First off... I got the sense from their last column that the Democrat and Chronicle's Beer Buddies are getting their homebrew hats on. They've been threatening to do so for over a year. Good luck, guys, and save some for us! We'll be gentle. We Swear!
Now, to the topic at hand. What makes a good beer bar? Is it as simple as the presence of good beer? I don't think that's enough. For a bar to earn the esteemed title Beer Bar from the esteemed likes of Bruce and myself, certain criteria must be met.
There must be a broad selection of styles.
A bar that features beer from 15 different craft breweries is great, but when each beer is an IPA, it tends to fatigue my taste buds. Show me something across the range. Have at least one good lager, a hearty stout, and, dare I suggest, something on hand-pull.
The staff must know what the f*ck they're talking about
Everyone doesn't have to be a zymurgist, but a basic knowledge of beer styles, flavor characteristics, and, most importantly, pronunciation is nice. I once tried to order a Kapuziner Hefe-Weizen. After a few minutes of back and forth, the server came back with "Oh, you mean Ka-PEW-zinn-er!"
Bartenders and servers, you can pronounce "chipotle" without a hitch. Why can't you take two minutes at the start of your shift to nail the pronunciation of what your customers are going to be asking for? Communication is a wonderful thing.
The place has to be comfortable
There's nothing worse than a stuffy beer bar. I'm fortunate to live in Rochester, which has some nice, knowledgeable pubs that fit (and sometimes smell) like an old shoe. In bigger cities, the places with the best selection tend to be huge and corporate, with 100% monthly staff turnovers and slick margarita menus. I can never feel at home in one of those places.
That's all it takes to make me happy. I just wish places like that weren't so rare.