The buzz: Tucked away on a plaza inside the University Town Center development, the Old Dominion Brew House isn't easy to see from the road. And inside, the place looks pretty generic: lots of lights, lots of flat-screens, lots of leather booths. Signs hanging from the rafters announce game-day specials and advertise various beers. But the draft beer lineup is one of the best in suburban Maryland, and just about everyone in the diverse crowd sings the praises of the neighborhood hangout.
"It's a good place," says Patrick Ojong Jr., a 33-year-old police officer, who's sitting at a booth with Virly Barley, a bartender and server at a D.C. restaurant. "I live across the street and I work in Hyattsville, so I like being able to go out in Hyattsville."
"They have a great selection of beer, and when it comes to football season, that's important," Barley says. "Especially with the beer tower."
That would be the 100-ounce "beer tower" the two are sharing: a three-foot-high cylinder with a tap at its base. Customers fill their own glasses from it as needed ($17.95 during college and NFL games, $20.95 other times).
"There are other places around here, like Outback, but this place is pretty homey," Ojong adds, between sips of Yuengling. "You can sit here and have a conversation."
The scene: The University Town Center contains a mix of University of Maryland student housing, condos and rented apartments, which makes for an interesting customer mix. In one corner, a pair of guys are shooting pool and razzing each other. Some patrons are focused on sports playing on the 21 TVs. And Derrick Jackson, 26, a graduate student majoring in international business, is doing schoolwork at the bar. "The food is good and the beer is good," he explains. But more important, "This is the most comfortable place around here. It's a combination of the people that work here and the music."
In your glass: There are 32 drafts, including eight Old Dominion beers, a pair from Coastal partner Fordham and, for the designated drivers, Old Dominion's flavorful root beer. (Grab Old Dominion's malty Oktoberfest beer while you can.) Nice surprises include Warsteiner Pilsner and Fuller's ESB. The house wine selection is short, and the bar does respectable mixed drinks but not much else. (There are plans to start a cocktail menu soon.)
On your plate: Stick to the basics and you'll be all right. The nacho platter is covered with neon yellow cheese like you'll find at the stadium, and it's topped with raw jalapeos. Wings are satisfying and not overly breaded. The quesadilla? It was a good happy hour snack.
Price points: Beers are mostly in the $3-$5 range, with wine and mixed drinks a few bucks more. Appetizers cost $7-$10.
Happy hour: 4-7 p.m., 20-ounce drafts for $3.99, except Budweiser, Bud Light, Yuengling, Shiner Bock and Miller Lite, which are $1.99. Appetizers range from $2 plates of onion rings up to $4.50 for wing platters and quesadillas. On Mondays and Thursdays, a half-dozen wings are $2.99 all day. And during football games, deals include trays of 10 wings for $7.99 and 25 for $14.99, and buckets of five pony beers for $5.99.
Need to know: On the side of the dining room, there's an alcove with a large booth and private TV. It's very popular on game days, but it's available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Nice to know: Last week, the Brew House became an official football viewing spot for the University of Michigan alumni association.
-- Fritz Hahn (Oct. 9, 2009)