The St. James Tavern could easily be mistaken for a bar that you could probably find in any blue-collar neighborhood throughout the country.
There’s nothing frilly or gimmicky here, just a simple and down-to-earth mixture of low lighting, worn wood paneling, somewhat questionable bathrooms and a couple of pool tables thrown in for good measure.
The Italian Village bar mixes a working-class leanness with a sophisticated understanding of the difference between good beer and great beer. Craft beers on tap are generally between $4 and $5.50 a pint. That includes the ever-present, and ever-excellent, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Founders Red’s Rye Ale.
Whether you're enticed by the well-balanced hops of a Fat Head’s Headhunter IPA, or the delicious creaminess of a Nitro Milk Stout, there’s enough variety on tap to satisfy almost everyone’s taste preferences.
Personally, I found it futile to resist a glass of Avery’s imperiously good double IPA, Maharaja ($5.50 for 10 ounces), a veritable hop bomb of a beer with aromas of grapefruit and pine resin, followed by a deliciously bitter, slightly boozy finish.
St. James' well-seasoned bar staff can also whip-up excellent and inexpensive cocktails as well, and usually for only around $2.50 a pop. Plus, on the (presumably) rare occasion that someone heads to the St. James for a tipple of bubbly Veuve Clicquot Champagne ($60 a bottle), the small but smart wine selection can oblige. When the weather warms up, it’ll be hard to go wrong with a refreshing, bone-dry Vinho Verde from Casal Garcia ($5 a glass), a slightly effervescent and criminally underrated Portuguese white that, with its fresh flavors and crisp acidity, hits the spot.
To be sure, the St. James Tavern is not a place where an endless array of fast-changing taps and noisy patrons pound the senses into submission, nor is it a hipster dive, where the best that patrons can hope for is cheap PBR drafts. Rather, St. James is all its own, a simple place where beer geeks and low-maintenance drinkers alike can come together, away from the cacophony and high prices of High Street, and enjoy some of the finest beer in city.
Jeb Bernert is an associate at Gentile’s, the Wine Sellers – www.gentiles.com.