by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
When I bring my spoiled, jaded, over-indulged tongue into a new bar in Capitol Hill, I’m not concerned about drink anymore, at least not if what’s on the shelf is plentiful elsewhere. These days, I’m more interested in novelty or added cultural value. I’ll start enthusiastically in a bar that has a meaningful gimmick, e.g. a specialty spot such as Rumba or Capitol Cider. I’ll get an education, if nothing else. World of Beer, a franchise taphouse with locations all over the country, has finally blossomed in Capitol Hill. It’s an interesting experience on an academic, even anthropological level, but I’m not convinced that it brings anything new or even welcome to the numbingly overpopulated drink scene in our neighborhood.
World of Beer began in Tampa, Florida, and has spread across this thirsty nation like kudzu. Boeing employees have been sipping suds at the Renton location since the bygone days of mid-2013, and at least seven more will open in the next year throughout the U.S. If that rapid expansion suggests the likelihood of a generic experience, it’s because there are few nice surprises in the sphere of corporate food.
It’s tempting to think of World of Beer as analogous to Starbucks, but that’s not fair to Starbucks. Our hometown coffee mega-chain may not be what discerning palates crave, but at least their shops often have some creative interiors. World of Beer reminds me more of Buffalo Wild Wings, aka BW3, the ubiquitous chicken wing restaurant chain. It’s not ignorant to the potential of its own core concept, like so many fast food joints, it’s just awfully uninspired and superfluous.
As its name suggests, the main draw of World of Beer is the promise of a large array of draught taps. Sure, the Capitol Hill bar has a fair number on the wall and even more in bottles organized by region, but quantity isn’t everything. Frankly, I’m not going to go to World of Beer to drink everything in the Elysian Brewery line when I can just go to the Elysian, which is a quarter-mile away. The World of Beer menu reads like a primer that many brew-fanatics would find patronizing, and neophytes indecipherable. I’m not keen on having to dig to find something special or new.
In simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming circumstances like that, I’m happy to seek suggestions from the bartender. Of course, this relies on good, knowledgeable staff. In my visit, I asked for the Intro to Hops flight, a sampling of four beers from along the bitterness spectrum, starting with Pilsner and ending with the Imperial/Double IPA family. This never arrived. Instead, the bartender served me the IPA flight, taking me on a perfunctory walk through the Silver City IPA, the standard Stone IPA, the Lagunitas Double and the Dogfish Head 90 Minute. Then, the bill came with a charge for yet another kind of the flight: the pricy Winter Seasonal. Eventually corrected, but damage done.
The food menu at World of Beer is also decidedly un-Seattle, and not in a refreshing way. A lot of it is deep-fried, there are a few find-them-anywhere sandwiches, and the pizzas get needlessly dressed up as flatbreads. Long story short, it’s a miniaturized Applebee’s.
Moving away from consumables and into the delicate business of marketing, World of Beer’s Loyalty Card program and accompanying mobile app are disconcerting in concept and practice. The card accrues points with each beer that the cardholder buys; the points can then be exchanged for prizes like t-shirts, commemorative plaques and other tokens. Combined with the chalkboard on the wall that proudly displays the names of those who have consumed the most drinks, and the exact number of beers they’ve downed, World of Beer is unambiguously encouraging mass consumption of an intoxicating substance. The bartenders of this besodden city know that I’m no puritan, but that doesn’t set right with me.
Negative as my first impression of World of Beer was, I still wish that there was something to recommend about it. New places, even chains, can get better over time if there’s the seed of something good at launch. Unfortunately, World of Beer doesn’t have anything to offer that most people would want or other bars don’t do better. Love beer? Visit a brewpub or walk a few blocks to the Pine Box where the taps are more interesting. Want a sports bar? 95 Slide is one block over, has better food and doesn’t tune every single TV to the same game. Just looking for any old place to get a drink? Walk out of World of Beer, close your eyes, spin around three times and walk for five minutes in whichever direction you stop – you’re liable to run into a better bar.
World of Beer
500 East Pine St.