Across from the Orlando Fire Department in a small downtown ground floor space carved out of a large parking garage just off Route 4 lies TAP & GRIND, a ‘psychedelicized’ beer-centric tavern that’s become a top destination spot alongside inspirational mentors, RedLight RedLight Beer Parlor. Retaining a relaxed folksy vibe and friendly intimacy, the cozy craft pub began operations during February ’12. And local loyal minions have sung its praises from the get-go.
Hands-on proprietor Jason Chan serves as congenial host for my wife and I as we settle in before dusk on a muggy Wednesday in early December ’13. A revolving Tap & Grind Craft Beer pole and windowed frontage (featuring neon Victory, Green Flash and Left Hand signs) welcome patrons to the narrow black-walled interior.
Celebrating nautical beachcombers as well as sporting landlubbers with ceiling-hung surfboards and wall-bound skateboards, visiting Chan’s delightful cavern is like slipping into a fascinating underground artists’ subterranean digs. Two blackboards list the well-chosen tapped selections and indigenous Florida cypress wood furnishings adorn the 14-seat bar, strewn benches, community tables and trusses. A visually enlightening blue wave gives the bar a bright oceanic atmosphere surrounding one large TV. Provocative philosophical quotes appear when the black lights are turned on in the glow-in-the-dark bathrooms.
Reggae legend Bob Marley gets saluted with memorabilia and a large poster as “Roots Rock Reggae” plays in the background and I get set to imbibe a few previously untried local brews.
“I love beer and started drinking imports after branching away from Bud Lite,” Chan explains while I dig into Green Room 400 Beer Storm IPA and Green Room Royal Palm Belgian Blond (from Jacksonville Beach). “I was hooked on Bud Lite like cigarettes. Then I discovered Killians Red, Guinness and Beck’s. That was when American brewers began crafting better beer. Americans are doing the best job of brewing now. I completely respect English, German and Belgian beer. We borrowed from all those styles and are now better.”
A cool dude with noble intentions, Chan just expanded his rotating tapped selections from 16 to 20 and a refrigerator next to the bar carries 40-plus bottled beers. Though the current landscape for locals is to party hard, he believes they need to be more cultured. And that’s where the prolific Florida craft beer movement comes in.
“We feel we’re giving back to America and it makes me sleep well at night,” Chan quips.
Starting with RedLight Red Light and Rossi’s Italian Restaurant as well as the proliferation of Orlando Brewing Company, Central Florida’s beer scene has increased by leaps and bounds since my last visit nearly a decade hence.
As darkness settles in, I quaff two more worthy local beers: Fort Lauderdale-based Funky Buddha Crusher and Orange Blossom Pilsner Back In The Day IPA (all beers mentioned reviewed in Beer Index).
Before leaving, the gracious Chan shares a few Brouwerij West beers from San Diego while associate Megan Cheeks serves Dogfish Head Piercing Pils. The daughter of Orlando Brewing’s co-owner, John Cheeks, she recently developed Girl Stout, a peppermint-leafed dark ale with cocoa nibs that received plaudits from everyone who has tried the respected elixir.
Here’s hoping I get back next year when I return to Disney to watch my nephew’s Bergen County Stars football team win the Midgets Football Championship.