Heroic Beers Served Up at Virginia Beach's Bunker BrewPub & Cadence Hall
Hurricane Dorian eventually took a northern path up the East Coast, and with mandatory evacuations being issued the remainder of this run's first week of dates were canceled. Our original plans to swing through Charleston, SC, Wilmington, NC, and the Outer Banks for four shows and a couple of days of leisure were scrubbed, and we had left the mountains of Georgia to spend a few days at home and see how much damage would be done, and from there determine the status of the second week of shows.
Luckily the storm weakened and damage was minimal, so we were back on the beach by Monday morning. We made it to Norfolk, VA in time to pick my son Drew up at the airport, and had decided to leave Django at home (as we didn't know what condition the beaches would be in), so the entourage for the remainder of the tour would be my sons Drew and Brad (both in their 20s) and myself. Drew was arriving from NYC where he had been at the US Open (tennis) for the past two weeks, so he was balancing the line between exhaustion and ready to party... which would become the state we all existed in for the entire week.
Bunker BrewPub & Cadence Hall - Virginia Beach, VA
Young Veterans Brewing Co. (YVBC)
Beers are available at the taproom and finer drinking establishments throughout the region.
With a few days to kill before the next show later in the week, Brad and I decided to introduce Drew to one of our favorite little seafood joints, so we headed about an hour north on Virginia's Eastern Shore to The Great Machipongo Clam Shack in Nassawadox, VA. As all the best seafood joints seem to be, the Clam Shack is a very casual mom and pop where you can toss a stone one direction and hit the Chesapeake Bay, and throw the opposite way and it'll splash in the Atlantic. Due to it's ideal location you can get the very freshest oysters, clams, crab, and various fish right out of the water... but what is even better and keeps bringing us back is their phenomenal and unique Eastern Shore style seafood chowder. A clear broth with clams the size of quarters, potato, corn, and whatever other seafood is fresh and they feel like tossing in. Heavenly. Partnered with a combo basket (broiled or fried), awesome hush puppies, tangy and slightly spicy slaw, and a healthy selection of local beers, all reasonably priced... and there's little question why this place is on our short list of global favorites.
After a heavenly (and massive) lunch of seafood and local beers, we headed to a nature preserve on the Bay side for the afternoon, then closed the day out with more beers, Irish whiskey, and a fairly early night at a local motel.
The following morning we headed to Kitty Hawk, in North Carolina's Outer Banks, and spent the next few days as proper beach bums. The weather was spectacular, and the surf (now a few days after the hurricane) was the best we had ever seen in the Outer Banks. The storm had rearranged the sand dunes, beaches, and sand bars, so the waves were breaking further out, consistently in the 6' and higher range, and it was just one beautiful wave after the next all day long for the first two days. The water temperature was the same as the air temperature (right around 80F), so everything was perfect.
Our days consisted of a good local breakfast each day, more or less all day on the beach (with a healthy cooler of local beers), dinner, and then collapse from sheer exhaustion. We alternated between hotels and sleeping in the tour van, and when we did the latter we'd park it right across from the sand dunes where we could spend late nights on the beach under the amazingly bright field of stars. Due to the hurricane and it being right on the last week of the “in” season, we found a stretch of beach where we were the only ones around, and could basically do whatever we wanted without bothering anyone. On the last night Brad even decided to take a blanket and pillow onto the beach, and spent the night sleeping under the stars, with the soft white sand acting as a sort of tempurpedic mattress.
Our last night in the Outer Banks I played up at Uncle Ike's Sandbar in Corolla. On these beach runs I like to throw in some cool non-brewery venues just for fun, especially in the Outer Banks (as there are plenty, and not many breweries), and Uncle Ike's is a fun place I've played a few times now... smallish cozy bar and restaurant, great food, solid beer selection, and friendly people on both sides of the bar. It's all the way up north in Corolla, the last stop in the very northern Outer Banks before the road runs out and you're in the preserve with the wild mustangs (if you're not familiar, wild mustangs run freely on the beaches of the northern Outer Banks).
After Uncle Ike's we grabbed a late-night dinner to go, went back to our favorite super secret (and illegal) beach camping location, and drank beer and whiskey late into the night. This was the night Brad camped under the stars in the sand, BTW.
The next morning we headed north for a show in Virginia Beach.
For being just up the coast, Virginia Beach couldn't be much more different than the Outer Banks. Where most of the North Carolina coast is either undeveloped or littered with beach houses, Virginia Beach (much like Myrtle Beach in SC) is more of a downtown area populated by high rise hotel after hotel, nightclubs, and souvenir shops. My visits always entail a visit to the 17th Street Surf Shop, and there is now a funky little shop right next door to it that is basically a Grateful Dead merchandise superstore. Everything from a billion t-shirts to artwork, jewelry, and bongs and such. The paintjob on the outside of the building is impressive (see photos below). I didn't buy anything, but it was fun to browse.
