20-Year Beer Run
By Gary Singh
THEY SAY anniversaries are about celebrating the joys of today, the memories of yesterday and the hopes of tomorrow. As you read this, Gordon Biersch is in the middle of a 20th anniversary weeklong sequence of ticketed brewer's dinners and beer hoedowns that will culminate with a Dionysian blowout this Saturday at the company's original San Jose brewery and bottling facility on Taylor Street. The actual anniversary was last Sunday and featured co-founder Dan Gordon presiding over a feast at the San Francisco location—a nosh-up that repeated Tuesday at the original Palo Alto location and will repeat again this Friday at the downtown San Jose establishment. The uninhibited excess will conclude with a riotous marathon of food and lager consumption all day Saturday, featuring live music by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Rolie.
If you don't know who Gregg Rolie is, well, he sang and played a mean Hammond B3 organ with the original version of Santana in the late '60s and then co-founded Journey and played on all of their albums in the '70s before finally escaping the band once the '80s came around. Thankfully, he was not included in the Journey arcade game.
But anyway, since I have at least 10 years of flamboyant hijinks and rabble-rousing Gordon Biersch experiences to yak about, including several that served as source material for newspaper columns, I feel it is my holy responsibility to reminisce and join in with the band, here and together. Both the memories and the memoirs will live in infamy.
For example, in an Oct. 12, 2005, column, I wrote about a scholarly conference called Sacred Elixirs: Drug Plants in the History of Religion—probably the most interesting use of the Montgomery Theatre in decades. The column opened up at the bar in Gordon Biersch (GB), with a Western yogi enlightening me about entheogens and psychotropic substances. After we had a few Blonde Bocks, he pulled out a vial of Salvia divinorum extract from a psychotropic plant in Oaxaca, Mexico—a bona fide legal hallucinogenic—and squirted a drop of the stuff underneath his tongue. Right there at the bar. He said the stuff made him much more self-aware and that it was a cheap ticket to a reality outside the shallow-breathing, three-dimensional lives most people unschooled in yoga lead.
Then there was the night '80s hair metal throwaway Bret Michaels, of Poison, played a private gig on the restaurant's back patio for about 40 people. Even the employees weren't allowed to attend, but the manager snuck me in anyway. In the column, I didn't divulge the restaurant, but since it's now GB's 20th anniversary, and the statute of limitations has hopefully passed, I'll sell out and blow the whistle. During the gig, Michaels announced the then upcoming "Poison 20th anniversary tour." After the schlock was over and done, all I can say is that unlike Poison, Gordon Biersch has lasted continuously for 20 years.
The fun didn't stop there. In a Christmastime 2005 column, I used Rosicrucian allegory to explain the secret rites of the Gordon Biersch Steinholders—those longtime regulars who have their own personalized steins, complete with their names etched into the pewter lids. You can see the steins housed in museumlike cases behind the bar. Whenever an out-of-towner or a non-Adept arrives at the brewery, he or she always asks the bartender: "How do I get one of those?" And we who have the steins love to fabricate explanations like: "You must have spent at least $10,000 here," or, "You must be initiated by the Supreme Grand Master, 33rd degree, of the San Fernando Street Chapter of the West Coast Lodge." My usual response is, "You must have traced your bloodline all the way back through Charlemagne, Fulk the Black, Godfrey de Bouillon and eventually Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene."
All in all, while other wonderfully hedonistic institutions have come and gone, GB has lasted for 20 years in Silicon Valley. To them, I say: Alles Gute!