Story and photos by Jolene Crowley
|Courtesy of Main Tap Tavern.
Main Tap Tavern in El Cajon boasts 24 hand-blown glass tap handles created
by local artist Dan McStocker.
rehabilitation and beautification of Main Street in El Cajon continues with
the July opening of Main Tap Tavern. Currently owned and operated by
the East County father and son team, T. L. and Zack Summers, this prime location
had been a dive bar since the ‘60s.
“We’d been thinking about the tavern thing for years,” Zack
explained. With the flagging economy in general, and the construction industry
more specifically, the timing for change from their business as general contractors
had come. “If you look back in history at the Great Depression, beer
was five cents a pint, after the Depression it was 10 cents a pint,” quipped
Zack. Though the Summers’ didn’t have prior bar/restaurant experience,
Zack is a self-professed beer drinker. “I’ve always been
into beer, and started drinking microbrews about eight years ago,” said
the 30-year-old, Valhalla High School alum.
T.L. (left) and Zack Summers, co-owner/operators of Main Tap Tavern in
knew we couldn’t rely on major foot traffic, so to be truly successful
we had to make a sizable commitment,” said Zack. The Summers’ sweat
investment has certainly broken the mold for East County bars. I’d
go so far as to call it a destination spot, and a friendly one at that. The
bartender knew my name within the first few minutes of my plopping down at
the curvilinear granite-topped bar, and remembered it when I returned a week
Remodeling the bar earlier this year was the Summers’ last construction
job. “We hired ourselves to do almost all the renovation work,” said
Zack. Three months and half million dollars later, Main Tap Tavern has been
converted from a rather dark hole-in-the-wall to a sparkling clean (yes, even
the bathrooms), breezy joint with over-sized punched-out windows in
the front facing Main Street, and large French doors opening to the back-side
patio creating a breezy, nicely lit atmosphere for a game of pool, foosball,
darts and visiting.
The most stunning feature of Main Tap Tavern is the two dozen hand-blown glass
tap handles, each with a unique design accentuated by tiny colored lights.
The inspiration for the elegant pulls came from necessity being the mother
of invention. “I have a kegerator at home,” Zack explained. “About
a year ago, I was putting in a keg that didn’t have a handle. A friend
recommended a local glassblower, Dan McStocker of the fledgling Liquid
who blew a clear glass handle with blue swirls. Everyone who saw and used it
commented on the piece of art not for its practicality but for its beauty and
novelty. “When we were fixing up the bar, one of the first things
we did was commission Dan to create another 24 handles,” Zack said.
Bartender Cody Summers serves a taster flight of craft beers at Main Tap
Tavern in El Cajon.
Main Tap’s main focus is microbrews, the modestly priced food menu is
more like that of a small restaurant than the typical bar food. It includes
an ample choice of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers and even salads. (The
chili burger, smothered in Southwestern-style chili, chipotle mayo and cheddar
cheese is the most expensive menu item at $8.25.) “Everything is handmade
including the burgers that are pressed on the spot,” says Zack. I found
the made-from-scratch fries a bit greasy, but all the better to soak up the
copious libations, and quite tasty.
The Texas Style BBQ Beef and Irish
Ruben<cq>- Corned Beef sandwiches
came out piping hot with a copious mound of flavorful meat. Served with a choice
of fries or potato salad, both sandwiches were $7.50. Thinking I could trip
up the chef (who goes by the name of “Chef”) who was visiting with
patrons, I asked for some aioli for my fries (as they needed just a touch more
fat). He shot back, “What flavor would you like?” and then listed
a half dozen from which I could choose. That’s when I pinched myself
and asked the guy seated next to me at the bar if I was really in El Cajon.
two dozen beers on tap, plus another 50 or so bottle choices, I opted to stretch
my beer tasting horizons by ordering a taster flight (six generous pours for
$5.25) on two separate occasions. My four favorites were Allagash Black, a
Belgian stout from Portland, Maine; Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter; Left
Coast Hope Juice, a double India pale ale; and Electrostatic Ale, a full-bodied
French farm house brew from Poway with a whopping 10 percent abv (alcohol by
volume), which is twice that of your typical macro lager such as Budweiser. A
chaser of those “alcohol-absorbing” French fries followed. Spirits
and a small array of wines are also available.
During the regular football season,
football fans can congregate on Sundays starting at … well heck, spend
your whole day there starting at 9 a.m. with breakfast while watching the East
Coast games airing on three 42-inch HD plasmas (two inside and one on the amply
shaded patio) courtesy of DirecTV’s
High Def package, then through lunch and dinner with the afternoon and evening
games, all the while enjoying happy hour pricing. On Monday night, happy hour
ends when the televised NFL game ends.
Main Tap Tavern is located at 518 East Main Street in El Cajon. Open
10 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, with the exception of select holidays. During
regular season NFL football, opening time is 9 a.m. on Sundays. Karaoke starts
at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Check the web site for no-cover charge
live music dates. Ample parking in the back. maintaptavern.com. 619-749-6333.
Jolene Crowley is a life-long East County resident
who spent a decade at The Tribune (which later merged with the San Diego
Union), another decade in several local public relations firms, and now operates
Crowley Communications, a boutique communications consulting firm specializing
in media relations. She is currently studying graphic design at Cuyamaca
College and plans to add design services to her client roster in the near future.