California Street off Main in the Arts District has sprung up into a nice little artisanal consumption nexus, with stalwart Esther’s Kitchen tugging into orbit a handful of newcomers such as Tacotarian, Garagist Wine Room and Merchant, and Crafthaus. This is one of those well-composed urban amenity clusters — organized but still nominally organic — that you stroll through in other cities and say, “Why can’t Vegas have this?” Now we do. It’s pleasant and interesting. This is a place a Tom Hanks character would feel at home in, and Downtown’s flexitarian metabolism can certainly handle that. I'm cool with a little Tom Hanks.
In that hipster-adjacent, Hanksian spirit of genial, discerning temperance, I will say that Crafthaus is my new spot not to get drunk at. These locally brewed beers! You sip and chew on them with a deliberation beyond the standard praxis of This-is-a-craft-beer-so-I’ll-drink-it-slowly you apply to your Whole Foods scores. And in that context, Crafthaus' build-your-own tasting flights — $2 per 4 oz. pour — aren’t merely swatches of sampler beer to help you decide how you want to carpet the rest of your stomach. They’re rich, complex, satisfying — and in many cases happily strange, challenging, fizzy, piquant, bitter, smoky, and sour.
Last night I did a foursome that included Wundernutz! brown ale (a rich Nutella brown that drinks like liquid silk), a foamy, feisty boysenberry sour called All the Bois, and a Belgard coffee stout that triggered a caffeinated epiphany: So, this is how that coffee-and-beer thing is supposed to work — all that toasty chocolateness going on is like a UN translator who brings the coffee and stout together in a common, harmonious language. (Also, I did a bunch of housework when I got home.)
Then I swept my hand across the bar's broad white counter and realized, whoa, how I was unsurprised at the fact there’s no video poker trying to suck your soul through your eyes, and how the unsurprise of this, in a weird way, is a pleasant surprise. And perhaps a necessary absence at spots like Crafthaus where you drink to engage with complexity and not pursue an effect: Yeah, these beers deserve your full attention.