthusiast. Today the music in Alcove is powered by a laptop logged into upstart Gainesville music website Grooveshark, and on tap is the Midnight Oil Oatmeal Stout from Gainesville’s new darling, Swamp Head Brewery. Grooveshark and Swamp Head are gems of nouveau Gainesville, each started by hungry and dedicated ex-UF students who liked the town and its demographics well enough to stay here and grow their ventures.
Grooveshark is an online music search site offering streaming music and the ability to create customized playlists of your favorite tunes. You can also follow the playlists of users of similar tastes and pick off the best tracks from their collection to expand your own. Let’s say you go to a party and want to take the helm as MP3J. Login to your Grooveshark account and your playlists come up like saved bookmarks. Grooveshark competes for ears with other sites such as Last.FM and Pandora. Founded in 2006 by three University of Florida undergraduates, the company now employs around 40 people. That’s big for Gainesville. Well done Grooveshark.
Luke Kemper founded Gainesville’s Swamp Head Brewery in 2008 after earning a graduate degree in business from UF. Swamp Head’s beers–a balanced gamut of an IPA, Belgian Wheat, Oatmeal Stout, Pale Ale, and Honey Cream Ale–are gaining traction in Gainesville and throughout Florida. The Swamp (a UF campus bar not known for its openness to craft beers) as well as the Gainesville franchises of Bonefish Grill and TGI Friday’s recently tapped Swamp Head brews. Good on the managers of these establishments for their local responsiveness. Swamp Head has also transcended in-state rivalry as its beers are now served in bars in FSU’s Tallahassee.
A final chamber of commerce shout-out. Almost imperceptible on Alcove’s outside mailbox is a Hype Machine gramophone sticker. Owner Evan also has one on his bike. Hype Machine is one of the web’s best music blogs, and I am not just saying that because one of its founders is a Gator alum. Consider this piece from a statelier source than mine, The Atlantic magazine: http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2010/08/the-joy-of-the-hype-machine-music-ex-machina/61163.
Hype Machine is more of a blog consolidator than a blog. When prominent music bloggers write about and post what they are listening to, Hype Machine finds their entries and sorts them into its own prêt-a-play format. If you want the latest remixes, dubs, indie tracks, mashups, etc. then visit Hype Machine. They did a cool thing in ’09 where they ranked the year’s best tracks, albums and artists, making it easy for your grandfather to get hip with what is good these days. Hype Machine will make your discussions of music current and salient which is useful for snobbery and one-upmanship.
Alcove, Grooveshark, Swamp Head Brewery and Hype Machine: four entrepreneurial ventures that have created jobs, buzz and tax revenue for Gainesville.
Back to the bar. I ask Evan, “What would you drink today?,” a safe strategy when dealing with an overwhelming selection of unknown flavors. At his suggestion I try the Oskar Blues Gubna Imperial IPA and am pleased. I only wish I had the vocabulary to describe this ale, to comment on its color, notes and palate. Instead, I refer you to the aficionados on sites like ratebeer.com and beeradvocate.com. I find it refreshing that there is no honor bestowed on expert beer drinkers like the sommelier for wine. The guiding of opinion on beer feels more democratic, no group owns the adjectives.
Alcove offers 8oz. teaser drafts priced below $4.00, allowing you to sample beers. I next order an 8oz. Cigar City Brewing’s Jai-Alai India Pale Ale, an ale brewed in Tampa, Florida. I find its crude label charming, it looks like a kid made it on an old computer. It would be cool if Cigar City used a small Jai-Alai xistera as a tap for this beer. Cooler still is the word “xistera.”
Jai-Alai IPA is apparently Cigar City’s brewer Wayne Wambles’ favorite beer. The name Cigar City Brewing borrows from Tampa’s century old cigar manufacturing industry, spawned by Cuban immigrants in the late 19th century. Though you can still get hand rolled cigars in Tampa’s Ybor City, the city’s cigar industry has long since peaked. But Tampa’s beer history is being penned fresh by Cigar City Brewing.
Florida has long been a brewing backwater. Florida’s first brewery, The Florida Brewing Company, was located in Ybor City and brewed La Tropical, a take on a traditional Cuban line of beers of the same name. I declare this fact on the word of Cigar City’s own website which has a quick write-up on Florida’s spotty beer history. Given the dearth of tradition in Florida brewing, Cigar City’s owner Joey Redner has picked up where no one left off.
You might recognize that name. Joey’s father Joe Redner, runs for city and county level offices every chance he gets. He comes close but never wins. Joe Redner’s appeal is that he offers a breath of contrarian air. He is active in the community as a businessman and champion of the Tampa Bay area. Oh yeah, his business, he owns Mons Venus. Father Joe brews a different adult concoction than his son Joey.
I extinguish my Cigar and look at the chalkboard draft menu. Drafts are the way to go here but Alcove is not just drafts. The bar also hosts a choice beer bottle menu. And those not interested in expensive or obscure beers can order a pedestrian $2.00 (yet 5.0%) Narragansett Lager. There is also a short wine list of select reds, whites, roses and even sake. If you ladies want a funky atmosphere to sip down some wine before going to your favorite downtown restaurant then consider Alcove.
Ever try mead? Mead is wine made by fermenting honey. Of old European origins, it pairs well with Beowulf or a Nordic saga. Alcove offers two meads by the glass. Should the experience of drinking mead inspire you, you might try making your own at home. To begin, visit the comprehensive, yet low-tech website for aspiring meadheads at gotmead.com. Develop your mead making chops and you can enter your stock into the Mazer Cup International, an annual mead competition held in Boulder, Colorado. But try it first, it is quite ripe. I am proud for finishing this glass of cold mead but am not likely to order it again. More certain is my future return to Alcove, the next time with a group, for the ease and pleasure of tonight’s session motivates me to proselytize.
Alcove is a modest and elusive place, it blushes as I speak about its superlatives, but it needs such advocacy because its ethos is subthreshold and demure. On its simple homepage is a picture of the bar at night (of its sly, colorful, and inviting facade) and links to join its facebook page, and to follow the bar on twitter. Evan regularly updates these social networking sites with specials and happenings such as the recent release of the 10-10-10 (October 10, 2010) Swamp Head Imperial IPA. I found only a few reviews of the bar online. On beeradvocate.com, visitors have graded Alcove a solid “A,” and as one reviewer on Yelp put it, “They suck at being lame.”
Beer bars come off a bit dude-y, but soon a girl walks in. We play some brain games. With Evan, we try to name all fifty states and collectively we do it. It makes me wonder how many people can name all 230-ish countries in the world. That is more than the number of bones in your body. I must have a buzz.
It takes seconds to walk from Alcove to Paramount Grill…
Links and Such
Below is a list of links to find out more about the businesses mentioned in this piece. I recommend “fanning” them on facebook to stay updated.
Swamp Head Brewery
Cigar City Brewing
I will cite columnist Brianti Downing’s February 2010 article from the Gainesville sun found here: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100221/ARTICLES/100219315 as a good source of info on the story of Swamp Head Brewery.