Generous pours, unabashed comfort food, and a block from the beach: That’s Ashland Hill, a Santa Monica Cheers in the making. Anchoring the old Wildflour Pizza space on Main Street is a sprawling, pet-friendly back patio. At picnic tables blanketed in twinkling lights, patrons graze on pork belly tacos and crispy truffled cheese curds between sips of international vino and serious high-alcohol brews. The 20-tap lineup at this biergarten-wine bar hybrid includes 9-percent Belgian tripels, Mexican lager and Central Coast wines—plus another 14 bottles of red, white and bubbly. Bartenders here gleefully fill glasses to the brim, which double-fisting imbibers shamelessly spill all the way to their seats. Ample space, friendly servers and plenty of heat lamps to go around make Ashland Hill no-fuss, al fresco boozing at its finest.
Good for: Knocking back pints and sharing bites with friends after a long work week. Ditch that diet for a peanut butter milk stout ($10 for a pint; $30 for the whole bottle), and perhaps your own serving of crispy cauliflower ($15) doused with saffron mayo. You could always walk it off with a stroll down Main Street, but it’s going to take a lot for you to ever leave the patio. Most come early and leave late. For a sure seat, get there before 7:30pm. From that point on, we can’t guarantee you won’t be waiting shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd of desperate drinkers in the tiny indoor bar.
The scene: All types converge at this wino, beer geek and foodie trifecta: couples young and old, groups of friends, and pet owners. On our last visit, it was dominated primarily by locals. Overall, the vibe is laid-back and homey, like a friend’s backyard BBQ.
The playlist: Given the dense crowd, roaring conversation drowns out any semblance of tunes.
Bartender says: Unlike most watering holes in the area, you won’t find folks hanging around the bar. While the bartenders are definitely knowledgeable about what’s on tap, when there’s a line of thirsty customers out the door, chit-chatting with you about the difference between a saison and a pilsner is not going to be their priority. If you are lucky (and a little sneaky), you might just get away with reserving a picnic table before placing your order.
Drink this: SoCal suds are the specialty here, with gems like the hop lover’s Sculpin IPA ($7 glass; $21 bottle) from San Diego's Ballast Point, and a local easy-drinking Witbier ($7, $21) from Santa Monica Brew Works, the city's only production brewery. Bottled beers don’t stray far from the usual Stella, Corona and Heineken—all $6, but not everyone is a craft drinker. For winos, there’s plenty of goodies. Hailing from Santa Barbara County, the crisp and buttery Di Bruno Pinot Grigio ($12 glass, $44 bottle) is worth the splurge. For the best bang for your buck, snag a bottle of the dark and full-bodied Solar De Estraunza Tempranilla Rioja ($24).