With brewery restaurants in 16 states (and DC), plus overseas in Taiwan, Gordon Biersch at Annapolis Towne Centre is a bona fide chain. The feel of the venue is unmistakably "chain," like you could also be in The Cheesecake Factory or even Outback Steakhouse. Yet, the bar at Gordon Biersch is superb.
There is plenty of claimable space at the bar with large retractable windows that open to the expansive patio. This makes it a way-cool indoor/outdoor environment with (almost) 360-degree bar seating including the patio area. It's reminiscent of a German biergarten, especially since Gordon Biersch is currently celebrating Oktoberfest with special brews and dishes until Oct. 24.
We sat inside because the patio and outdoor bar stools were all densely populated. Gordon Biersch brews their own beers on site. They offer happy-hour specials from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and late-night specials from 10 p.m. to close on Sunday through Thursday.
During happy hour, all signature Gordon Biersch lagers and ales are a dollar off at $4 each. Glasses of wine are $2 off and all "ultra premium" cocktails are priced at $5. So dollar-draft seekers need not apply, but the home-brewed Marzen lager that Jimmy the bartender recommended was crisp and fresh, with a nice hint of sweet. Jimmy even proudly brought us samples of their just-tapped Oktoberfest brew, like he was showing off photos of his new car.
The bar/cocktail area also offers appetizer specials with selections at $5, $7 and $11. We ordered southwest egg rolls, tapas and housemade chips — all from the $5 menu. Of the three, we liked the chips the best: bleu cheese nuggets, bacon and green onions dribbled over a platter of potato chips. Eating it was a challenge, with many of the chips in small, broken pieces but it was tasty.
I'm a tapas snob and wasn't impressed with the roasted garlic, olive tapenade, bruschetta, and a mild hummus served with warm flatbread. The southwest egg rolls looked good but had that unmistakable chain restaurant flavor that could have been straight out of the kitchen of a TGI Friday's.
The bar area environment gets high marks as a solid place to enjoy a beverage after work and we'd return just for that alone. Conversely, the happy-hour discounts seemed fairly uninspired. I just can't get excited about saving $1 on a beer, no matter how good it is.
Overall, Gordon Biersch is an affable chain, but it's going to have to do more to warrant top happy-hour honors.
Gordon Biersch Happy Hour Essentials
When: 4 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 p.m. to close on Sunday through Thursday
Drinks: Beers are a dollar off at $4 each, glasses of wine are $2 off, and all "ultra premium" cocktails are $5
Food: Appetizer specials with selections at $5, $7 and $11; signature garlic fries are just $5