Being a craft beer evangelist is fraught with many dangers. Wondering if I’ll actually have to dig a pair of Sanz-A-Belt slacks out of the Do Not Go There Drawer is only one of them. Another is the risk of missing a critical plot twist in Homeland while responding to a friend in need – a friend in a far away, unfamiliar bar. A friend in need of emergency advice before the bartender loses his or her patience. I get those texts so often that some of my buddies don’t even bother to type words. They simply send the name of the bar or send a picture of the tap list (often a daunting challenge to decipher after they’ve already had a couple of starter brews).
A couple weeks ago a good friend was on his way to Kansas City for business and knew he’d have a few hours of free time one evening so he asked me to suggest a good bar. Not knowing where he’d be staying I set out to look into the local KC craft beer scene by checking out some reviews on RateBeer. Before long I began reading multiple reviews of the Yard House and, being somewhat familiar with the bar, I was surprised to see so many negative comments. First things first, I sent my buddy there (though he never made it), then I went back to the reviews. Some clear patterns emerged. The more I read, the more I understood the reasons for the complaints but the more I disagreed with them – for the most part.
The Yard House is a moderately large chain. By my count there are 44 currently open and 8 more on the way. I’ve been to two of them: Scottsdale, AZ and Pasadena, CA. As best as I can recall I’ve visited each location 4 or 5 times and I’d happily return for another 4 or 5 sessions. So why is it that my opinion of the Yard House differs so significantly from that of so many other craft beer fans? Simple. They’re all wrong. That’s usually the case – well, maybe not always (I did say “usually”).
Here’s the thing: The Yard House isn’t a craft beer bar and it doesn’t hold itself out as one. Unfortunately, many of the people who give it poor reviews do it from the wrong perspective. They hold it to the same standards as a they would the Toronado Pub in San Francisco, Blind Tiger Ale House in NYC or Map Room in Chicago. The comparison is unfair. No Yard House location with its 120+ gleaming taps can match any of those iconic craft beer bars. Again, it doesn’t try to – doesn’t need to.
The Yard House is more than just beer – and there’s a lot of that. All of the locations have a similar, though not identical, industrial design, large casually upscale pub-influenced menu and classic ’70s & ’80s rock. Who can get enough of REO Speedwagon, Flock of Seagulls & Dexy’s Midnight Runners? Not me – and I’ve tried.
The star of each space remains the beer. Most locations have well over 100 taps, usually arranged around a large center island surrounded by a stainless steel bar. Sleek, clean, industrial, purposeful. So with over 100 taps what is everybody complaining about? (Well, not everyone complained. I noticed a Canuck who still hasn’t figured out that Canada is Milwaukee’s largest suburb posted some complimentary remarks).
The truth is that craft beer flows from only a minority of those 100 taps. It bears repeating: this isn’t a craft beer bar. When I want to visit a world class craft beer bar in Scottsdale I hit Papago Brewing but when I want to catch a game, listen to some Men Without Hats and have a Bear Republic Racer 5 or Deschutes Black Butte Porter, I’m heading to the Yard House. Granted, many of the taps are domestic and import Big Beer swill (Bud, Miller, Coors, Molson, Corona, Stella, etc) or widely available “Big Craft” (Sam Adams, Shiner), but you’ll find a handful of solid craft choices as well. One criticism I do have is that local craft brewers aren’t well represented. Last time I visited the Scottsdale location they only had one Four Peaks brew and no other Arizona breweries and there were no Craftsman handles in Pasadena.
That said, craft beer fans can multitask here. While enjoying a New Belgium Ranger IPA they can introduce their buddy or, better yet, their second date to a New Belgium Fat Tire (OK, maybe handing her something with “fat” on the label would present additional challenges regarding plans/hopes for later that evening but you get the picture). We often talk about gateway beers such as Blue Moon. Perhaps the Yard House is a gateway beer bar. Yes, the tap list skews a bit heavily towards quantity over quality but there are some gems in there. Might not be diamonds like a Founders KBS but there will be a few gleaming rubies and with such a wide spectrum there are plenty of opportunities to help open minds and educate palates.
And for the hard core craft beer geek (like me), when the game’s over at the Yard House Scottsdale there just might be an Alaskan Pilot Series Double Black IPA with your name on it in the cooler at Papago down the road.