Venice has a significant crop of in-demand spots to grab an evening drink these days. So where do we go to catch a pint in the beach city? To Whole Foods of course! Yes, we long ago gave up trying to fit our big butts into the seats at trendy Venice Beach Wines in order to do our drinking inside the grocery store. Judge if you must, but we haven't looked back. When that gets old (it actually never gets old), it's time to turn to the tequila tour across the street at Casablanca and finally, for a bite at the neighborhood's best taco truck. Come take a look at two great Venice places to catch a drink and one famous Oaxacan lonchera in today's special evening drinking edition of Strip Search.
Whole Foods at Rose and Lincoln completely flipped the script on Venice, finally giving this mixed city's emerging yuppie population an off-Abott Kinney refuge to do just as they please, which mostly involves checking out each others' junk while paying too much for actual nuts and berries. But while it's pretty real in the parking lot here, the beer bar stuffed into the back has won us over completely. It's not nearly The Daily Pint in terms of draft numbers, but it is still one of the Westside's best beer bars. How, you ask? The selection is a good start. Whole Foods switches out their taps the second a keg goes dry, so there's a constant change-over in their six drafts.
Who has a better distribution network and inter-company relations than Whole Foods? It already has a mind-boggling supply of craft beer in its retail market, showing they have the hook-up in place. These connections result in some awesome stuff hitting the taps. When that Robert Johnson-inspired Hellhound on my Ale brew came out of Dogfish Head, it seemed to appear almost instantly right here. At any given time, you may come to the bar to find oak-aged Yeti stout or Dogfish Burton Baton, Gonzo imperial porter, Bear Republic's Apex, Rubicon and Leafer Madness IPA, Belgian Le Chouffe, or Belgian-style Pranqster on the taps. The selection feels vital and relevant, and often with one or two rarities each week. Even better, for $15 you can try them all, soaking up the shopping habits of those that surround you while you dip into brews that often go over 9% ABV.
Friday nights are really the evenings to be here, as the tiny bar hosts themed beer tastings for $15. Past explorations have included a look at quality canned beers, the saison style of brewing, wood-aged brews, and just last Friday, a thorough tasting of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which can reach 32% ABV and $90 a bottle. The resident beer experts here are passionate, considerate, and more concerned with celebrating great brew than making sure your tasting glasses adhere to a specific measurement (meaning you sometimes get free stuff).
Winos are similar well-covered, with a range of bottles stored in one of those new-fangled enomatic doo-hickies. Most glasses are priced between $2.99-4.99, allowing you to try such alluring labels (and we do we mean the labels) as '07 Goat-Roti Syrah-Viognier, Darioush Cabernet, Piedra Negra Malbec, '09 Benaza Mencia and French D66.
Even better, you can order anything from the meat and seafood department and they'll cook it and serve it to you. This means oysters and crab legs, everybody!! And remember when you and your high school friends would get baked and terrorize the supermarket? Well, drinking a couple of 9% beers at Whole Foods is even better. Just try to get to the exit without knocking something over, attracting unwanted attention from the paramilitary-style security team, or playing football with the paper towels. Lastly, you know what they say about picking people up in the grocery store? We don't know if that really rings so true, but at least you'll be half-drunk when doing it if you follow the Whole Foods drinking diet.
Whole Foods, 225 Lincoln Blvd. Venice. 310-566-9480.
Didn't get faded enough at Whole Foods Venice? No problem! You have two options for family-style Mexican directly across the street, both owned by the same family, but only one of them with an ambitious tequila program. The food at La Cabana doesn't make it much of a destination in of itself, though many local swear by their margaritas and they do have Patron shots for $5 on Friday evenings. If your week was anything like ours', that's probably sounding like a good idea by 4:00 P.M. today. But it's Casablanca on the east side of Lincoln that has better food, homemade flour tortillas being prepared in the middle of the place, and a much more ambitious menu.
The real reason to settle into this movie-inspired Mexican is to celebrate agave with owner Carlos Haro Jr., a warm man with as big a passion for tequila as any son of Guadalajara. In fact, Haro even wrote a historic novel titled Tequila that drew praise from Barbara Hansen, among others. Haro is typically presiding over the small nook of Casablanca known as "Rick's Tequileria," an over 250-bottle-strong bar to sip, sample, and get soused on the sweet spirit. Everyday Haro chooses five tequilas to showcase, focusing on variety and quality so that customers can come in regularly and get familiar with the many tequilas currently on the market.
The bar's Tequila Express program finds the selected quintet of tequilas used in margaritas that are made table-side, but we're bigger fans of The Tequila Duo, wherein one orders two shots of tequila from the wide selection to sip alongside a house-made sangrita at $9, irrespective of the type selected. Meanwhile, Haro can speak at length on the spirit and is full of stories and insight on what's to come on the market. His bar provides a great, relaxed way to get to know your labels, among other enthusiasts or a few curious palates, and makes a very conducive way to take in the restaurant's moody Bogart and Bergman-inspired room.
Casablanca, 220 Lincoln Blvd. Venice. 310-392-5751.
By now you're probably a little wasted and have made the smart, rational decision to ship your car keys to Singapore for safe-keeping (or something). You need to eat, dude! Around 5:00-6:00 P.M., La Oaxaquena, Venice's legendary taco truck appears on the scene to sling Oaxacan staples. You won't be let down by the tacos, burritos, or tortas here, but if you're drunk, few things are as fun and gratifying to tackle as the tlayuda here. Sometimes called a "Mexican pizza," this Oaxacan mass of black beans, shredded cheese and meat, lettuce and salsa on a crisp thin of masa is as perfect a soused street food as any. You get to break it into pieces and fold it into your mouth for a comforting rush of Mexican pleasures. It's messy and a little logic defying thinking about how it's all going to work., but is vastly rewarding once you do. So then what? Go home, you sound pretty wasted!
La Oaxaquena, evenings on Lincoln Blvd., just south of Rose Ave.