In the early days of L.A. and O.C. craft beer – before it became ubiquitous — it took some work to find a bottle of something good. Back then, if I wanted to grab an IPA from Kern River Brewing or a six-pack of Firestone Walker DBA, it required a trek to one of the three liquor stores in Long Beach that had wisely started stocking such risky inventory.
Benson Liquor, on 4th Street and Ximeno Avenue, was always my favorite. It was the one closest to where I lived (Stearns and California Heights Market are both out there) and I became such a regular that the man behind the counter stopped carding me and started offering me bottles from his secret stash of Russian River’s coveted double IPA, Pliny the Elder.
So it made complete sense to me when last month (six years later), after emerging from a walk-in beer cave the size of a studio apartment wide-eyed and clutching $20 bottles of rare beers I’ve never seen out in the wild before, the woman behind the counter at Liquor Land in Bixby Knolls told me her same owners are responsible for Benson.
What still doesn’t make sense about Liquor Land, however, is how the Mediterranean restaurant The Green Olive came to occupy the other half of the place. Yes, before you can get to the city’s most in-depth selections of not only craft beer, but wine (three aisles) and spirits ($300 bottles!), you have to pass by the temptation of chicken kabob plates and lamb gyro.
According to the same helpful cashier, the owners of Benson bought and remodeled the aging ‘50s-era Liquor Land, which had an operational deli inside, about a year and a half ago. They brought in dark wood paneling, multicolored DJ lighting and the epic beer cave. Six months ago, the deli counter became re-envisioned as The Green Olive, a South Bay and 562 mini-chain that serves a combination of Greek, Egyptian and Turkish cuisine.
There’s a little of everything you could ever want out of a Mediterranean place here: beef, chicken and shrimp kabobs, beef and lamb koftas, lamb and beef gyro, falafel, dolmas, tabouli, hummus and more. If you’re craving it, it’s probably available, done right in a hearty numbered combo plate (max price – for “The Works” – is $14), all of which come with aromatic saffron rice, hummus and a salad.
It looks like so far, The Green Olive is doing a lot of of its sales through online delivery orders, which is a shame because half of the excitement of getting food here is walking into a liquor store to order, then browsing the extensive booze selection for something to take home to drink with it.
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The experience alone makes up for the fact that sometimes, the kofta is too dry, the dolmas under-stuffed and the pita bread a sad piece of store-bought carbs, brittle as if left outside its plastic bag too long. (If you take your kabobs without alcohol, you can also dine in at the few tables propped up between the soda fridges and the chip racks.). But it's early, so let's give it some time.
Benson Liquor remains an unassuming Eastside neighborhood corner store with an impeccable craft beer selection, but its owners are furthering their local legacy with Liquor Land. (The same owners also run The Bottle Shoppe on Naples Island). It might be easy to get a six-pack of Firestone DBA anywhere these days, but by pairing a Mediterranean food counter with a well-stocked beer cave, Liquor Land is showing what the next generation of bottle shops could look like.
Liquor Land, 3580 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 426-8372