Bar review: After a major facelift, Growlers is better than ever

Rejuvenated brewpub in Gaithersburg is a treat for the region

  • Bartender Jamie Wallace fills beer mugs at the downstairs bar at Growlers. The Gaithersburg bar and restaurant reopened earlier this year after major renovations.
Bartender Jamie Wallace fills beer mugs at the downstairs bar… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
August 23, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

On a recent Wednesday night, the Old Town district in Gaithersburg was sleepy. McCormick's Paints was closed. The fire museum on Diamond Avenue looked abandoned.

The only sign of life in the neighborhood was coming from a red-brick brewpub at Diamond and Summit avenues.

Growlers, spread out over two vast stories and an outdoor deck, was brimming with young and old patrons, overlapping conversation and the clinks of scores of beer mugs.

Baltimoreans who think of Gaithersburg as a sleepy suburb might want to reconsider, if only for this excellent brewpub and its great beer.

A longtime Gaithersburg fixture, Growlers closed last August after a violent storm tore off its copper roof. But a couple of new owners bought it in January, renovated the space and have brought it roaring back to life.

Never having gone to the old Growlers, it's impossible to say how the new iteration compares or how much the new owners have added onto it and how much was there already. Some features have certainly stayed the same: The bar still has live music on an almost daily basis.

Judged simply on its merits, though, Growlers is a standout. For starters, the bar has a gorgeous home in the historic J.A. Belt building, which was considered a social and cultural hub for Gaithersburg when it was built in 1903.

Over the years, the building has had many uses, including as a library and, much later on, as an auto showroom, but it's fitting that it's now back to being a meeting place for people.

Growlers' first floor, especially, is a jewel. Painted in canary yellow, it contains the bar and three dining areas, including one that's directly above the bar. As expected, there are beer ads everywhere, but in a clever touch, hundreds of old beer cans have also been lined up on the walls like Christmas lights.

The handsome bar sports a neat view: the brewery's boiler and huge, silver fermentation tanks behind glass.

The bar's second floor is a little grimier, and it's called, appropriately, the pub room. There's less light, more high-top tables and bar games, like darts. Its best feature, though, is a small stage. Performers play there seven days a week. Sundays are a comedy night.

For beer lovers, Growlers is a treat. By the bottle, the bar carries 16 brands, but they are mostly your standard domestics and imports. But on draft, they have a rotating cast of 14 brews, including a Seneca Pale Ale brewed with locally grown hops and an incredibly light Kingpin Kolsch Ale.

Prices for the beers are very reasonable; my Kolsch was just $4. Six four-ounce flights are $7.50.

Growlers has a generous menu that includes light fare, like mac & cheese bites ($5), and heavy meals, like an ale peppered flank steak ($15) and Lebanese chicken grill ($13.75). Entrees are all under $16. Thankfully, the kitchen stays open until 1:30 a.m.

On the restaurant side, waitresses are attentive, and quick to notice new customers. Bartenders, both upstairs and downstairs, took longer to get to me, but they were knowledgeable about the house brews and their different flavors.

What makes Growlers truly inviting is its versatility. Because of its size, there are pockets to satisfy all kinds of different age groups — those who want loud live music, those who want to have a quiet dinner or those who just want a space to try out different kinds of beer. When I left, dozens of young professionals drank and talked among themselves, without the distractions of TV or music, on the breezy terrace.

Downstairs, sitting at the bar was an elderly woman quietly knitting by herself.

That a bar can happily accommodate such different audiences is an accomplishment in itself.

erik.maza@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

Growlers

Back story: Housed in the historic J.A. Belt building, the oldest standing structure in Gaithersburg, Growlers has been a Gaithersburg fixture. After storms tore off its roof last summer, some thought it would never re-open. But new owners renovated its second floor and opened it to the public in February.

Parking: Available in the bar's parking lot.

Signature drink: Any of the home brews; the Blueberry Wheat is a refreshing summer drink.

Where: 227 E. Diamond Ave., Gaithersburg

Contact: 301-519-9400; growlersofgaithersburg.com

Open: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Price range: Beers start at $2.50 for PBRs (on Wednesdays) and go up to $10.75 for six-ounce flights.

Similar to: Victoria Gastro Pub

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