Can a place be too successful? Henry N' Harry's Goat Hill Tavern in Costa Mesa (the town once dubbed Goat Hill) boasts a passionately partisan clientele, who flock to the bar in such numbers on weekends that they've rankled some local residents and the city fire marshal.
Costa Mesa moved last week to repeal the bar's conditional use permit, leading into a lengthy and uncertain appeals process that could result in its closing. Despite that looming cloud, Henry N' Harry's seems as carefree an escape as ever.
The most evident draw is the 96 taps behind the bar, a quantity of quaff manager Gary Monahan claims brings customers in from all over the globe. If the employees are in a good mood, which seems to be most of the time, they show the worshipful their keg rooms, which look like Jerry Lee Lewis' idea of a well-stocked bomb shelter. Many have their pictures taken there.
Along with the standard suds, there is a great selection of international obscurities and efforts from the California microbreweries. They hope to add five more taps soon (including the fabulous Seattle Red Hook microbrew) and to market their own line of bottled beer. They serve a modest assortment of bar food, of which the $1.50 tankard of peanuts may be the safest bet.
A hint: There are easily missed brochure racks at the bar which contain a "drinking manual" listing most of the brews on tap. Best to grab one of these and retreat to peruse it at your leisure. The one anxiety-inducing quality of the place is having the bartender ask "What'll you have?" while trying to scan the mind-boggling number of tap heads.
The tavern roams through several game-packed rooms (with two auxiliary bars open on weekends) and an outdoor sand-filled "beach." The decor is a shade more playful than the average Instant-Clutter-R-Us fern bar, with buffalo heads, Elvis dolls, and amusement-ride Moon Rockets vying for attention. None of which matters that much, according to longtime patron Eric Kruske of Newport Beach. "It's fine that they have 96 taps and all that, but that's not why I tell everybody I meet to come here. The people here are really good guys. It's friendly, not pretentious like all these Newport bars.
"I've met people from all over the world here. There's all kinds, slobs and business people, and they let it all down. I've never found another place like it; it's so good-spirited. It would be a shame if they shut it down." That sentiment was echoed by Julie River, also of Newport Beach. "Closing this place would be terrible. It's so much better than the other places I've been. There aren't the drunks and scum, and it's not a meat market like the regular Newport Beach ones are."
Henry N' Harry's Goat Hill Tavern, 1830 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (714) 548-8428.