Budweiser, Corona, Coors, Miller, Tecate — go to a typical liquor store in California and you’re likely to find these beers, their various cousins and sometimes a smattering of other, somewhat less mainstream options.
Go to Red Barn Liquors at 1285 N. Ventura Ave., however, and these beers’ place in the cooler is dwarfed by an astounding selection of yeasty beverages. A quick count showed more than 112 different varieties of individually bottled beers (both domestic and imported) and dozens of six-packs.
I ended up at Red Barn Liquors (a cousin of the Red Barn Market a few blocks further south on the Avenue) on a tip from a trusted source. There, I was assured, I would find an awe-inspiring monument to fermentation hidden in an otherwise nondescript building at the heart of a struggling neighborhood.
Although my afternoon visit meant I wouldn’t be taking any discoveries home with me to enjoy, my scouting mission at the Red Barn turned out to be one of those serendipitous moments where chance gives way to destiny. Pulling into the parking lot, I thought of the tarnished reputation of the Avenue. I thought of crime reports and pondered the iron fences on the narrow street adjacent to the liquor store. I thought there was little to inspire a Straight Up column that any other liquor store couldn’t offer.
Then I reached the Red Barn’s beer cooler and came face-to-face with my past.
As a steady stream of neighborhood figures poured into the store for chips and smokes and porn, I stood transfixed by another vice. Not alcohol, although the shelves featured row upon row of new labels that stirred my curiosity (Delerium, Brahma, Green Flash Brewing Co., to name just a tiny few). No, I was frozen in memory, in history, as the threads of my life flashed before my eyes.
I thought of La Fin Du Monde — the End of the World. I thought of the moment I twisted a 19-year-old ankle on the staircase leading into a Montreal hostel before two of my college friends and I even took a sip of the triple fermented ale. Standing there, the memory of that chilly Fall Break journey rushed through my veins.
Before the chill could subside I saw the individual bottles of Portland, Maine’s Shipyard Export Ale. My muscles ached as I remembered the corner two doors up from the Shipyard brewery, where I fell so often on the glassed-over ice encrusting the neglected sidewalk. Recoiling from the phantom pain, my nostrils filled with the brewery’s pungent odor as it hung in the empty air of subzero afternoons. My eyes squinted and I could almost see the stone retaining wall of the 400-year-old cemetery up the street.
I saw Alsatian street corners. The Place Kleber. The bierstubs decked in the red-and-white checkered 1664 ads, even though their own seasonal brews were all anyone ordered while outside, old, grizzled alcoholics downed the tasteless beer as if they were sprawled about Ventura’s own Mission Park with cans of Bud. I thought of riding the bullet-like tram toward Kronenberg, the recorded Frenchwoman’s voice proudly announcing each stop over the voices of young Muslim boys offering the uninitiated hash and pleading with tourists to use their cell phones to test their modded SIM cards.
There at the Red Barn I saw my summer in Oregon. My visits to my friend at his girlfriend’s apartment, where a neighbor proudly displayed bottles of He’Brew: The Chosen Beer on the kitchen window sill, and our vain search for a beer that ultimately didn’t excite us as much as the attempts at Judaic humor (Red Barn also carries Schmaltz Brewing Company’s Origin Pomegranate Ale).
Each place I looked, it seemed, revealed an access point to another tale, but the twists and turns of those tangents would take us far from this column. Moreover, the beers I just mentioned can be found at many locations in Ventura County. Combined with the dozens of other options on offer at the Red Barn that rarely see the light of day in our Corona and Coors city, though, there are any number of new stories waiting to be told at the Red Barn. It may not be the swankiest liquor store in town, and one may want to use caution during a late night beer run, but those who can get past their preconceptions about the Avenue will be happy they paid a visit.