Last weekend the Maestro called me on my cell phone and told me about a new bar that had opened very near to his home, called the Hop Top Lounge. I think he was mainly excited because he finally had a neighborhood bar, but he did praise the craft beer selection they had available. He knew that several of our fellow Beer Bacchanalians, including himself, had plans for traveling that weekend so he suggested that we meet there for Happy Hour on this Friday (which was yesterday). And sure enough, the following Thursday he sent out a text message to everyone suggesting just that. I said I would be there. We didn’t hear from anyone else.
When Friday afternoon rolled around, the Maestro sent out another text reminding everyone of our destination. Again I was the only who replied. Now one of things I thought I remembered Maestro saying was that there was plenty of parking. But that wasn’t the case when I showed up. In fact, I got the last available spot when I arrived. The Hop Top is located in a little strip plaza on the corner of SW 16th Ave. & SW 13th Str., behind the CVS. This plaza also houses Sai Kwik Stop, Gator Liquor, La Familia Cuban Sandwich Shop and a laundromat. If you are unfamiliar with Gainesville, then you may not realize that this area is packed with student apartment and house rentals, as well as several restaurants and motels. And it is only a stone’s throw from UF Shand’s Hospital, Shand’s Trauma Center, the VA Hospital, etc. So as for location this is a really good spot.
Rowdy replied to the group text that she was on her way. I let her know that parking was a premium. I entered the lounge and saw the Maestro at the bar and greeted him. The place had at least a dozen or more other patrons, all of whom were at the bar. There was additional seating at tables along the outer walls. It was not a large place, but it was decent in size for a neighborhood bar. Along the center of the back of the bar were at least 20 different taps, flanked on each side with coolers of bottled beverages. I looked over the tap menu (see picture below) and saw that the Maestro wasn’t lying about the beer selection, most of the taps had craft beers that I had sampled before and were pretty good selections.
Being in a college town they will of course have some cheaper selections for the uncivilized beer palate (Bud and Miller) but they also had a lot of Florida brews and about a half dozen from local breweries Swamp Head and First Magnitude. As I looked over the list I spotted a beer I hadn’t had before and ordered the Sixpoint Brewing Sensi (2015), which is a Harvest Ale, wet hopped with Cascade and Amarillo Hops. It had a very nice hoppy flavor to it. Hop lovers will rate it higher than me, but I still gave it a good rating on Untappd.
The Maestro and I caught up a bit and he pointed out some of the features of the bar to me, including a food warmer on the one end featuring foods from La Familia Cuban Sandwich Shop from the same plaza. Any time good food like that is available in a bar that is a big plus. I suggested we move from the bar to a table for when Rowdy showed up. Sitting at a bar for two people is fine, but when it’s three or more and you’re Supping Suds & Philosophying (Conversing with beer for the uninitiated) then a table works out much better.
While we were waiting for Rowdy to show, the owner and his son both made an appearance and came over and greeted us. The Maestro was gushing with gratitude at the fact that a beer establishment was now available so close to home. We also asked why there was so little parking available and the answer was obvious once the owner pointed it out. The Gator Bowl is this weekend and they had many customers stopping on the way to Jacksonville at both the convenience store and the liquor store in the same plaza. We gave them our thoughts about the bar, wished them well in their venture and they walked on to talk to other customers.
A short while later Rowdy arrived, and we began catching up with each and Philosophying in earnest. While we were doing so the Deck-orator texted that she couldn’t make as she was doing something with one of her daughters. The Chemist was working, the Cooler was off on his hunting weekend, and the Doctor had a long day and was not up to joining others.
Shortly after Rowdy ordered her first, I ordered my second, one of my fave’s , the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. I wanted something not quite as Hoppy as the last beer and this fit the bill. The Maestro also ordered another and we began some more Philosophying.
After a while Rowdy ordered a second and I was ready for my third and final for the night, so I ordered the Cigar City Vanilla Maduro. I think this brown ale is one of the best out there and one of Cigar City’s best beers, which says a lot as they have a lot of good beers.
The Philosophying continued for a while. The Maestro finished his second offering first and we continued Philosophying while Rowdy and I worked on our suds. Eventually we finished as well and we all agreed without even saying the name on where we wanted to go for dinner. One of the advantages of that bar location is its proximity to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in Gainesville, La Tienda.
When I say Mexican, I should say Authentic Mexican, as they serve their food the same way you would get it if you went south of the border. There are other Mexican restaurants in town that serve really good food but their style is more of a Tex Mex or Southern California Mexcian which are really Americanized versions of Mexican food. Rowdy lived in Mexico for a while and always comments how La Tienda serves their food just like they do in Mexico. At any rate it’s really good food.
When we arrived we couldn’t find a parking spot for one car much less for three separate cars so we ended up driving to the maestro’s place and walking back. When we got there we were told there was about a 45 minute wait for food to come out. We discussed that for a couple of moments but ended up staying and ordering food. Rowdy ordered a serving of chips, salsa and queso which was a godsend because I don’t think I would have lasted 45 minutes without it. And the 45 minute estimate was not a wild guess, as it was almost to the minute when our main dishes came out.
None of us had ever seen the restaurant that busy before and we had all been there often and at various times. This could have been related to the Gator Bowl as well I guess or it could just be that the restaurant has gotten so popular that it’s just doing that much business.
My eyes must have been bigger than my appetite because I ordered a beef burrito and two chicken soft tacos. The tacos were perfectly seasoned with cilantro and lime and I only added a little green salsa to them. But after sharing the chips and salsa with Rowdy and the Maestro I couldn’t eat more than the two tacos. Which was ok with me as that meant the burrito is what I will be eating for lunch today.
If you are in that part of town and want good craft beer, drop in to the Hop Top Lounge, they have good beer at good prices. And for some of the best Authentic Mexican cuisine anywhere make sure to go to La Tienda.