Blue Palms Brewhouse: Hollywood’s Pioneering Beer Bar

Barkeep by | Jan 2017 | Issue #120
Photo by John Verive

Los Angeles was still what Brian Lenzo calls “a vodka-cranberry and Champagne town” when he launched Blue Palms Brewhouse in a restaurant space attached to what is now The Fonda Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It was 2008, and there were only a few local breweries to sell him kegs. A consistent distribution network to bring the good stuff to L.A. from the rest of the country remained years away.

But Lenzo, a restaurant industry veteran originally from the Midwest, wasn’t deterred.

He took weekly road trips to San Diego and San Francisco, where he loaded up his Chrysler 300 with kegs from breweries like The Lost Abbey, AleSmith, and Ballast Point destined for Blue Palms’ 24 rotating taps. And he lined the walls of his high-ceiling gastropub with chalkboards explaining common beer styles. He also hired knowledgeable bar staff (many of whom still work in the industry today) to help disarm the uninitiated.

“It was cool to see in those early years—2006 to 2008—the next generation of bar publicans opening up with this new approach [to serving beer],” says Gabe Gordon, who opened Seal Beach’s Beachwood BBQ in 2006 and Long Beach’s Beachwood BBQ and Brewing in 2011. “Very few places were willing to utterly take the jump and say, ‘That’s it. There’s nothing but craft and nothing but rotating taps here.’”

These days—even as new hotels and pricey condos sprout up in former parking lots nearby and Los Angeles County now counts more than 50 breweries of its own—Blue Palms remains one of L.A.’s most popular beer destinations, not just for the tourists who wander in before a concert or after a long day of sightseeing, but also for regulars, for whom Blue Palms is their local watering hole.

Guests are still greeted by the iconic gold front door, which swings open to reveal a room of homey leather bar stools and the same two projection screens that have served as Blue Palms’ digital tap lists for the last eight years. The only difference now is that in addition to sought after beers from places like Russian River, Firestone Walker, and Alpine, the list is peppered in with award-winning local stuff, like Red Ales from Three Weavers Brewing, Stouts from King Harbor Brewing, and Traction IPA from the Lenzo-co-owned Arts District Brewing.

“In those early days, we were definitely driven by the beer geeks, the people already making trips to San Diego and San Francisco themselves,” Lenzo says. “Now, there’s a new generation of younger drinkers who have never even tried a macro beer. They’re not chasing beer anymore, they just like good beer.”

Despite being one of the forefathers of L.A. beer, Blue Palms’ continued success is owed not just to its killer tap list. On the menu, there’s affordable pub food done with chef-driven flair alongside newer, more decadent meals for the musical theater crowd (the Pantages Theatre is across the street), like the truffle burger, lobster macaroni and cheese, and an under-$30 filet mignon.

And in a city where cars and sprawl sometimes make genuine human interaction difficult, Blue Palms’ friendly atmosphere keeps locals coming back.