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Orange County | Orange Peeled A LOOK AT LIFE INSIDE

Pouring Out Their Hearts' Desire

Goat Hill Tavern in Costa Mesa cultivates a taste for beer, in a barrelhouse setting.

May 03, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Peanut shells and sawdust litter the floor. Rusty bicycles, Elvis dolls, car fenders and buffalo heads hang from the rafters. The stench of cigar smoke wafts in from the covered patio, rudely interrupting a quaff of fresh, hand-crafted brew. The food menu consists of peanuts and pickled eggs. The regulars are surfers, college students, lawyers and beer geeks.

Henry 'N Harry's Goat Hill Tavern in Costa Mesa is part dive, part junkyard, part frat house, part pool hall -- and with 141 varieties on tap, part beer shrine. It is not, however, part of that hip Orange County scene depicted on that Fox TV show.

"This place is definitely not 'The O.C.,' " said 23-year-old Erin Donnelly, sipping a post-work Greyhound cocktail in a worn wooden booth. "That Orange County stereotype of the rich and snooty that you see on that television show, those kind of people don't hang out here. This is a get-dirty-and-have-a-beer bar."

To Dana Point's Gary Stephens, the Newport Boulevard tavern is a misplaced honky-tonk.

"This bar reminds me of a place in Daphne, Ala., called Judge Roy Bean's," said Stephens, a physical education teacher in Garden Grove. "It's hard to believe a country bar like this is across from Triangle Square, Yuppieville."

Goat Hill holds a special place in Stephens' heart. It's where he met his wife and where he fell in love with microbrews.

"My wife calls me a beer snob, and I don't mind that," said Stephens, 49, hoisting a pint of Longboard Lager from Kona, Hawaii. "Once you develop a taste for the microbrews, the others have no taste or a terrible taste. Coming here and looking at all the choices is like going to a Vegas buffet."

All these cold suds -- from light to dark, weak to strong, smooth to bitter -- are earning the tavern a national reputation among beer aficionados. One of the more well-known beer websites,, named Goat Hill one of America's top 10 tap houses last year.

For a few years, Goat Hill was in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest selection of draft beer. That title now belongs to Yard House, which coincidentally is across the street in Triangle Square.

Zeb Ziemer moved Zeb's Famous Boathouse in 1984 from Santa Ana to Costa Mesa, once dubbed Goat Hill because goats were raised there for milk.

The Goat Hill, as the bar was rechristened, has come a long way since the days when the Costa Mesa City Council tried to shut down Ziemer's establishment for being a public nuisance. The council argued that Goat Hill's patrons littered the neighborhood with beer bottles and urinated at nearby businesses and residences. A drawn-out court battle ended in 1992 with the state Supreme Court siding with the tavern.

The early 1990s were also the days when the Goat Hill doubled as a "Rush Room," a place where devotees of Rush Limbaugh could listen to the conservative radio talk show in the mornings.

"I think the show probably scared more people away than it brought in," said bar manager Kevin Sands.

Beer is the drink of choice around here, and not just any beer.

"I wouldn't come in here for Bud," said Mike McDermott, a retired attorney living in Irvine, savoring a Redhook India Pale Ale and a pickled egg. "I love the exotic beers. And you can't beat the ambience."

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