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Weiland Brewery ~ 400 E 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90012 ~ (213) 680-2881

We really have to sing the praises of Weiland Brewery, which has been home to more than one happy-hour TACO meeting. Centrally located in the Little Tokyo neighborhood close to Downtown, it is a central location where our correspondents and board members from all corners of L.A. County can fight traffic equally to commune in the belly of the beast. They have a full bar, but the beer here is good and the happy hour price even better. I remember that they have an honey blonde lager, amber ale, an India Pale Ale, and a Hefeweizen, all made by Weiland. Ambers are my personal favorite, so that's what I get, but I have to remind myself: if I get overenthusiastic with the $2.50 pints during happy hour, it will cost me later. I might have a nasty hangover or I might decide to get into a drunken car chase with a disgruntled former personal assistant. And those DUI court costs and publicist fees aren't cheap, folks.

So, instead of drinking and snorting on an empty stomach, eat! The tasty and cheap happy hour appetizers leave you no reason not to fill you tummy with something other than sudsy beer. You can choose between Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Poppers ($2.95), Crispy Calamari ($2.95), Grilled Chicken Quesadilla ($3.95), and Crispy Corn Crab Cakes ($3.95), among others.

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For me, there are a few standouts on this Happy Hour appetizer menu. Near the door, they have an award hanging from some publication or civic group or something that says "Voted Best Garlic Fries: 2005". I didn't realize that restaurant garlic fries were such a competitive field, but these are pretty good, especially when paired with a beer and especially when they are only $1.95 a basket.

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I also spotted an appetizer on the non-happy-hour-discount menu, which sounded so good I felt like we could depart from the bargain menu for a moment: Smoked Salmon Stack, "Smoked Norwegian Salmon on a fresh potato pancake with crème fraîche and chives."

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My mainstay appetizer are the Weiland Wings, pictured below next to a pint of amber. They are also available in BBQ and teriyaki, but I can't imagine anything that could make me order those over the "hot" variety. I fancy myself as somewhat of a buffalo wing connoisseur or, at the very least, a buffalo wing addict. I must go on the record as stating that these are a little different from your typical buffalo wings. First of all, they are a breaded, which is atypical, and also a bit smaller than most. But it's the sauce that is truly unique. Instead of the oil-thickened Louisiana Hotsauce style sauce that results in the salty, sour, spicy, thick and rich elixir that is so common yet so beguiling, this sauce is unthickened, but manages to seep into the breading to provide sufficient moisture and flavor. To the main vinegar, salt, and chile components of the sauce, the Weiland recipe seems to add a dash of Italian Seasoning and possibly one or two less-commonly used chilies. They are not the perfection of the archetypical buffalo wing, but they are darn good. And cheap. And plentiful. And I wouldn't turn them down any day.

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One item I might turn down is the No Fry Veggie Spring Roll ($2.95). After a few beers -- is that someone's margarita!? -- we were buzzed and decided to try something a little crazy: "Let's order something healthy. Something with vegetables. Something that's not fried." So we tried the spring rolls. It seemed like all three of the little Asian packages had been sprinkled generously with mild white or rice vinegar. True, the common culinary acid added to the taste, but only a bit. And the vinegar subsequently moistened the rice-based wrapping material, resulting in a slippery and unstable little bundle of unexciting food. Good thing we took a picture before we tried to pick it up.

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To be fair, it could be that our taste-buds were burned by the buffalo sauce and our senses dulled by the brews. We went back to our evil, artery-clogging ways, and ordered a serving of "Sam Adams" Onion Rings for $2.95. Mmmm.

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There is another location on 5th and Flower, although we haven't gotten a chance to check it out yet. We also learned that Happy Hour is in effect 3 PM to 7 PM, and then again from 10:30-1:30. Can't you see yourself stopping here after a Dodger game?

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Ok, so we all know that Downtown is experiencing a "renaissance." I read somewhere that a 2006 survey reports a 20.8% increase in the Downtown population from 2004 to 2006. And supposedly these aren't just indigent individuals that hospitals have been dropping off on skid-row; reportedly, these new residents are mostly 20-something and 30-something professionals, such that the Downtown area has one of the highest average level of educational attainment of all LA neighborhoods.

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Some might complain that these people are just nouveau yuppies, or DINKs or whatever, and that this is all just gentrification. And maybe I wasn't around in the bad old days, but Downtown seems to be increasingly a better place to hang out. I mean, you or I may not want to have to put on a tie everyday and pay our dues in cubicle hell with an eye towards moving to the purgatory of corner office, but don't you think the haters are a bit jealous of the sweet loft-conversion cribs with the hardwood floors and exposed bricks and big picture windows? Can you really blame these people that have moved here to, among other things, avoid the traffic and give themselves more time to read blogs like View from a Loft and the Downtown News website? With Ralph's having just opened up a new grocery store to cater to the underserved Downtown area, this renaissance seems to get more and more momentum.

OK, I confess that I've often thought about what it would be like to live in one of those sweet condos. You might have figured that out. But there's a twist: in my fantasy of dwelling Downtown, I'm never shopping at Ralph's. In my Downtown dreams, I envision myself living off of Weiland Wings and beer. Is that so wrong?

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Photo Credit: Maestra Moni

Website: www.weilandbrewery.net

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