The hype is true: Long Beach is becoming an enviable beer destination. And I don’t just mean that it has a bunch of breweries near each other like in Anaheim. Or that there are a lot of good places to drink craft beer, like in Old Town Orange. With the opening of Beer Belly in a former furniture store off Long Beach Boulevard this weekend, downtown LBC now holds the holy trifecta of craft beer destination-dom.
Not only is the block (affectionately called “Barley Block” by locals) already home to the best brewpub in the world (Beachwood BBQ and Brewing) and its super-nerdy barrel-aging side project (The Blendery), it’s also where the mini-chain of sacrilegious schoolgirl beer bars, Congregation Ale House, first started (full disclosure: I used to work there).
Now, within walking distance of all of this, is the second location of Beer Belly, the Koreatown house of duck-fat decadence and one of L.A.’s earliest and most beloved craft beer bars. Beer Belly Long Beach has only been doing private seatings for friends, family and locals for a week and it’s already proven itself to be one of the sleekest and most distinctive new restaurant concepts in the city. Owner Jimmy Han brought a lot of the working formula down from his K-Town original – the all-meat drunk food, the unbeatable selection of rare local kegs — but with a few not-so-subtle tweaks, he’s avoided creating an exact replica. Like Blind Donkey before it, Han’s latest project might share its name with a popular L.A. watering hole, but it is designed to be its own beast, something distinctly for Long Beach.
Chef Wes Lieberher’s decadent dish-making, for example, returns with a chopped-and-screwed Long Beach menu that features a few Beer Belly staples like the Death By Duck (duck confit on duck fat fries) and the bacon-maple-syrup grilled cheese alongside soon-to-be-classics like al pastor enchilada meatballs with Nutella mole, short rib poutine macaroni and cheese and two kinds of burgers, a beef one topped with candied-bacon slaw and a turkey burger smothered in mushroom gravy.
Doubling down on the local flair, the rotating salad now features vegetables from Long Beach farms and the Asian-inspired “K-Town Cheesy Corn” served at the original location becomes “LBC Crab Corn,” which takes on a Mexican seafood slant becoming more esquite than KBBQ side dish. For dessert, an assortment of deep fried fair food (think: batter-dunked Oreos, Pop Tarts and Twinkees) await.
Because Han is also majorly clued into the L.A. beer community (he helped curate the L.A. Vegan Beer Festival this year), Long Beach’s 24 taps are guaranteed to be constantly stacked with some of the best in local brews and popular events like the One Night Stand tap takeover series are likely to start up in the new year. As a sample of what to expect from here, the opening list included special submissions and hard-to-find beers from Ladyface, Craftsman, Noble Ale Works and more.
Perhaps the most surprising addition to the Beer Belly brand, though, is Long Beach’s full liquor license, which allows the prominent craft beer bar to experiment with a whole new palate of creativity. To do that, they tapped Karen Grill (Sassafrass, Bestia), who’s current list of seven cocktails includes whiskey-based The Downtowner and the award-winning gin-and-aloe mixture, Lily of the Valley.
To top off the experience, all this food and drink comes served inside a strikingly intimate space, designed by MAKE Architecture, the same team behind Koreatown’s criss-crossing high-beam ceilings and wood-paneled interiors. At Long Beach, the walls and bartop are an obsidian construction, with geometric accents that mimic waves undulating across the restaurant. The tables – you can either sit at a regular table near the kitchen or at high tops in the bar area — are framed by straight wooden bars arranged with angular intensity.
As a welcome supplement to downtown Long Beach’s already-solid Barley Block, Beer Belly promises to be just as much for locals as it is for beer tourists, who can easily stumble down on the Blue Line or drive in from OC to get a sample of this L.A. favorite. Grand opening is Friday, Nov. 11 at 5 p.m. after which regular hours (5 p.m. until midnight most nights, until 2 a.m. on weekends) will commence, with lunch being served Friday through Sunday only. Belly's up!
Beer Belly Long Beach, 255 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; 562-436-2337; beerbellyla.com