Beer Nut: Fond farewell to Sierra Grille

As I’ve said a number of times previously in this column, beer to me is more than a tasty beverage: It’s a libation that lends itself to camaraderie and sharing stories.

While all types of food and drink can lay claim to providing those integral circuits of society, for me, beer has always been the best one for that. Even the vernacular surrounding it lends itself to more casual, working-class lingo. We may say “Want to go for a cocktail?” when talking generally, but it’s often “Want to grab a beer?” There is just a proletarian connection with the common person, which drinks like wine and spirits do not have as much.

(This is why I always have been against the fancification of beer. Beer snobs ruin beer for me.)

I have gathered with friends at many beer venues over the years and have enjoyed them all. But now there is one fewer of them, and it’s not just any one – it’s a huge one.

Last week, the continuing repercussions of COVID-19 caused The Sierra Grille in Northampton to shutter its doors, and the click of that final turn of the lock reverberated throughout the city. While it was a full restaurant, I only ate there occasionally (and the food was always great). I mainly went there for the beer – and to meet friends over a beer or three.

Owner O’Brian Tomalin had told me years before it opened that he was planning on opening a place and described it in detail. He was waiting tables at Spoleto in Northampton at the time. Now, I can’t tell you how many servers have shared similar dreams with me over the years, and I always take them with a grain of salt. It’s really hard to open and sustain a restaurant.

But I felt O’Brian’s idea was different. He was older and had successfully helped launch venues such as Amherst Brewing Co. and his plan sounded new and unique.

I’m not going to describe it all here, but the main aspect that interested me was the beer.

Because even though Northampton was on the craft beer map with the Northampton Brewery, which is one of the oldest continually running brewpubs in the Northeast, there wasn’t much beyond that until 2006, when The Sierra Grille and The Dirty Truth both opened up within two weeks of each other. Maybe a few taps here and there at various bars, but no real craft beer bars.

But Sierra and The Truth changed all that, and shortly thereafter, many if not most bars carried a lot more craft beer. Then places like Hinge and McLadden’s opened, making the city a haven for craft beer. Not sure that would have happened without people seeing the success of those two venues.

Over the years, I have quaffed countless beers, shared innumerable stories and met a handful of new friends at Sierra. And I mean real friends, not acquaintances. And that is what I mean about beer. It really can bring people together. And that was also the magic of The Sierra Grille: It truly was a “gathering…

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