Time Traveling with Craft Beer at Panama 66- San Diego (Balboa Park)
What is it about Panama 66 in San Diego’s Balboa Park that keeps drawing me back? What is the feeling I get when I sit with a beer by the water and look out across the Museum of Art Sculpture Garden? A memory window, perhaps, through which I see a carefree, less stressful time when I was younger and would lay on my back in the grass among the sculptures?
Oh, that was a long time ago. Flashing back, I was drinking wine from a leather bota bag and my hair was as thick as a horse’s mane. The Spreckels Organ was playing across the park at the pavilion and young ladies in Medieval costumes were dancing around a giant eucalyptus tree in front of the Old Globe Theatre.
Flash forward to now, and I’m back in the courtyard expanse, looking across the water toward the familiar modern art sculptures by George Rickey and Henry Moore. My palate has come a long way since that time long ago, though I can’t say the same for my hair.
And now Panama 66 is here. It’s a sunny afternoon and the lunch tables are occupied by scores of patrons, mostly middle-aged women for some reason. Happily chatting with their friends, checking smartphones, studying park maps and menus flattened in front of them, they carefully eat their lunches with little bites.
I much prefer to lounge on the cushioned loveseat by the courtyard pond, away from the din, with its unobstructed view of the garden, sculptures, and beyond. I also prefer the glass-top table for its reflecting qualities of the beer glass, ornate California Tower, and western blue sky above. Last time I was here I time traveled.
In front of me, juxtaposed with the famous sculptures, is another form of art I appreciate: craft beer. This particular beer is a masterpiece brewed by Lee Chase of Automatic Brewing Company over in Normal Heights. Perfectly named for the setting, Ask Beethoven (5.5% ABV) is a Blonde Ale with a sublime fragrance of vanilla and peaches. I paired it with Panama 66’s Wagyu Burger, and the synergy was divine.
Then the 200 foot tower bell tolled the half hour. And when I looked up I was time traveling again. Like Billy Pilgrim, for an instant I shot back to those good old days among the sculptures. This time there wasn’t a bota bag, thankfully. Looking down at the table, instead of wine, there was a very fine craft beer, and I was back.
While finishing lunch I started to think through and work out the feeling I get when I sit here with a cold beer at Panama 66. For some reason sipping one in this place and time while looking at the sculptures takes me back to a more peaceful time in my life. And isn’t that what good craft beer is supposed to do, draw out a pleasurable response from inside us by experiencing its nuances? I guess I’ll just keep returning until I figure it all out.