Whole beers

I’m sure by now you see me as some kind of Don Draper/Bukowski/Dean Martin barfly and drinker extraordinaire. Apparently we haven’t been properly introduced. In real life, I’m a mild-mannered average guy with a day job, wife and kids, responsibilities to work, home ownership, pets—some version of the American dream. I’m sure many of you, like us, have struggled with kids on winter break needing care while you work. In this case, my work requires me to go out for a drink. So what does a middle-aged, middle-class guy with a taste for quality drink and two kids in tow turn to in the middle of a weekday?

Let’s answer that question with another question: What do you get when you combine a supermarket, coffee bar, salad bar, prepared hot food, and a bar, add a mix of customers with some disposable income and a vaguely environmental ethic, and blend thoroughly? Whole Foods Tap Room, that’s what. This may be the most chaotic place in town to have a drink.

I don’t know about you, but the name “Tap Room,” to me, implies beer. Beer enjoys a near monopoly among beverages to the phrase “on tap” as a serving method. Taprooms are typically in breweries or are beer-centric establishments. It’s not unreasonable to expect a “Tap Room” to focus on beer. It seems like that’s what they had in mind—the logo features a tap handle and the store’s retail beer selection is among the best in town. Beer is clearly important here. The list of draft choices is obviously curated with high quality and variety in mind. From imperial stouts to saisons, locals, sours and more, the dozen or so options have beer aficionado written all over them. No other supermarket has a draft list on their Facebook page, trust me (not up to date, but still). Add a comparable wine list, a few handcrafted cocktails, a couple of TVs, and a happy hour, and this, by all appearances, is a bar. In a supermarket. It’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around stopping in for a Double IPA while picking up a loaf of bread, organic avocados and some salmon fillets.

This makes for a “mostly a bar but not a bar” situation. Middle of the weekday, grabbing lunch, I’ve learned before, is not exactly a display of tranquility at Whole Foods. The salad and hot food bars next to the pizza, burrito and sandwich counters, all quite popular for a somewhat healthy meal, makes for a frenzied experience. Dragging around my littles, navigating the crowded salad bar, paying at the checkstand alongside shoppers of GMO-free veggies and organic dog food, then proceeding to the Tap Room to squeeze into a bench seat and grab a beer—it was almost too overwhelming. It’s like Whole Foods wanted a bar but maybe didn’t want it to be, you know, a bar, so they try to accommodate everyone else, too. Picnic benches were filled with lunching families, 20-somethings enjoying sushi and kombucha, a retiree having a sandwich and a coconut water while watching a game on TV. You can even order food at the bar like a proper pub. Come one, come all! From my casual glances, only a small minority actually were partaking in anything from the Tap Room.

So that’s what we have. I need to stop trying to figure it out and accept it for what it is. It’s a beer-focused bar with an excellent tap list, in a supermarket, with seating for people enjoying gelato, pizza slices and tofu. Next step? Cup holders in carts—drink while you shop!