- Wyatt Williams For the AJC
One night this summer, I sat on the patio of Oak Brewpub with a friend, talking and sipping on beer late into the night. We watched as a handful of highly competitive sportsmen tried to win round after round of cornhole. We nibbled on a few snacks and basked in that warm night summer air. We didn’t talk much about the beer or the food, though we had a decent IPA or two and some bites of smoked trout. Though it wasn’t the most beautiful patio we’d ever seen, the simple strings of lights and boxes overflowing with herbs almost gave the feeling of a friendly neighbor’s big backyard. It was, in other words, a proper neighborhood bar, nothing special but one that felt like it belonged to the Oakhurst neighborhood it was in.
When I revisited the brewpub this fall to review it, I found the patio overly cold and damp, but the menu improved and the beer list expanded. But in the days leading up to filing my review, my attempts to confirm a few facts with the restaurant seemed to be in vain. Emails and phone calls went unanswered. Even reaching out on Facebook didn’t seem to work. Then, right as the deadline loomed, I heard the restaurant had closed.
One of the strange realities about the restaurant business is that you can be served a pretty good meal one night and return the next week to find the doors locked. The margins are thin, the hours are long, and even if you can serve a fine pint of beer and plate of food, that’s no guarantee you’ll make it.
Eventually, I did get a Facebook message reply from owner Daniel McKinney, who confirmed a couple of basic details, but didn’t respond to my questions about the status of the business. I’ve since been able to confirm that the business is being sold, though no one will say to whom. The brewery will continue production, but for the interim, doors are locked. If they stay that way, I think it’ll be a shame.
You see, Oakhurst, an enclave just south of downtown Decatur, is a neighborhood of quiet charm. The restaurants and small markets that cluster around the intersection of East Lake Drive and Oakview Road are not the product of some kind of mixed-use development master plan situated off an interstate exit, as it sometimes feels that all of Atlanta is becoming. Rather, Oakhurst is a walkable, livable neighborhood that seems to have grown organically.
On almost any night, one can find within a few steps a handful of writers talking shop over wings and whiskey at Steinbeck’s Ale House, families digging into chips and dip at Mezcalito’s, plates of General Tso’s chicken being passed around Double Dragon, or fresh-baked bread and a decent bottle of wine to take home at Oakhurst Market. It is a neighborhood of decidedly casual options, less of a destination for people outside of it and more of a nice, unfussy balance for the people within it.
Oak Brewpub seems like a good fit for the area. The handful of stainless steel tanks that greet you as you walk in the restaurant’s front hallway are of decidedly modest size. This place won’t be cranking out a nationally distributed beer in the near future, but brewmaster Barron Sluder has been putting out more than a handful of pleasantly drinkable house beers.
Those include Bird Person, a fruity West Coast-style IPA that packs hoppy flavor into the dark golden ale without overpowering bitterness. On the other end of the spectrum is the OOG Stout, a smooth, dark, lightly sweet oatmeal stout that pairs pretty well with the cool fall weather.
There are some lesser options, like a Belgian golden called A Speakeasy in Brussels, a beer so easy-drinking it verges on bland. On the whole, though, this sort of brewing seems suited to the area.
Of course, it doesn’t help you much to tell you the beers brewed at Oak Brewpub are pretty good if the doors are locked and no one will sell one to you.
It probably doesn’t help, either, that I want to tell you that when McKinney was running the kitchen, he had a pretty nice riff on Spanish patatas bravas, roasted potatoes drenched in spicy aioli and topped with a runny sunny-side-up egg. The $12 duck breast he served was a steal. Even better was a bowl of General Tso’s broccoli, which held an impressively crunchy, thin crust under a salty, spicy-sweet sauce.
Instead, as you wait for Oak Brewpub to get back on its feet, enjoy the charm of Oakhurst, part of which is that you can just walk down the block and find a pretty smart draft list at Steinbeck’s Ale House. You can find a friendly bartender at Universal Joint, where the mood is always as laid-back and casual as the tree-lined sidewalks of East Lake Drive.
Wander a hundred yards over to Double Dragon, where the General Tso’s chicken is pretty good and a cocktail called the Formidable Dragon is as strong as it sounds. Even better, amble a couple of more blocks to Scout and get one of Nate Shuman’s smart drinks, like the Nitro Toronto, and a plate of fried cauliflower.
The options for grabbing a drink and a bite in Oakhurst are plenty.
I’d like to think Oak Brewpub will come back better. A neighborhood like Oakhurst seems just right for a place with a comfortable patio and a pretty good house-brewed IPA. But you might never get a chance to have a bowl of that General Tso’s broccoli. The restaurant business is tough. Sometimes that’s how it goes.