Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — While holding down a bar stool at the Papago Brewing Company late last year, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me about two of my most passionate pursuits: baseball and beer.
The guy was a local beer distributor who represents Bell’s Brewery of Comstock, Mich. He told me Bell’s beer is sold in Arizona largely because the brewery’s founder, Larry Bell, is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan and likes his beer to be available for him and his friends when they’re in town for spring training games at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa.
“I’m from Chicago,” Bell told me later by phone. “My family has always been Cubs fans. My great grandfather, Harry Magill Sr., wrote a song called, ‘Watch the Cubs Play Ball,’ which was written in commemoration of Charlie Root Day [a former Cubs pitcher mostly remembered for serving up Babe Ruth’s alleged ‘Called Shot’ in 1932] on Aug. 10, 1941.”
I’ve been attending major league spring training games in Arizona long before I was legally old enough to drink beer. Since becoming of age, I’ve made it my mission to scout out the perfect pre- and postgame watering holes near Cactus League ballparks.
About a decade ago, I discovered Cellar Pub at Sun Devil Liquors in Mesa, just a few blocks from the Cubs’ Hohokam home. Tucked into a corner of the wine cellar beneath the store, Cellar Pub features an ever-changing variety of wines by the glass and microbrewed beers on draft. It’s a great place to cool down after a warm day at the ballpark. It’s so comfortable, I often find that the sun has set by the time I emerge. Sun Devil Liquors carries many Bell’s Brewery beers in six packs to go and also will be pouring its Hop Slam Ale on draft in the Cellar during the spring.
Two years ago, the Chicago White Sox relocated from Tucson, partnering with the Los Angeles Dodgers to share the sprawling Camelback Ranch spring training facility in the west Phoenix Glendale neighborhood. The huge complex includes an orange grove and tree-lined walking trails that wind around a manmade lake stocked with fish.
Close to Camelback is Haus Murphy’s German restaurant and beer garden, featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” It’s easily my favorite postgame happy hour and dinner spot in Glendale — and among the most enjoyable places in any Cactus League locale. Last time I swung by, I feasted on a variety of German beers, schnitzel and sausage specialties, as well as some lively banter with our bartender about baseball personalities that had frequented the place, like former L.A. Dodgers manager Joe Torre. As we were paying our bill, a polka band started playing, making it even harder to leave.
While the Cubs and White Sox play their respective home spring training games in Mesa and Glendale, both teams also will visit the leagues’ other eight ballparks. So if you’re catching the action at an away game, here are a few places to find good beer near those Cactus League venues:
♦ On the bustling Arizona State University campus in Tempe, Topps Liquors is just a few miles from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Diablo Stadium. The recently opened Taste of Topps bar, showcasing 24 taps on rotation and 450 bottled beers, was named one of the top 100 beer bars by Draft magazine. Larry Bell will be conducting a tasting event at Taste of Topps from 6-8 p.m. on March 21.
♦ Not far from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ and Colorado Rockies’ brand new Salt River Fields at Talking Stick facility, the Chop and Wok Gourmet Oriental restaurant serves 31 beers on tap.
♦ Just around the corner from the San Francisco Giants’ Scottsdale Stadium, Karsen’s Grille is a friendly little hole in the wall packed with baseball fans every time there’s a Giants home game. The machaca beef nachos pair well with a bottle of Mirror Pond Pale Ale from the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore.
♦ Moto Sushi at the corner of 16th and Glendale in Phoenix houses an eclectic selection of beer just a couple of miles away from the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training home, Maryvale Baseball Park in west Phoenix.
♦ Further west, the Mellow Mushroom is a custom pizza joint carrying 50 different beers on draft. It’s within close proximity to the San Diego Padres’ and Seattle Mariners’ shared Peoria Sports Complex and the Kansas City Royals’ and Texas Rangers’ Surprise Stadium home.
Charlie Vascellaro is a Maryland-based free-lancer.