The night's brewery, Bunker Brewpub and Cadence Hall, is home to the Young Veteran's Brewing Company (YVBC). I must admit I was not familiar with their beer, but it was served in establishments up and down the coast, and it's good stuff. Virginia being a hotbed for various military, intelligence, contractor, and various other government locations it wasn't surprising to come across a military-themed brewery, which is what the Bunker is. A rather large location right in the heart of Virginia Beach (21st Street, 1 block from the ocean), the Bunker consists of two large rooms: the taproom, which has lots of glass and open garage doors and exposure to the bustling beach night scene, and another room that is more of a proper rock club. It was a gorgeous night with a delightful breeze coming off the beach, so they opened up the garage doors and put me in the front corner where the breeze blew right in from my stage, and my music filled the streets for a block or so.
Knowing it was a military-themed joint, I was expecting something like a hangar with a bar and military gear and insignia, but it was actually a very nice chic room, with touches of military references. Much to my surprise once I started playing was the fact that the place quickly became populated with tie-dye wearing Deadheads, from Deadhead retirees to dready travelers just stopping in on their way to some touring adventure. This seems to be happening to me from time to time, and I'm happy to oblige with setlists heavy in Dead-related material for a change. As Deadhead crowds go, these guys wanted to go deep, with requests covering all sorts of ground, which was cool for me as I got to trot out some tunes that I don't get to play very often (Stella Blue, Black Peter, Cassidy, etc.). Anyway, so that was a pleasant an unexpected surprise!
<NOTE: Just as I was posting this blog I heard that Dead lyricist Robert Hunter had passed. I can't think of a greater lyricist than Hunter, and I am grateful not only for his work that provided the words to much of the soundtrack of my life, but also that I had the opportunity to converse with him quite a few times since Garcia's death. Fare thee well, Mr. Hunter>
The beer selection offered a nice combination of styles, and everything I tried was well executed. I started with the Fugazi (5.6%) New England IPA (haze), and it was a good place to start. A hazy golden pour, nicely hopped leaning more towards the floral/tropical side than the piney, and quite drinkable. I could have just stuck with these, but the menu was broad and filled with other appealing options...
YVBC offers several sours, and I liked them all (Brad, who developed quite the taste for sours on these beach runs, didn't care for the Spruce Bradley as much). My favorites were Private Plum (5%), a sour ale with plum and hibiscus.... a reddish purple (perhaps the term is... plum?) hue, crisp and so refreshing, perhaps due to the hibiscus but it tasted more like berry than plum to me... but no matter, it was tasty. The other one I really liked was the one that Brad didn't care for, the Spruce Bradley (7.1%) our IPA with spruce tips. Normally “spruce” can worry me, as sometimes when it says “spruce” it tastes more like pine cones or a christmas wreath, but no such problems with this one... it was true to it's “sour IPA” badge, being reasonably sour but with all the positive attributes of a good reasonably hopped IPA.
As I had a driver on this night I was allowed to indulge a bit more than usual... so I did. The Aqueous Transmission (5%) was an interesting lighter brew, a cucumber/guava ale, also very refreshing, with the cucumber really adding a nice touch that I hadn't expected. I guess it makes sense, if you like cucumber water in your hotel lobby, etc (is that Marriott that does that?)... a nice thirst quenching beer. Being a block from the beach in a vacation town, having lighter refreshing beers would make a lot of sense, and YVBC filled that niche with El General, their answer to a Corona or Dos Equus type Mexican lager. Again, light and refreshing, but with perhaps a bit more flavor than a Corona... I drank mine without a lime, and it didn't need one (unlike Corona, IMO). They also had a Hefeweisen (which I don't drink), and a light American Ale... so on a hot day right off the beach, you could definitely find a beer here that would hit the spot w/out being too hefty.
Two other notable pints were the Jody Beer (5.6%) amber ale, which is a style I don't normally care for, but I really enjoyed this one, and my night cap was the Night Vision (6.1%) American Stout, which was that perfect creamy stout to end with before heading out into the night. Nice and dark, rich creamy head, and mild hints of chocolate and coffee. On my short list of favorite American stouts!
The staff were great, and very knowledgeable about the beers. I wasn't sure what to expect with this brewery between the location and the military theme (not that it seemed bad, just unusual) but I really enjoyed the Bunker, and would love to come back on next June's run of beach town breweries (yes, Virginia, there is already one in the works.... stay tuned!).
Our one complaint about Virginia Beach (or perhaps it was Virginia as a whole) is that when we left the brewery a little after midnight, all the nightclubs were bustling, which kinda kept us in a party mood, and we couldn't find anyplace that sold beer after midnight! A Friday night in a vacation town, and no beer sales after midnight??? That's the kind of thinking that makes kids turn to drugs, people!
Our next stop was a return visit to Benchtop Brewing in Norfolk the next night, which was only a few minutes away, so with no beer we hit the hotel early, and you can read about the next day's adventures in the next blog...