Crafty Foods and Crafty Beer

IMG_0814Beth and I took another recent tour of Los Angeles nightspots with Susan, Gordon and Kristen DesCombes in celebration of Kristen’s 23rd birthday (and in honor of what would have been Marilyn Bosson Skidmore’s 57th birthday). Ahead was a planned visit to several downtown whiskey bar destinations, but our first stop was dinner at Beer Belly on Western, just a block north of the Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire (parking is a bit tricky at the Saehan Bank lot).

Presenting “crafty food” and an assortment of craft brews, Beer Belly stood out from the moment we arrived, thanks to the people who work there. All – from the greeters to the bartenders to the waitresses – showcased their loveable personalities and fabulous people-skills. The service was truly outstanding.

Once a month, Beer Belly stages a signature “One Night Stand” event in

Saint Archer

which they showcase a specific craft brewery. Saint Archer Brewing Co. was the brewery in the spotlight on Feb. 19, with eight of the San Diego brewery’s best offerings on tap. While Kristen and Susan opted for the flight offering the Blonde, Pale Ale, Scottish Ale and IPA, Gordon, Beth and I went with the American Stout. Sus later tried an IPA, while Zach Timm joined us and also chose the Stout, after sampling all of our beers that were on the table.

While the beer was delightful, the crafty food was even better: “Death by Duck” fries with sweet onion sugar, duck and raspberry mustard), Bacon Fat fries (cooked in bacon fat and including bacon bits), and Brussels (Brussels sprouts with apples, onions and pancetta prepared so even Brussels sprouts haters will love them) for starters, followed by the Beer Belly Grilled Cheese (four cheeses, bacon and a fried egg), Duck French Dip, the Beer and Chipotle Braised Short Rib and Fat Stacks of Cheddar Mac (featured multiple cheeses and bacon).

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Very much satisfied after our meal, we headed back downtown for post-dinner refreshments at some of LA’s hidden whiskey bars and historic establishments. I’ll save those experiences for my next blog entry. Needless to say, we were done eating for the night, except that as Beth and I headed back to Upland, Gordon and Sus took a detour to the Original Pantry for a late-night breakfast – a fitting tribute to the gentrification of downtown Los Angeles by patronizing an LA institution that’s been open 24/7 since 1924.

The Fox Inn Revisited

Given the theme of this blog, it seems fitting to re-publish this post from 2008 from my previous blog site… No wonder there is no place like this anymore, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted. Amazingly, people still comment today on my original 2008 posting, and it’s a kick to read some of their memories. If you have the chance, take a look at that site and those comments… In the meantime, here’s our repeat tribute to the great Bill “the Fox” Foster. Cheers! 

Ziggy Socky, Ziggy Socky, Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!

Bill_fox_cdThere once was this bar on Wilshire in Santa Monica called “The Fox Inn Rathskeller,” where visitors would stand in line for up to an hour, just to get into the crowded, smoke-filled room. Nothing fancy about the place – just picnic tables and benches, and a piano up front. No TVs along the walls. They only served beer.

Everybody came to drink beer and sing along with the guy playing the piano.

It was the closest thing we had to a German pub, with the beer flowing freely and everybody inside singing choruses of raunchy beer-drinking rugby songs. Beer wasn’t poured by the glass, but by the pitcher.

Of course, that was a different time, and society was a different place. There was no such thing as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I can’t imagine a place like that could operate today, which is why it’s no wonder officials closed The Fox Inn in 1989, depriving future generations of the unique exploits of Bill “The Fox” Foster.

I think people today have a hard time believing there really was such a guy, but The Fox was a legend. He could drink beer faster than anyone ever. Even the characters portrayed in the film “Beerfest” couldn’t hold a cold one to the Fox.

Standing behind an upright piano holding two mugs of beer, and with a cry of “Ziggy socky ziggy socky, Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!” he would dump both mugs down his throat in less than two seconds. Not surprisingly, he held the title of “World’s Fastest Beer Drinker” for 25 consecutive years. Really.

Anytime he was met with an “automatic challenge,” he’d drink two beers faster than the challenger could drink even one. He’d turn a beer glass upside-down and fill the tiny crown with beer and offer it to his opponent, then drink his full “regular-sized” glass before the other person could drink the one-ounce shot of beer. He rarely lost a challenge, if ever.

The best part, of course, was watching him stand on his head and chug a glass. He’d still win. He’d probably drink close to 40 glasses of beer a night, and then come back the next night and do it again.

Between chugs, The Fox led the room in song. He’d play piano, calling out sing-along-style parodies of popular “rugby” standards with raunchy lyrics and crass choruses. It was pub entertainment at its best – a room full of drunks belting out what he called “songs your mother wouldn’t sing.” I taught my sons The Fox version of “Take it out at the Ballgame,” which we routinely still sing every time during the seventh-inning stretch. I don’t think they know the real words to the song anymore. The Fox’s “censored” version is much more fun.

