Olde Sonoma Public House
By James Knight
Any antique notions that extra e in "olde" may have conjured are quelled by the clamor of a Monday Night Football crowd. Those brass rails, leather sofas, dimmed lights, that genial murmuring—scratched. This is a lively neighborhood bar where a younger crowd is catching the game on two screens; where Pabst Blue Ribbon is served on tap along with 31 craft, micro and international brews from an ever-changing chalkboard menu. So then: this is a sudsy alternative to grape-hooch-country overload where a mixed-age crowd enjoys a beer geek's slice of heaven; where the odd, two-keg experiments from well-known craft brewers are on offer.
Point of fact, this is the kind of community watering hole where a long list of "leave a beer to a friend" notices fill the chalkboard opposite of the modest wine list. This is also a pub without a kitchen, but publican Coley Thinnes took this deficit and turned it into an asset, gaining some points in the neighborhood in the process. This is a place where it's OK to bring in outside food or order delivery from a supply of menus stocked on every table. Mary's Pizza Shack and E-Saan Thai House are just steps away, and next-door neighbor Taqueria Sonoma, which recently added fish and chips to its menu, delivers an order of nachos right to our table. This is a place, in other words, that's easy to warm up to.
Thinnes, a former Lagunitas brewer who put this joint together in a little Boyes Hot Springs' shopping center with some of the manic energy he has to spare, says he didn't think it would have worked in Sonoma's touristy Plaza. Here, ticket stubs from the center's movie theater earn the bearer happy hour prices, any time of day. A popcorn hut beckons with a buttery glow, and a turntable plays 45s in the pool room, "Back in Black" tinnily wailing from around the corner.
Prices may look a bit high, but glasses are tall. A sampler of six beers ($15) comes in itty-bitty beer steins snugly set into a long wood tray, a good way to check out the options before addressing oneself to a schooner of Weissbier.
A clean, crisp Reissdorf Kölsch ($7) was just the doctor's order for a balmy autumn night. Moonlight Brewing's malty "Working for Tips" ($6), brewed with tips of redwood trees, has an herbal shade of Fernet. Grand Teton's Märzen ($6) is a smooth amber lager, and perfect follow-up to the Kölsch. When an old standby international like Newcastle is on the menu at Olde Sonoma, it's the unexpected: Newcastle Summer Ale ($5). While we're on hot weather beers, Coney Island Albino Python ($8) tastes of coriander and chamomile; Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat ($5) like a Christmas tangerine; and Duchess de Bourgogne ($9)—the salad dressing of beers—sports tamari, cognac and balsamic vinegar. Brew geeks, lift your steins.
The pub is also licensed for off-sale, meaning grab that brew and go. What did I miss? Oh, about the leather sofas—I erred. After the game, it's all leather sofas and a genial murmuring, after all.
Olde Sonoma Public House, 18615 Sonoma Hwy., Sonoma. 707.938.7587.
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