Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Always Reliable Lucky Lab

There's an old Trek hybrid bicycle in my garage that I bought used in Austin in early 1996 when both of my bicycles were stolen within the space of a couple of weeks. I needed transportation right away, and it had to be cheap. Our first baby was on the way, and I was on a grad-student stipend with a social-worker wife. Compared to my beautiful stolen mountain bike -- a 1991 Trek 970 -- the hybrid was a dowdy-looking thing with a dull green paint job and (gasp!) grip shifters.

Even though it was my daily transportation for the next six years, the hybrid never got any respect in our house -- oh, that old thing? I finally moved on to a slicker, faster ride. But as the years continue to roll past, it becomes more apparent that the old green hybrid is a crucial part of the fleet. It gets zero maintenance, but when there's a guest in town, or another bike is out of commission for one reason or another, the Trek comes through for us. It's always there in a pinch.

My feelings toward the Lucky Lab have followed a similar trajectory. It starts a little differently, because I never loved that old bike, but I fell in love with the Lab when we first moved here in 2003. I couldn't believe my luck: a pub in the neighborhood that always had something on cask! The neighbors and I would walk the dogs down there almost every Monday evening for Miser Monday. You can bring the kids to a brewpub? Heaven.

Pretty soon there were pubs serving slicker, faster ales in the neighborhood: Roots and the Hedge House (and now the Green Dragon). And the Lab suffered the same loss of respect as the Trek. To tell you the truth, I think the quality did decline for a little while at the Lab sometime in 2005 -- at least that's the consensus among the pub night neighbors. I don't know if something was going on internally, or if it was just one of those things. At some point we switched pub night to Tuesday to catch the cheap night at Roots.

And yet, the Lucky Lab is always reliable. In good weather you'll be lucky to get one of the tiny picnic tables at Roots or one of the few tables at the Hedge House, but the patio at the Lab seats 200 people and 100 dogs (and the patio now has heaters and rain flaps). The Lompoc beer at the Hedge House is tasty, but they don't have 20 oz. pints or cask-conditioned ale like the Lab does. How about darts? Roots has a board, but there's a table underneath it -- how does that make sense? -- so if someone's sitting there, you're off to the dart room at the Lab.

If you had to assign beer rankings, Roots and Hedge House probably come out higher than the Lab. But the Lab seems to have pulled out of the slump it was in: nowadays you'll find something worth drinking every time you go in. The Super Dog IPA is classic; even better a couple times a year when they brew up "Super Duper Dog", which I guess is the Imperial version. Last year they had another great IPA called Triple Threat, I hope it comes back. I also like Crazy Ludwig's Alt, though I suspect it's about three times hoppier than a German Alt. Black Lab Stout is good, especially on cask, but I don't care for the Irish Stout they serve. I had the Hellraiser ESB today, first time I remember having it. Nice and smooth, maybe a little stronger and more bitter than, say, a Young's ESB.

The Lab always has about eight of their own beers on tap, plus a guest tap, plus a nitro tap and the cask engine. So there's more of a variety going than down the street at Roots or Hedge House, though the Green Dragon slams everyone in the variety category. The food is decent and cheap, there's PB & J for the kids, the dogs are happy, and there's lots of bike parking. The Lucky Lab is always there in a pinch.


  1. The Lab was certainly on the night you took me there. Was it the Triple Threat that I had? They had two IPAs that night. Mine was great, and that barleywine we all shared was magnificent.

    As was the bike — I think that was the one you gave me for the bicycling brewpub tour.

  2. Yep, that's the bike. See what I mean, always there when you need it.

    You probably had a Super Dog and a Triple Threat. And I'm glad you mentioned the barleywine, it *was* really good when we were there. I think it's called Old Yeller. A few times a year they trot out a keg from an earlier year, that's always a stroke of luck.