I found a bunch of short clips that were recorded at the Fox Inn. Go to this link to listen to them one at a time.

The Fox Inn was filled with picnic tables, and more wooden benches were lined end-to-end along the walls. It was standing room only on Saturday nights, and people stood on the benches just to get a better view. The line outside was 25 feet long. I first heard about the place in college, and my friend Nick Salata first took us there. Nick seemed to know everywhere to go in Los Angeles, and this was one of his favorites. It was one of mine, too.

Foster performed nightly at The Fox Inn from 1961 until it was closed in 1989. It was a mandatory stop after going to a Lakers or Kings game at the Forum, or on a visit to our friend Trip Oates’ place in Santa Monica.

My favorite memory is running into the Fox at a UCLA-Stanford football game at the Rose Bowl on a November afternoon in 1982 (UCLA won, 38-35 in a shootout between quarterbacks Tom Ramsey and John Elway). Back then they still sold beer at college games, so when Nick, Greg Setlich, Robert Villanueva, Grant Warhurst and I saw the Fox roaming the concourse area, we offered up an automatic challenge. He refused because he had to work that night. Naturally, the group of us figured we needed to go see him at work that evening in Santa Monica. Foster recognized us from our meeting at the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, and called us out for an automatic challenge. None of us stood a chance.

The songs made it especially fun. Anyone could chime in with their own limerick or rhyme, but they better be good, or else they’d be met with a chorus of “F— You,” sung to the tune of the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” Christmas song. And if the Fox spotted you heading toward the restroom while he was at the piano, he’d likely stop in mid song and start repeating, “We know where you’re going, we know where you’re going…”

And if you dared spill your beer, he’d call you out with another “F—You” song in your honor.

After the sale of the Fox Inn, Foster continued to perform in and around Los Angeles and at college campuses and special events. He later gained notoriety as a cast member of TV’s “The Man Show,” where he chugged beers and sang songs with the audience. We saw him perform at Irrelevant Week at the Balboa Bay Club and at again a bar in Pasadena, but it never was the same as the Santa Monica pub. It was always fun, but the last time we saw him in Pasadena, one of the guys in our group got us kicked out of the restaurant early that night, so we never got to enjoy him again at his best.

Here is a video tribute to the Fox that aired on “The Man Show.” Definitely worth watching, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the atmosphere that filled “The Fox Inn Rathskeller” on Wilshire.

On May 10, 2000, Foster died at his home in Santa Monica after a long battle with prostate cancer. Gone, but long remembered.

Mother Earth

Mother Earth tasting-roomAlthough I have been an advocate for the many craft breweries in San Diego County, I’ve actually visited just a handful. However, their products have been prominent at tasting events and in retail outlets, so I’ve had no shortage of samplings. Most trips to visit our boys who attend Cal State San Marcos result in a visit to Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey, where Sid pours some of the greatest beers in the world, and we enjoy dining at the Karl Strauss brewery/restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, where Sam is a server of their carefully paired food and beer. Along with a few trips over to Stone, the Disneyland of craft breweries, I’ve only been to the nearby Belching Beaver Brewery in Vista. Admittedly, it’s pretty hard to get me away from the Lost Abbey, especially when Sid’s behind the bar. Plus, their beer is almost impossible to beat.

That being said, we’ve added another destination to our list of must-visit craft breweries. On our most recent visit to see our boys, we learned that longtime Port/Lost Abbey tasting room manager Jason Danderand had taken over as the tasting room chief at Mother Earth Brew Co. in Vista. So we paid our friend a visit.

IMG_0790Rather than the typical craft brewery located in an out-of-the-way industrial complex, Mother Earth is situated right on Main Street in Vista. Its spacious taproom opens to the historic downtown street, with both indoor and outdoor seating. It is truly much more accessible and comfortable than many similar places, and it is also dog friendly.

Along with a full taproom of clearly very popular beers, Mother Earth caters to home brewers, offering a supply store next door with ingredients, equipment and recipes for people who brew their own beer, while presenting a unique tasting environment for those who just want to appreciate great beer. Jason said the place is always lively with activities such as classes for home brewers, bingo, live entertainment, Cask Fridays and special educational events like Thursday’s pre-Valentine’s Day pairing of beer and chocolate in partnership with local chocolatier So Rich Chocolates.

mother earth muralOh, and the beer. Well, we didn’t have the opportunity to sit and enjoy many tasters, because we just wanted to drop in and say hello to Jason (and Michelle, another former Lost Abbey beer server). But the Sin-Tax Imperial Peanut Butter Stout was fantastic (and people who don’t favor dark beers will enjoy this treat). Next time we’ll plan on dedicating the appropriate time to relishing the Mother Earth experience. Too bad we don’t live nearby, or we might not ever leave (I’m beginning to understand your “dilemma,” Paul Compton!).