Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge in Oakland, Mill Valley Beerworks

The more beer I drink, the less this is about beer.

The last two breweries I visited were completely different, but both good examples of why it is nearly impossible to keep track of how many breweries exist in Northern California.
Hoi Polloi is very small but they do brew their own beer in the back room. They had their own amber ale and a house IPA with 15 other taps.IMG_1631 I snuck a picture of the brewing equipment. I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos. The place seemed much more neighborly than beer touristy. It’s actually a hip-hop lounge, but when the wife and I were there the music was mellow and in the background. I noticed a set of turntables and some speakers on the bar that weren’t being used. I’m guessing things aren’t always so mellow later at night. A lot of the people there came over with food from next door and there was a wide range of ages and a friendly bartender.


After the hip-hop lounge we went to go see The Bananas at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records.


People can interpret lyrics anyway they want so to me Feel Better is a fantastic song about how drinking beer makes things better. It starts out sad, then there is a bottle and it turns celebratory. That’s how drinking beer should sound.  I took out my phone to catch the last chorus, it was the only 10 seconds of video I took that night.




Mill Valley Beerworks. When I was here three years ago the brewing equipment was set up right next to the bar. The bartender told me they moved it downstairs about six months ago. They have these tables here now.

I couldn’t begin to describe to you how the first beer I had at Mill Valley Beerworks tasted, but it immediately reminded me of the Barrel Head Brewery in San Francisco. Since my taste buds aren’t that developed I must have subconsciously put together the hint that it was the same beer I had there. For instance, the beer menu very clearly said “Fort Point” next to each of the house beers. I had ordered a Fort Point beer at the Barrel Head four months earlier. I remember it because it was the first time I had seen the brewery name.
The bearded bartender with two full sleeves of tattoos on his arms and wearing a flannel didn’t seem out of place among the well healed formerly hipster patrons of upper crust Mill Valley. I asked him, “So is Fort Point you?” He said, “yes!” Then I asked, so is it brewed here? And I pointed down towards the floor, meaning the basement where they moved the brewing equipment. He said they brewed Fort Point off site in San Francisco. I figured that meant that they had only moved the tanks downstairs at this location, but for some reason I didn’t ask.

It seems this place is popular with the locals for it’s food. The menu is rotating and locally sourced as would be expected. I noticed that they had some sort of artisan toast for $4 (not $3.99, the clientele here is too sophisticated for that old trick). It’s that kind of place. One of my favorite radio shows, Armstrong & Getty, recently made fun of the trend towards fancy $4 toast, but to me $4 fancy toast actually makes more sense than going to a steak house and paying $40 for a cut of meat and some vegetables that can be bought for a third the price and grilled more comfortable at home, so to each their own.

Later on I checked the Fort Point Brewery website and noticed that the bartender from that morning is one of the two founders of Fort Point Brewing. Also the head brewer there used to be the head brewer at Mill Valley Beerworks, so that makes sense. The bartender didn’t seem out of place because he’s the guy running the place.


A nice setting, a good place to drink alone during brunch hours. I asked for water and I got that fancy bottle – no extra charge. That’s an 11% Belgium Quad, the stronger the beer, the thinner the glass.

Mill Valley is just 14 miles north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, right next to the famed Mt. Tam. It’s a very idealized place surrounded by mountains with a lot of trees. You can tell the residents work hard to maintain the small town charm of the place, but it’s not somewhere you can avoid the hustle bustle. No place where the streets are lined with parking meters is it ever actually laid back. A good illustration is that the small building that houses the Mill Valley Beerworks has no sign on it at all. As I left I paused to take a picture of it before I got in my car, but another car immediately pulled up next to me waiting for my parking spot. I didn’t take the picture.

Cellarmaker Brewery, City Beer Store, Mission Public and how I became the crazy man screaming in the street

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.04.36 PMI planned out every step of this trip in advance and then I blew it by not following my plan. I left work early and I took BART. I had put this trip on my calendar eight weeks in advance and I didn’t know that the Giants would be playing a playoff game this night. Not a big deal. I thought I would make it back to BART before the game was over. I was wrong.IMG_1030
I got to the brewery well before it opened up at 3pm. As I arrived there was a crazy man walking down the street shouting as he walked. He yelled stuff at people behind me and then just stopped in front of the brewery and mumbled angrily.
I walked around the block to the City Beer Store. This place was better than I expected it to be. They had a great tap list and I would have been happy to stay there for a long time, but I wanted to go to the brewery. I decided I would come back later.

City Beer Store taps

City Beer Store taps

When Cellarmaker finally rolled up their warehouse doors they had a giant TV with the earlier play-off game on. Sometimes I appreciate the breweries that don’t have TV’s but baseball is my exception to the rule. They had subtitles on the TV and a record player was playing a Social Distortion LP. I really liked the beer. I took a photo for instagram featuring beer and baseball in the same photo but it felt oddly disingenuous so I didn’t post it.
IMG_1034My next planned stop was Mission Public. I heard from the wife that two old friends of ours had opened up a sandwich bar tap house in the Mission.

