3 Belgian Beer Destinations: La Trappe, Monk’s Kettle & The Trappist

The Belgian craze hit hard last year with three Bay Area openings… its not new news. But it’s good news. Here’s my take after they have been open a few months:


La Trappe

La Trappe: My personal favorite for atmosphere alone, made perfect by the beer selection. When you walk down a dark wood, winding staircase to the brick walled, candlelit basement, you’re transported. For me, it’s reminiscent of atmospheric basement bars I visited in Berlin (minus flames shooting out of the walls). The glow of candles and classic jazz playing over the speakers creates a relaxed, intimate vibe.

Sadly, expect a differing degree of enjoyment depending on which bartender you get. They’re all quite knowledgeable about the overwhelming range of beers both by the bottle and in the ever-changing, impressive tap selection. Out of the 138 beers in the regular menu, 113 are Belgians, many served in different shaped glasses with each beer’s logo on it.

The staff offer many tastes of tap beers to help you choose just the right one. In early visits, the bartender chatted up my group and I like old friends, serving us mini-glasses of just about everything on tap. But on a recent visit, another bartender said he might “get in trouble” if he served us too many tastes. Really?

A more unfortunate recent note was being told we could not eat our Mussels and Frites anywhere other than at the bar (or a dining table), when we already had staked out a cozy spot on the leather couches. It felt like we were kids being relegated to the kitchen table for fear we’d spill – when I asked why the change, they mumbled something about not having the necessary staff to clean it up. An odd reason, since they’re already cleaning up beers.

These inconsistencies breed concern, marring the overall experience. But having met one of the owners weeks after they opened, I see what a quality person he is and what vision he and his partner have for the place. I hope for consistency and growth as they pass the year mark. La Trappe has a magical environment and beer selection unlike any around – well worth trekking across town for (I go on quieter weeknights).

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Monk's Kettle

Monk’s Ket

Monk’s Kettle: The space is small and waits are long if you don’t go on an “off” hour. But thank you, Monk’s Kettle, for being open all day, every day, providing plenty of hours one can hit this Mission treasure for a quiet pint or hearty ‘pub grub’.

With 24 draft beers and over 100 bottles, they’ve arranged the well thought-out beer selection by taste profile so you can satisfy any given mood with the right ale. The food is no afterthought: from artisan Cheese and Charcuterie plates, to hearty favorites like Chili, Burgers (Niman Ranch, of course) and Pulled Pork. There’s also a Pot Pie of the Day, gourmet entrees in the $12-18 range such as pork chops, chicken breast or beef short ribs. I love the Pretzel with Stone Ground Mustard and Cheddar Ale Sauce (I have to ask for more of both!)

The small room (formerly beloved Kelly’s Burgers) doesn’t allow much leeway for even the imaginative. But dark wood booths are squeezed in as pleasing an arrangement as possible given the tiny space, and the atmosphere is more about the food, drink and company you’re with, not special on its own, like La Trappe. I find the service more even at Monk’s Kettle; certainly well informed, with waiters and bartenders who love the drink and food they serve.

The Trappists

The Trappist

The TrappistThe Trappist is a narrow, brick-walled bar in Downtown Oakland that doesn’t serve food and offers little opportunity to sit. But in the Bay Area’s Trappist/Belgian Ale scene, it’s well worth mentioning for it’s 15 rotating taps and over 140 bottles of excellent beers. With “no big corporate beer” as their website motto, you can be sure that the beer/ale connoisseurs among you will come away satiated.