Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Happy Gnome is a little sad

The Happy Gnome, on Selby Avenue east of Dale a couple blocks, is kinda like a James Page beer, in that all the ingrediants are there for success and you feel like you should like it more. After all, it's local, it used to be great, and you keep trying it and expecting it to be better each time.

Their niche is beer, of course. Lots of high quality beer. The Gnome easily has the best selection of beer in town, hands down. The row of 24 taps and close to 100 bottles, with a focus on domestic microbrews, sends chills down my spine. And better yet, you can't get a Miller, a Bud or a Coors on tap. I'll gladly pay a little more to be able to try beer from a brewery that only makes a couple hundred gallons of beer a year.

But everytime I go there I keep thinking, "Gosh it was so much better when it was Chang's." The prices were a little better, they had a nice happy hour and you could buy pitchers (that's right, no pitchers and no happy hour at the Gnome). And right now, the patio--what Chang's was perhaps known best for--is closed until they get the proper license. I miss the down-to-earth feel, and the unique Asian-Irish motif. Because let's face it, gnomes are silly, and is that a gnome being hanged on the sign?

So I went to the Gnome the other night with two good friends whom I hadn't seen in a while. We were looking forward to catching up and more importantly, trying some unique beers. By far one of the best deals at the Gnome are the 22 oz. bottles of beer from Rogue Brewery from Oregon. They're only $8.50 and perfect for sharing. And they're amazing. We were torn between the Younger's Special Bitter and the Shark Tooth Ale.

Now, one would think that if you work in a bar that caters to beer snobs like me, the wait staff should be able to describe each beer or find someone who could.

Me: "What's the Shark Tooth Ale like?" Fair question. I'd had the Younger's and loved it.
Her: "Well...I didn't like it." But...what's it like?
Me: "Is it very bitter?" Another fair and easy-to-answer question.
Her: "Oh yeah. It is." Really?

Being torn and the fact that there were three of us, we got both bottles. Shark Tooth: not very bitter. A nice hoppy finish, but I wouldn't put it in the same realm, as say, a HopDevil Ale from Victory. Even on the bottle is says, "Enjoy this crisp, cool ale with a hoppy bite." It was a great beer nonetheless, but it wasn't bitter. This has happened on several visits to the Gnome, where I've been lead astray, told a bock was an ale or they don't have a beer when in fact they do.

But like every visit to the Gnome, the vast selection of great beer trumps any negative experiences. We also had a round of Furious from local brewers Surly. Now this is a hoppy bitter beer. But it's sooooo smooth. And better yet, it was bought by Omar, the owner of Surly, who was sitting next to us. Thanks! (As an aside, St. Paulites can now drink Surly at Sweeney's and the Highland Grill.)

We finished off the night with a 22 ouncer of Hog Heaven from Avery Brewing. Whoa. The label says it's a "barleywine-style ale," so we were immediately skeptical, as they tend to be way too matly and strong, but this one was excellent. Clocking in at 9.2% alc, with 104 International Bittering Units (your standard American lager has like 10 IBUs), it was still smooth and a great beer before going to bed.

So I'll give the Happy Gnome 6 out of 10, it's saving grace being the beer selection. Once the patio opens and once they update their website, it might make it up to an 8. Until then, I'll keep going. After all, it's local, it used to be great, and I keep expecting it to be better each time.


DonJuan21 said...

First of all I agree not all of James Page's beer are great. But the Iron Range Amber still kicks ass and is definitely worth picking up.

I have to say, although I have never been to the Gnome, Chang's was overated. Their beer on tap tasted like crap and their food was sub-par and spendy. Their patio was nice, but a patio only goes so far.

In any case, if you don't like the bar it's no excuse to go Gnome bashing! Can't a homeless troll from Scandinavia get a break? You gotta remember where you live kid, before you go mouthing off about Gnomes.

Eric said...

Changs was overrated, especially the last couple of years. And true, I tried to stick to bottles, as the rumor was they didn't clean their taps.

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CT said...

If I were a minneapolan, I might consider patronizing the happy gnome but only in protest of their shitty logo. I mean, it's a stupid name... but doesn't like a cherubic, red-cheeked, mug-swilling happy gnome come to mind? I say ptooh-ptooh to their designer. Sounds like good beer though... well, approximately.

saintpaulcave dweller said...

Dude, that logo hanging outside makes it look like the "Lynched Gnome"

Julie said...

If you're familiar with Belgium beers then you may see the connection with the Happy Gnome and La Chouffe(sp?) beer (excellent), just a guess. I've always found the staff helpful, with free samples etc., and the food is always good, and reasonable.