Jack Kerouac somewhat derisively called Salt Lake City “a city of sprinklers,” implying that it is too squeaky-clean. Of Ogden, one of his characters in On The Road says, “It’s the place where most of the boys pass through … you’re liable to see anybody there.” Almost 70 years later, Ogden remains SLC’s sister city, though she wears darker makeup and smokes with her friends in the ladies’ room. It’s within this often overlooked city where one can find Utah’s newest entry to the craft beer bar scene: The Barrelhouse.
The new bar is located just one street over from the walkable and historic, “Two Bit” 25th Street, which retains many of its beautiful early 20th Century buildings, but has ditched the brothels, gangster wars and speakeasies it was known for long ago.
The bar is the baby of Shane McConnell, a softspoken man who wanted to bring some additional choice to the Ogden bar scene. “[The Barrelhouse] is a little more like something you would see in Park City or San Francisco—something that Ogden doesn’t have a lot of—and there were a lot of people that were really wanting that,” he says.
The Barrelhouse got its name from the dark, reclaimed wood lining of the ceiling and pillars of the basement it inhabits, which was sourced from barrels used to make Molson beer in Quebec many years ago. There are monochrome pictures on the walls that show the giant barrels being used in the Canadian brewery’s heyday.
The Barrelhouse itself is rather large and open, offering more group-friendly elbow room than most bars. There are pool and foosball tables, dartboards, shuffleboard and even Atari arcade cabinets boasting Millipede and Asteroids. McConnell says they can seat 110 people and have a fire code capacity of 334, so space is not in short supply. Overall, The Barrelhouse has kind of a clubhouse feel, despite its size. “The wood [on the walls and ceiling] kind of has a dual purpose—to warm up the space and also to help the acoustics out,” says McConnell. “I got to choose from three piles of wood—one from an old barn, another from a bridge that was torn down and the other from these 20-foot-high barrels … as soon as I heard that, immediately I said, Okay that’s the wood.”
Longtime SLUG contributor and beer expert Kyle Trammel was the primary influence in ensuring that the selection of beers is both plentiful and varied, serving in that capacity until his passing in January 2015. McConnell says that The Barrelhouse currently offers 117 beers, 12 of which are on tap— enough to make any beer nerd cry hoppy tears of joy. Brew selections include: Rogue, Roosters, Squatters, Wasatch, New Belgium, Red Rock, Epic, Uinta, Moab, Kona, Pelican, Bohemian, Deschutes, Hoegaarden, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Boulevard and many others.
Any person looking to find the place will need a little cunning, because due to Utah’s notoriously wacky liquor laws, the entrance is in the back of the building. The reason? There is a church across the street, and there is a Utah statute preventing any bar entrance from being within 200 feet of a church. Apparently, lawmakers figured the temptation of a sabbath cold one would be too much for any churchgoer on a Sunday afternoon. The inconspicuous entrance gives the bar a slightly Prohibition-era feel, though no secret knock or password is needed for entry.
The bar is in the basement of a building built in 1914. Ogden locals will recognize the giant bronco-riding cowboy mural on the outside—though few likely know that the building also houses a giant Gatsby-esque ballroom featuring velvet flock wallpaper. The room is now in disuse, after serving as a roller rink in the 1970s. The ground floor is inhabited by McConnell’s sister business, The Century Club, a nightclub/ bar/live music venue, as well as Craftburger, which serves their signature fancy burgers both up- and downstairs. The space is garnished with Thomas Edison–style visible filament bulbs hanging on custom plumbing pipe chandeliers, which look like they were salvaged from Jules Verne’s Nautilus. At The Century Club, “We have live music nights, and we have nights where we have DJs,” says McConnell. “Essentially, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., there’s the restaurant that runs each day, and then [The Century Club] transitions into a nightclub. A lot of the seating area gets cleared for a dance floor.”
The bar inside The Barrelhouse is large with plenty of stools facing the backlit wall lined with glassware and a few TVs. The staff is trained to serve the beer with the correct glass, so patrons can rest assured they are getting the best out of their beer. The lengthy beer menus are clipped to a thick wood plank clipboard and are listed according to type, which should make it easy for even budding connoisseurs to find something they like. Large glass-door refrigerators sit at both ends and are filled with an eclectic selection of bottled beer to choose from, for those who like to see the labels.
The Barrelhouse is yet another offering in Ogden’s now formidable list of unique and locally owned food/drink destinations, which includes Funk ’n Dive, Lighthouse Lounge, Roosters Brewing Company and Slackwater Grill. These combined make Ogden a legitimate Friday-night alternative for Salt Lakers looking for something they haven’t tried before—we may have previously been unaware of Ogden’s foodie and drinkie boom.