Saturday, November 13, 2010

Heart of the City: The Northeast Taproom

By: C.G. Morelli

  Aaah. Reading, Pennsylvania. Once nicknamed the Compton of the East, some would say a bullet proof vest is perfect attire for a day of outlet shopping in the city’s downtown district. But don’t despair if you happen to find yourself passing through the area this summer. If you’re brave enough to venture into town and you can tolerate the pungent odor of mushrooms multiplying on the surrounding farmland against 90 degree heat, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised…especially if you find yourself on a pilgrimage to a little beer drinker’s Mecca called The Northeast Taproom on N. 12th street.

From the moment you lay eyes on the dingy, broken-shingled exterior of The Northeast Taproom as it sits on the corner of street lined with similarly tattered residences in a run-down and inconspicuous section of the city, you know you’re not dealing with the ordinary. Even so, if not for a small sign and a set of steep, stone steps built into the corner of the block, you could easily mistake the place as a part of the neighborhood itself. And once you step inside, you quickly find that statement isn’t too far from the truth.

You’re greeted at the door by the owner’s golden retriever as your brain struggles to process the endless stream of off-beat art, Elvis memorabilia, strange mosaic tiles, and other assorted oddities that hang from the walls. Shells crunch beneath your feet, a product of the endless cracking and tossing of complimentary peanuts by the thirsty patrons. You notice the men’s bathroom is actually built into the crawl space beneath an apparently unusable staircase, and that the sink to said bathroom is actually hanging on the wall on the outskirts of the barroom with a sign that reads, “Please wash your goddamn hands, we’ll know if you didn’t.”

A group of locals, who presumably know each other on a first name basis, huddle around a hand-pump loaded with a variety of craft beers such as Rogue Schwarzbier and Anchor Old Foghorn. There’s also a refrigerator stocked with an assortment of bottles ranging from the ordinary (Sierra Nevada) to the bizarre (DogFishHead). With so much variety on tap and in the cooler it’s hard to decide on a winner. But don’t worry. The bartender at the Taproom is quick to let you sample the goods. If that fails simply order the house specialty, appropriately termed a “classic.” It’s a goblet full of Guinness and a bottle of Lord Chesterfield Ale. That’s right, you’re going two-for-one, folks. Drink from the goblet, refill with the Chesterfield and repeat.

Now all you need is something to keep you busy (as if double-fisting brews and downing free peanuts doesn’t eat up your time). A lounge area inside the bar houses a vintage “Dr. Dude” pinball machine and an arcade Pac-man game, not to mention dart boards, puzzles, trivia games, beer placards, a few random trophies, a leather couch, and a ping pong table. There’s weird crap to hold your interest all over this place. And let’s be honest, people, what goes better with beer than weird crap to help you idle away the time?

The Northeast Taproom is gritty. It’s the kind of place that stays with you even after you trudge back down the heavy corner steps at the end of the night. If you like good beer and a great environment to enjoy it in, it’s a place you really can’t miss.  

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