Bowie, the idyllic suburb of my youth, has undergone a transformation in recent years as condominiums and townhouse developments vie with big-box stores and shopping malls for the remaining tracts of land. Of course, the restaurant scene is growing fast: cookie-cutter chains such as Applebee's, Ruby Tuesday and Don Pablo's seem to have sprouted overnight. For some residents -- including my younger brother and his friends -- these also serve as neighborhood watering holes.
I realize this is the norm in many communities, but it's nice to have a choice. That's why I'm happy to go home again and visit the new DuClaw Brewing Company in Bowie Town Center (4000 Town Centre Blvd., Bowie; 301-809-6943), the third branch of the Maryland-based microbrewery.
Muted shades of steel and brick give the restaurant and bar a neo-industrial look. Sheets of metal jut at odd angles on their way to soaring ceilings. The walls of the men's room resemble giant manhole covers. Booths in the main seating area and glassed-in bar have extra-high backs for privacy. What's missing from the picture are gleaming copper vats, rubber tubing and pressure gauges -- the telltale signs of a brewpub.
Despite the presence of "Brewing Company" in the name, no beer is made here. A law passed by Maryland's General Assembly a few years ago limits the number of locations microbreweries can operate in the state, so DuClaw brews its beer at its Bel Air location north of Baltimore and then ships it down to Bowie and another branch at Arundel Mills Mall.
Like many brewpubs, DuClaw offers only its own beers -- sometimes to the consternation of new customers. "What tastes like Heineken?" one man sitting at the bar asks. "Does the stout taste like Guinness?" queries another. Bartenders are quick to pitch the sampler -- a few ounces of each of the draft beers, served in small glasses -- and for $6, neophytes would do well to try one. I usually go straight for Venom, a satisfying American pale ale that doesn't overwhelm, or the rich Bad Moon Porter, with its delicious hints of coffee and chocolate. Six "staples" are always available, with special seasonal beers rotating in every month or so. Grab a seat near the taps and the bartenders couldn't be friendlier. I'm unsure about the textured faux-rock bar counter, though. While it looks cool, the pitted, uneven surface makes it all too easy for pint glasses to slosh and spill.
At happy hour and on weekends, tables and booths are full of groups watching sports or meeting friends for a drink and an appetizer or two. Tuesday's all-day happy hour means $2 appetizers and selected pints -- a low-cost introduction to the neighborhood's coolest bar.
-- Fritz Hahn (Jan. 9, 2004)