LEE -- Last night I joined two friends for a visit to Moe's Tavern, the craft beer outpost that's cast an inviting neon glow on Lee's Railroad Street since 2008.
Beeradvocate.com gives the bar high marks, 100 points out of 100, and a title of "world class" to match Moe's extensive selection of beer and whiskey poured in a setting that would be at home in beer hubs like Seattle, Providence or either Portland.
The cultural heartbeat of downtown Lee was hard to spot while driving through on a Monday night, but we parked in front a colorful and energetic scene visible through two large windows that burst out of the pitch black storefront.
A group on motorcycles rumbled up to the curb as I stepped through the front door and instantly spotted three friends I hadn't seen in quite a while.
It's not a large space, but spread-out seating options and a narrower section of stools along the L-shaped bar's long side saw various group perched throughout. Several couples and individuals in their 20s to 50s perched at the bar bantering over a Red Sox game playing on three flat-screen televisions mounted along the ceiling. Wi-fi is available, though I didn't spy any laptops.
The bikers settled in at a table by the window. A long beer-hall-style table across the room brimmed with the personality of a group in their early 20s. Both tables are placed a roomy distance from the bar, giving the whole space an open flow and providing more secluded seating areas.
I attribute some of Moe's chemistry to good blues rock music and the camaraderie of people who make a point of finding a first-rate beer menu, but give plenty of credit to its decor. Ceiling-mounted lights are kept at a dim hush, letting the iridescent trappings of modern beer culture do the heavy lifting. A panoply of light-up beer signs covering the 1980s-movie-poster color spectrum cast an electrified glow throughout.
Illumination is rounded out by images flickering across the television screens and various logo-frosted mirrors that amplify these lava lamp tones and replicate the breathing room of a much larger space.
This diffuse fluorescence looks very attractive against the many bright, clean surfaces of ornate draught handles, rustic liquor labels, and a good looking wooden bar, and its dreamy atmospherics placed my sensibilities someplace warm and sweetened by a sea breeze, half way between the more carefree settings of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Drive."
My friend, Garrit, manages an upscale liquor store and possesses an admirable knowledge of all things fermented and distilled. He pointed out to me that Moe's is very "of-this-moment," referring to the skyrocketing popularity of craft brewing in the United States in recent years.
"This is a bar for people who love beer. If there's a hot product that's worthy of that hype, they have it. And if you can't find what you're looking for they'll find something else you'll like." he said, having been to Moe's before and taken note of their evolving inventory and house staples. "It's what American craft culture is all about right now. We're in a really cool time period of people making a difference through creating superior products, and Moe's picks the gems."
Garrit guided me to the deliciously hoppy Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in San Diego ($6), and the bartender tipped me off to a refreshing wheat beer from Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Co. ($6) Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA is a perennial favorite for a very cool $4 per pint. Just make sure not to order a Coors Light.
By capturing the thrust of this craft renaissance, and doing it so stylishly, I can see Moe's Tavern someday being the most sought-after retro bar around; a sort of living museum of this moment in the story of beer. Longevity looks promising in wake of the recent opening of Trader Moe's, the tavern's sister store, a craft beer retailer just around the corner on Main Street.
There are no events on the website's calendar right now, but live music, beer tastings, and special brewery have livened things up in the past. And though Moe's only serves potato chips, patrons are allowed to order food in from nearby restaurants. They open at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends, and close by 1 a.m. or whenever the place empties out.