It was not our intention, but on a recent Friday night at the quickly popular Ale House Columbia, our table of four really tested the patience of the server.
As Top 40 blared overhead, our server leaned in and asked for drink orders. She was knowledgeable about the wide selection of beer (including the many types of house brand Oliver Breweries), and offered what I heard as a beer "sampler." After choosing four beers, it was the next person's turn.
"I'll have whatever he's having," the friend said.
The server smiled and returned with eight samples, each roughly the amount of a double shot. We realized "sampler" was actually "samples," the embarrassment of being that table emerged. We apologized for mishearing and for the annoying requests, but the server remained happy and eager to please. As I blushed, she recommended the slightly spicy, and very good, Thai Chile mussels ($13.49).
The server wasn't perfect (while taking our orders, she awkwardly paused and took a drink request from a separate table) but her excellent attitude and knowledge of the menu made our experience worth putting up with the parking nightmare outside. (After circling around the congested lot a couple times with no luck, we found one of the farthest possible spaces from the restaurant.)
The Ale House Columbia opened in mid-December and has since become the town's new hot spot, especially on weekends. There hadn't been a business in the location in four years, when it was Rocky Run Tap and Grill. After eyeing a Columbia location for two years, Donald Kelly and Justin Dvorkan, co-owners of the Pratt Street Ale House near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, settled on the 9,600 square-foot property.
Aside from the sharp-looking outdoor patio, which was empty and likely will be until warmer weather arrives, the redesign feels clean but a bit generic.
Interestingly, rather than fill the walls with decorations or creative touches, management lined the space with an almost comical amount of TVs. Out of the more than 30 total TVs, 13 were visible from our table. On paper this seems unimaginative, but there's something practical and smart about a sports bar with an absurd amount of TVs. There's no such thing as "too many" flat screens.
The most obvious flaw of Ale House Columbia is, it's too loud. The music — which got as adventurous as Maroon 5 on our visit — was simply an annoyance, and not a mood-setter. It also forced the rest of the patrons (and there were many) to raise their talking voices to uncomfortable levels. The people at our table were forced to lean in to talk to each other, which is never ideal. Bar and restaurant owners take note: A loud atmosphere doesn't automatically equate to a buzzing scene. Sometimes, it's just loud.
The volume eventually lessened, and our visit improved. A manager checked on our table multiple times, and our beers never stayed empty for long. The best of the Oliver Breweries was the Draft Punk ($6.25), an American IPA that didn't overpower with hops. There's also an impressive list of "guest drafts," that includes Stillwater Ales, Ballast Point and a DuClaw chocolate peanut butter porter named Sweet Baby Jesus that pleasantly surprised.
The goal of Ale House Columbia, according to Dvorkan, was to "create a good enough environment and a good enough product so that people get here and stay, not drive all over the place," he told The Sun in December. Less than two months later, he and his partner have achieved such a restaurant. The beer list and staff will keep it this way. Turning down the speakers will help, too.
The Ale House Columbia
Back story: The owners of Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore, home to Oliver Breweries, opened their second restaurant and bar after searching for a Columbia location for two years. The sports bar sets itself apart with more than 50 beers, mostly craft.
Parking: There's not enough of it. The shopping center on Dobbin Road where Ale House Columbia is located has many spots, but also many businesses. On the weekend, be ready to circle a couple times to find an open spot.
Signature drink: The Draft Punk American IPA ($6.25) not only has a great name, but it has a pleasant, smooth taste that IPAs often lack.
Where: 6480 Dobbin Center Way, Columbia
Contact: 443-546-3640, thealehousecolumbia.com
Open: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday.