I remember walking into the old Mercury Lounge during college at UCSB. I’d just turned 21 and this dimly lit, cavernous beer-and-wine bunker oozed an effortless vibe of mystery, originality, and possibility.
Walking into the space that is now Centennial Beer Hall, I was thankfully hit with the same excitement — and a modernized beer list to boot. Owner Ron Batdorf bought the historic location — which has been an Old Town Goleta watering hole since it was built in 1957, originally as Gus’s Cocktail Lounge — in April and spent four months remodeling the vintage vibe into a sleek style. He opened in August with 14 taps that focus on American craft breweries and artisanal producers.
“I really fell in love with craft beer while living in the Bay Area, where there are so many fantastic breweries and beer bars,” said Batdorf. “Going out to those beer bars really helped me to grow my knowledge and understanding of beer styles and flavors pretty quickly because of the vast selection of beers that were available at those spots.”
He hopes to do the same for us. “My goal for Centennial Beer Hall is to bring a similar experience to Goleta, to share my love of independent craft beer with the community here, to celebrate the great things our local breweries are doing, and hopefully to introduce people to beers they maybe haven’t had the opportunity to try before,” he said.
On a recent visit, it was tough to refrain from sampling every beer on the list, which was refreshingly different from the options I typically see around town. Standouts included a perfectly balanced Belgian Strong Golden Ale from The Bruery in Placentia, a juicy Arctic Haze IPA from Ventura Coast Brewery, and a Societe Not Enormous Berliner Weisse sour. After trying a variety of IPAs, I was thankful that this latter brew was “not enormous” in terms of ABV but still big on crisp, tart flavor.
The tap list is always rotating and consistently fresh. When Batdorf selects a beer for the list, he buys one keg. Once it’s gone, something else goes on the list in its place, which ensures the beer is being served exactly as intended.
“Selecting the beers for our tap list is absolutely the most fun part of my day,” Batdorf said. “I just try to do my best to select beers that are high-quality, delicious, and bring something special or unique to the table. I work directly with a few breweries and a couple beer distributors to build our tap list, and we’re continually looking to grow our network of brewery-direct sourcing relationships.”
There’s also a thoughtful menu of Central Coast wines available for those who prefer the grape to the grain. Standouts include a smooth Wonderwall pinot noir from Field Recordings and a crisp sauvignon blanc from Beckmen Vineyards.
The indoor atmosphere feels clean and modern, and the outside is welcoming. On a cool fall night, we enjoyed sipping our beverages in the warm glow of the charming back-patio fire pit.
You may recognize Batdorf from Lucky Penny, where he ran the kitchen from 2017 to 2019. A graduate from culinary school in San Francisco, Batdorf lent his talents to The Lark and most recently to the Ritz-Carlton Bacara before launching Centennial.
He plans to use his culinary chops to create a menu of small bites in the future but isn’t going to rush the process. For now, they have such simple snacks as the New Orleans favorite Zapp’s potato chips. But Centennial also upgraded the classic Merc Lounge snack — popcorn — by selling the hometown gourmet brand Hippy Pop.
Food trucks and vendors frequent the bar as well. “Currently we have Takitos 8oh5 every Thursday,” explained Batdorf. “The Birria Boyz are becoming a regular staple, and we have a Beer Brunch planned with Goodland Waffles for next month.” There’s also more live music and trivia nights coming in the future.
But for now, the polished simplicity, quality beverages, and relaxing community vibe make Centennial Beer Hall a solid spot to explore intriguing beers in a comforting environment.
5871 Hollister Ave., Goleta; (805) 324-4724; centennialbeerhall.com