Creating Public Spaces with Locally Crafted Beer

After a year of residence across the pond in the United Kingdom for graduate work, I understood what a vibrant pub culture can add to the local community flavor, and lamented that Los Angeles never possessed a space in its own imagination for beer and pubs as part of public life. This may be changing with the Golden Road Brewing pub and brewery in Atwater Village.

On a visit last week to Golden Road with fellow beer aficionados and friends James Tai and Ron Milam, I sat down to interview owner Tony Yanow and tour the approximately two-acre brewery and pub. Housed in the bright red, blue, and yellow buildings, the complex is hard to miss while traveling on San Fernando Road in Northeast Los Angeles, by foot, bike, train, or car.

Yanow, a self-confessed beer lover who named his son Hudson Porter (the porter style beer originated in London in the 18th century and was associated with transportation workers, hence its name), says the mission of Golden Road is "to be the local craft brewery that becomes the expression of what people in L.A. want to drink".

Contrary to many craft beer business models in the southland that start small by producing experimental craft beers with high alcohol content for "beer geeks," Yanow and business partner Meg Gill took a chance by eyeing what Yanow called the "fat curve" of the beer market. They brew and can quality craft beers with moderate alcohol content, around 5%, which the average beer drinker can enjoy, and aim to scale up the demand for quality craft beer in the city.

Yanow estimates that L.A.'s craft beer sales make up 5-7% of total beer sales, compared to cities like San Francisco and San Diego where they make up 20% or more. Golden Road has done an admirable job in the distribution of their beer since 2011 -- their beers are currently sold in over 1,500 stores and restaurants in L.A. county and surrounding areas.

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On tour of the massive space of the brewery with several beer fermentation tanks | Photo by George Villanueva

For Yanow's beer projects in the southland, he has turned around underutilized spaces to create community spaces around craft beer. This includes the revival of Tony's Darts Away in Burbank; the regeneration of the closed down Ramona Theater in Echo Park into Mohawk Bend; and the creation of the Golden Road pub, which attracts community to an industrial area of Northeast Los Angeles, often solely considered a thoroughfare to get to and from Glendale. The efforts built around craft beer production and consumption have also resulted in tremendous job development, as the three sites employ close to 200 employees.

Golden Road is situated in a manufacturing zone and the three buildings have three built-in raised platforms, as the site was a railroad loading station in the past. Trains, including Amtrack and Metrolink, still roar pass the site throughout the day. Not particularly a site that most people imagine a first selection for a pub, but Yanow envisioned it as the perfect space for a pub and pitched to his real estate agent and owner of the buildings that the passing trains would only add to the ambience and draw people into the area.

Golden Road, however, is not just a successful economic development model, as its ethos embodies the renewal of public life that engages Angelenos through beer culture in a pub space that is inviting to all. A visit to the pub at any given day can find groups of people casually hanging out, holding an informal bicycle get-together, or organizing a yoga session in the artificial grass just outside the pub.

A family man and father of three, Yanow also stresses that his establishments integrate family into pub culture. One will often find families in the pub with children running around; in fact, a sign that hangs on the walls references George Orwell's words that state that the exclusion of women and children can turn pubs "into mere boozing shops instead of the family gathering places that they ought to be."

A sign with words from George Orwell that call for the pub as a family gathering place | Photo by George Villanueva

James' children running around on the artificial grass right in front of the pub | Photo by George Villanueva

Yanow has also used beer and the three watering holes as vehicles to engage the general public for charity causes. He has teamed up with Pure Fix Cycles to organize the "B3 Bike Ride" that tours the three bars, proceeds from which benefit the PabLove Foundation, which invests in the research, education, and the empowerment of cancer families to fight childhood cancer. A vegan, Yanow also offers his beer and establishments to take part in the annual Los Angeles Vegan Beer and Food Festival, which benefits a different non-profit every year. With a modest start three years ago with 400 people attending, the festival now expects 1,500 people in attendance for its fourth edition on May 4. Yanow enjoys this yearly opportunity to engage newcomers to craft beer, as the festival draws a different demographic from the traditional 'beer geek' that comes to his establishments.

L.A. itself is a long way from becoming a city where local pub culture and craft brewery outweigh the mainstream images that emphasize Hollywood club life, ritzy wine and dine restaurants, and bars with a collection of bar flies. Pubs as an accepted part of public life in the L.A. imaginary may not be far off due to visionary brewing underway by the likes of Yanow.

When I sat with him, I wondered what beer he considered his favorite. Like a true beer enthusiast he stated, "usually the one right in front of me." The two in front of him, and what I was able to indulge in myself, were "Aunt Sally's Pale Ale" and "It's Not Always Sunny in L.A. India Dark Ale." Tasty as the beers were, they were even more enjoyable in the space of a pub that engages Angelenos to make beer part of the community fabric of the city.

Golden Road Brewing 'Drink Local' posters with everyday L.A. images | Photo by George Villanueva

Tony Yanow holding up a glass of Aunt Sally's Pale Ale and It's Always Not Sunny in L.A.

George Villanueva examines the engagement of space and place that aims to make Los Angeles more democratic, socially just, culturally intriguing, and fun. He currently is a Ph.D. Candidate in Communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, with a research focus on civic engagement, spatial justice, and sustainable urban development. George is a native Angeleno born and raised in the intersecting spaces of East Hollywood, Koreatown, and the Temple-Beverly corridor (now Historic Filipinotown).

Top: Tony Yanow in front of canned Golden Road Brown Ales. Photo by George Villanueva

About the Author

George Villanueva, Ph.D. is a native Angeleno born and raised in the intersecting spaces of East Hollywood, Koreatown, and the Temple-Beverly corridor (now Historic Filipinotown).
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