My friend Randy once sent me a mix tape of his all-time favorite songs. His musical tastes have been most influential in shaping my own preferences, so I always considered this particular tape to be a touchstone of good music. When my wife introduced me to the St. James Tavern, I was immediately impressed with both the selection of craft beer (priced at $3.50 a pint, it’s one of Columbus’ best deals) and their jukebox, which has not only been voted “best in town,” but contained pretty much everything Randy had included on his tape.
The impressive selection at the St. James is courtesy of owner/operator Michelle Hill, who’s run the bar since 1996. In addition to the rotating selection of beer on tap, Michelle also holds monthly cask tappings of local brews (Barley’s, Columbus Brewing Company) as well as limited-edition beers (Founders Double Trouble, Rogue Chatoe Rogue Wet Hop Ale). And she’s always adding new tunes to the jukebox.
The enviable beer list and substantial music selection have come to define what the St. James means to me. The two combine to create a unique experience for each patron, drawing on personal tastes and experience—like a mix tape. As John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity so eloquently describes, there’s an art to making a compilation; not only in the songs you choose, but the order in which they’re placed. And I believe the same is true for beer. Using beers currently on tap as well as music from the jukebox, I present my St. James mix:
Liz Phair’s “6’1”” has always been my quintessential first song on a compilation; it eases you into the mix by establishing mood and tempo. Likewise, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale is the perfect first beer of the evening. It’s flavorful and slightly hoppy, but not strong enough to over-power the second round. Both build a good foundation for the evening as each offer a hint of what’s to come.
The second song is the one you crank up; the mood has been established and it’s time to rock. The Replacement’s “Alex Chilton” was always one of my favorites on Randy’s tape and makes an excellent accompaniment to either an Avery IPA or Rogue Brutal Bitter. Both are full-flavored India Pale Ales and pick up where the Two-Hearted left off, bringing a stronger hop presence to the palate. A good IPA provides the hop key-note this mix is built upon.
Depending on the evening, you can now either level out and order another IPA, or crank it up a notch and go for the Bell’s Hopslam, a double IPA that lives up to its name. If you choose the latter, you’ll want something formidable like Public Enemy, or Prince’s “Controversy”—a little funk to accompany the assault of aromatic hops. Hopslam is strong and pungent, yet full of complexity just beneath the hoppiness.
It’s now time to pull back a bit; slow down the evening and take pause. The next choice has to stand up to what has preceded it, while representing a marked change in tempo: Neko Case’s “Middle Cyclone” paired with a Bluegrass Bourbon Barrel Stout. It stands up to the flavor of the IPAs before it, but without the bitterness; it mellows things out a bit and adds a little smoothness and sweetness to the mix; just like Neko.
Founders Red’s Rye is an excellent beer to close out your tab. It has the bitterness reminiscent of the earlier IPAs without the heavy floral aroma, so you’re not left with a hoppy aftertaste. And like Sugar’s “A Good Idea,” it’s a solid note to end on. Good beer, good music.
While I can’t guarantee all of the above beers will still be on tap when you visit, I can say the chances are good you’ll find a beer and song of your own liking. The St. James updates their Facebook and Twitter pages to reflect new beer and music arrivals, as well as to announce tapping events (which often include food carts in warmer weather) and Michelle’s latest brainchild, vegan potlucks.