Number three in an ongoing roll call of L.A.’s best beer buying bodegas. This, for the record, was our first home away from home: our first beer store in California.
On York and Ave. 57 there is a modest Mecca where over 450 types of beer have a regularly stocked home. Inside, past 500 different types of soda pop and tonics, past a now defunct set of produce bins filled with retro candies, there are is a long row of shelves brimming with brew from every conceivable country of origin. Mexican craft beer, authentic German Rauchbeir, and a daunting array of 750’s from Belgium stand as a quieting gauntlet to the would-be-buyer. Shoppers slowly step down the aisles, silent in thought, contemplating their inevitable purchase… purchases.
Galco’s Soda Pop Shop has an arresting amount of beer. The specialty grocer is L.A.’s oldest and has been heralded all over the country as the place to buy specialty pop. We’ve known it as a soda oasis for the seven years we’ve been Angelenos. These are the floors where we’ve spent hundreds of dollars, discovering some of our favorite beers.
We’ve even made friends in the beer aisles of Galco’s. In 2002, Alex was lugging a shopping basket full of high ABV bombers when he ran into this guy. Mike Meanstreetz and Mr. Brown babbled about beer for fifteen minutes and parted ways – only to meet up again at Evan’s house a month later. (Look out for Meanstreetz’s write up of Wine House in Culver City in the next two weeks.)
Recently we paid Galco’s a visit to pick the owner’s brain about L.A. and suds. John Nese has been in love with carbonated beverages since childhood when he used to daydream about piping soda pop into his elementary school’s drinking fountains.
Galco’s has been around for over 100 years, but the move towards strict soda and beer sales has been policy for about 11. John saw large soda and beer companies completely dominating the shelves and robbing customers of the variety of choices he remembers as a child. “40 years ago, if you walked into a grocery store and they didn’t have 30 to 40 different kinds of soda; you’d walk out the door and shop somewhere else.” So he stopped selling Coke and Pepsi, and started buying direct from a litany of pop producers. Then he did the same thing with beer.
Talking with John led to some simple but astounding realizations: namely that store owners from Albertsons franchisers to Whole foods specialty reps have visited his store to take notes and pick his brain about how to stock their shelves. “They all ask the same thing,” he says with a knowing grin, “what are your top sellers?” Not surprisingly, John told us that essentially all of our familiar beer venders have been to his store seeking education. He never refuses advice, but he believes in Choice (note the capitalization), and offers the same answer to the ubiquitous top ten quandary: “Whichever ten you decide to sell.”
According to John, the reason why L.A. isn’t a serious beer city is simply because “nobody has made it that way.” With the constraints that even the most forward thinking of beer store owners face, in terms of shelf real estate and the risky turnover of high priced specialty beers, its no surprise.
Stocking awesome beers can be stressful for a small business owner, unless it’s all you sell. John’s pretty relaxed. While beer might play second chair to soda in his store, you will find dozens of beers that you have never had and want. Each beer is priced by the each, which will be a little more expensive than some stores (probably because they price their bottles after visiting Galco’s), but you can taste more each time you visit. If you make this store a regular stop when you forage for drink, the small selections at most other stores might make you want to walk out.
Staff: John knows his stock.
Refrigeration: Very limited in relation to the size of the inventory. No cold bombers might bum you out.
Split Six Packs: Absolutely. This dude invented it.
Belgians: Might be the best in the city.
Microbrews: Huge selection, but not super streamlined. Good source for seasonal releases.
Special Powers: Choice.
Achilles’ Heel: Equality: Not all of the 450 are really worth buying.
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