Firehouse Bar: a tastebud safari

Offers oasis of micro brews in macro-dominated city


Photo by unknown

The Firehouse is Eau Claire’s only bar to specialize in microbrews and boasts 40 revolving taps. © 2014 Nate Beck.

Story by Nate Beck, Chief Copy Editor

In the summer of 2011 the streets of downtown Eau Claire ran yellow.

The Firehouse Bar, on the corner of Gibson and Graham, joined three other Wisconsin bars in the Wisconsin Beer Party, a statewide protest against big beer distributors.

Patrons filled a pint of Miller or Coors beer from one of several kegs and dumped the brew into garbage cans in exchange for one of Firehouse’s 40 tap craft beers.

Firehouse workers then sloshed trash cans full of Miller and Coors into the street.

This might seem like blasphemy to bread soda-chugging bros on UW–Eau Claire’s campus. But the Firehouse wasn’t built for Friday night Water Street ruckus-bringers.

Firehouse owners William and Becky Glass opened up shop about three years ago. Bartender and Eau Claire senior Casey Huxtable has been working at the bar for about a year.

“I definitely have trouble drinking regular beer since I’ve been working here,” Huxtable said, wearing an olive green shirt with Bell’s Brewing company logo emblazoned in orange on the front.

The owners paid for Huxtable to take a 20-hour professional beer server class online and gave him a raise when he finished it. He said they want their servers to care about good beer.

You can buy beers by the pint or opt to try a four, six-ounce beer sampler. I like stouts, and it’s winter. Huxtable picked four brews off the giant chalkboard behind the bar:
– New Glarus Winter Warmer (9.0 percent alcohol)
– Founder’s Backwoods Bastard (10.2 percent alcohol)
– Slow Hand Stout (5.2 percent alcohol)
– Central Waters Space Ghost Imperial Stout (12 percent alcohol)

Huxtable said Space Ghost is brewed with ghost peppers. Which sounds weird, but I dig it. It’s a smooth burn.

I’ve eaten Mexican food every day for the last five days straight, and I run through a bottle of hot sauce per week, so sneak-attack spice at the end of a rich stout hit the spot.

Backwoods Bastard had deep flavor. Huxtable said it was brewed in bourbon casks. It was smooth, with a warm whiskey tone.

You won’t see any big-brew neon from the street, only signs promoting companies like Alaskan Brewing Company and Capitol Brewing Company of Madison. Fire extinguishers dot the brickwalls.

There’s a dartboard. Plus foosball and a plastic-domed hockey game that I think my best friend in second grade had.

Not much food here though. Just free popcorn and frozen pizzas.

Don’t waste your time at the jukebox. $1 in quarters will get you vague rhythmic thumps from the bar’s bass-heavy overhead speakers. “Sweet Caroline” sounds like a teenager high on Red Bull tapping on a tabletop.

Now, Firehouse may seem like a spot for hip sippers. That’s probably true.

Huxtable was manning the bar on a Saturday night when a woman sat down at a stool and asked for a glass. He saw her pulling a bottle of almond soy milk out of her purse and pouring it into her glass when he walked away to help someone else.

The Firehouse is a fancy bar, but it doesn’t reek pretentious. Last Sunday, all eight patrons posted at the bar were wearing camo.

They were there to watch Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman insist people not talk about him.

And only one person was drinking a Miller.