Chubby and Anthony of Mission House

Chubby and Anthony of Mission House

Anthony used to do film negatives for Probe Records, but I hadn’t seen him since then. I hadn’t talked to either of them in many years. Both Anthony and Chubby were there. It was good to see them and I really liked the place and stayed for a long while. If I would have headed back to the City Beer Store then I think my SF daytrip would have worked out perfectly.

Chubby's art has been hanging on our walls for over 15 years.

Chubby’s art has been hanging on our walls for over 15 years.


My downfall began when I decided to also check out Zeitgeist because it was just a few blocks away. I had confused it with a different place. I thought it would be a barebones German beer garden with wood tables surrounded by a cyclone fence. Instead, it felt like a hip and happening nightspot. It seemed loud and I felt like I didn’t belong there. I got agitated. When I left I could see the sun was starting to go down so I picked up my pace. However, in my haste, I walked around a cross street and that was my doom.

I had been walking too far east and I wasn’t where I expected to be. It was getting dark. IDIOT! ! I had fucked myself. I went off plan. FUCKING IDIOT! I pretended that I was calm, but at that point the heart was already pounding. I tried to find the map app on my phone, but I couldn’t focus. I was in an empty warehouse section of the Mission District. At first I started mumbling, “Oh shit, Oh shit Oh shit, Oh shit” as I was walking.
I never had a fear of heights until about six years ago. That’s also when this started happening to me so I tend to equate the two things. It is similar to the feeling of reaching the top of a giant Ferris wheel and every muscle in your body involuntarily clenches as you realize there is no escape, no way to stop it. You just have to get through it.
I am aware that nothing is wrong. I don’t feel like I am in danger, but it doesn’t matter. Not being in control of my environment brings on an overwhelming sense of frustration. First the stomach drops, the hair raises, and then it strikes me hard in the chest. It feels like being attacked from the inside, a sudden acceleration that I can’t control. I think this sensation is what leads some people to believe in demonic possession.
Ironically, once the actual panic sets in, that’s when the fear ends for me. At that point I’m just a raging dickhead. Not cool and powerful Hulk rage, more similar to the sad indignant rage of an old man who is having trouble sucking in air.
As I walked on I started shouting randomly “FUCK YOU! … nnmm… nmmm FUCK YOU! ……… …. Ah … What the FUCK!!!!… …… FUCK YOU!!!” at nobody. At that point a Chupacabra could have come flying out of tree and bit me on the neck and it wouldn’t have had any effect on me. My central nervous system was already in overdrive. In fact, a Chupacabra attack would have been helpful at that point. It would have given me something to focus on.



I had my phone in my hand and tried to call the wife. I choked out one coherent sentence, “Where am I?” and I tried to give her a street name or something (I thought I was Coherent, she tells me now that I sounded insane and I was interrupting Game of Thrones.) Then I started cursing and hung up on her. She tried to call me back several times. I didn’t pick up or hung up right away. When this happened years ago, things were icy around the house for quite a while, not good for the marriage. However, this time she knew what was going on and didn’t take it personally. She was just concerned that I would get arrested.
I walked a few blocks. I was walking and randomly cursing. As I started to calm down I realized that I was no longer in an empty warehouse section. I was on a tree-lined street and people were crossing the street to avoid me. I specifically remember a nicely dressed Asian man keeping an eye on me as he lead his wife across the street. That shut me up and I felt properly shamed.Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 10.16.25 PM
A block or so later I saw bright lights coming out from behind some latticework. It took me several seconds to figure it out but I realized I was standing across the street from Cellarmaker Brewery again. This was fantastic because it meant I knew exactly where I was! It also meant I could go in and have a beer.
The bartender eyed me all the way to the bar and seemed relieved when I spoke precisely. I ordered a Belgium style blond ale which is not my normal style, but it was what I was in the mood for. It was the best beer of the night.
I texted the wife, “Sorry! It’s over now. Doing well!” She texted back, “Great!! Love you!”
It didn’t bother me at all that BART was packed and standing room only with Giants fans. I felt relieved, like I had been in big fight and came out of it unscathed. I was too exhausted and relaxed to care.
The next day my chest was painful, but I knew to expect it this time. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack. ($400 for an EKG even with medical insurance!)
A few weeks later I was explaining to a friend why I don’t go out at night. She nodded and said understandingly, “Oh, you have anxiety and you get panic attacks.” Her husband has the same thing. For some crazy reason this common sense explanation was a revelation to me. For the longest time I thought I was developing a mental illness, but I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I was afraid they would suggest medication. However, Jay Moore, Steve Martin, Ben Weasel, and every single person interviewed on the Marc Maron podcast has talked about going through some sort of bout with anxiety and panic attacks. It’s completely normal.
When I told this to the wife and explained why I was feeling better she shook her head sadly and said, “Oh honey, you are not normal.”
Either way, this happened way back in October and I haven’t had a panic attack since then which is longer than I’ve ever gone since they started. I’ve gone out at night four five times since then too. I think I am done with them.