The strip mall bar is maybe a rung below the outlet mall bar and just a couple of notches above a dive on U.S. 40.
From the outside, Columbia's newest watering hole, the Frisco Tap and Brew House, doesn't inspire much confidence. It's sandwiched between a furniture store and a BMW motorcycle showroom. At the end of the strip, there's a Batteries Plus.
Frisco looks handsome — wide windows and a tastefully designed facade — just the way a Chipotle can look handsome. But the first hint that this might not be your average, anonymous strip mall tenant is its name. This isn't just a casual carrier of taps, it's a taphouse; one might even say a small temple — a tap-ernacle, if you will.
Frisco carries 50 taps (including 10 Belgians) and nearly 100 bottled beers. making it Columbia's answer to Mahaffey's, long reputed to be Canton's best beer bar.
Though there's not much near the bar — The Mall in Columbia is about five miles away — a drive here is worth it, and for Columbia residents, it's unlikely there's anything remotely as comprehensive around.
Frisco had been previously located at 8865 Stanford Blvd., where it was called Frisco Grille and Cantina. But for most of a year, owner Adam Carton has been working on this new, larger location at 6695 Dobbin Road. It opened in early December and retains only the old location's Tex-Mex-flavored menu.
The new location is three times as big as the cantina, with enough room for a bar that holds about 40 stools, a beer hall-like banquet table and a dining room as big as any hip, McDonald's-owned Mexican joint. (Carton has also said there will be a brewery on site, though that won't come online for another six months.)
With its burnt-orange walls and ergonomically designed layout, it recalls DuClaw Brewing Company's storefront at Arundel Mills mall.
But unlike that location, which can feel like something of a fish bowl — mall walkers constantly rushing by — Frisco has lower ceilings and darkened windows. Inside, you almost forget you're drinking $10 Belgian beer inside a county strip mall.
The bar's crown jewel is the iridescent gizmo that displays its beer menu: two wide plasma screens that list scores of beers in alternating colors as if they were plane arrivals and departures.
The high-def menu is flanked by about four other plasma screens on either side, which gives the bar a slight "Situation Room" vibe. You half-expect Wolf Blitzer to pop out from underneath for a dispatch on the joys of abbey ales.
It's the bar's beer selection that really sets it apart from other area brewpubs. For starters, it has twice as many bottled beers as the old location, and 30 more taps.
Carton has stocked the menu with a wide range of choices of imported, domestic and regional craft beers.
Frisco carries five Flying Dog Ales on tap, three Dogfish Heads and Brewers Art Resurrection on tap, and Coup de Boule by the bottle. The bar also has two hand-pumped cask stations (one of which served Williams Bros. Joker the night I went).
I tried a goblet of Goose Island Pere Jacques, a butterscotch pour with a caramel finish that sells for $7.95, and the heavy-tasting Weyerbacher Fifteen, for $8.95.
The rest of the menu is equally pricey, with most items in the $4.95-$7.95 range, and some Belgians hitting the $10 mark. (The food is also costly, with $7 taquitos and $10 quesadillas.)
The beer menu, though, is helpfully color-marked in white (for pints) and yellow, which notes beers served in 10-ounce goblets that are typically higher in alcohol content and price.
One quibble: Though the menu includes alcohol content, it should also include prices — without them, it'll be awfully easy to run up a steep tab. The bartender who helped me said customers can ask for it, but it seems an unnecessary inconvenience.
Like the other bartenders, she was eagerly helpful and knowledgeable about the product in stock. When someone said the bar carries one imperial stout, she corrected him. There are actually two: Podge and Sam Smith.
She could also talk at length about the sweetness and maltiness of their Belgian quads — an important quality for bartenders at brewpubs, who should also play teacher to craft beer beginners.
On the night I visited, Frisco was crowded, most of the stools and the dinner area occupied with people still in work clothes, and even some men in suits. It lends itself to an after-work hangout, but with its vast beer menu (and for these prices), it can just as well double as, and should be, a destination for beer drinkers with discriminating palettes.
If you go
Frisco Tap and Brew House is at 6695 Dobbin Road Columbia. Hours are 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Call 410-312-4907 or go to friscogrille.com.