As I sit with Rick Smets in the taproom of Stereo Brewing in Placentia on a late Friday afternoon, a series of precursory warnings get thrown my way from the regulars at the end of the bar:
“Don’t bring up Tool.”
“No Dave Matthews either. And he hates Beastie Boys.”
“Alice in Chains and Soundgarden too!”
All this comes right after Rick has loudly yelled “We’re not a Journey bar, sorry! I stopped believing a long time ago,” a statement the regulars seem to both acknowledge as part of Stereo’s gospel while also rolling their eyes. The whole interaction is Cheers-esque in its delivery. Rick’s music opinions themselves are solidified and well known — he likes what he likes, a hardened vinyl nerd who’s spent a lifetime listening to and forming opinions about music. Still, I press further about Alice in Chains and he relents. “Eh. They’re fine. I have nothing against them, but I personally don’t listen.”
This conversation is happening as we congregate over a pile of vinyl records Rick has procured from below the turntable that sits next to the brewery’s beer list. Coming off a peak year for vinyl’s comeback, other bars and breweries like Gunwhale Ales in Costa Mesa, El Indio in Santa Ana have begun to embrace the physical medium to curate a different kind of experience. The concept of the “Vinyl Night” has allowed people to bring in records and share music.
For Stereo, that mood is mostly curated by Rick and the several hundred records he has both behind the bar and in the back office, but patrons and regulars are encouraged to bring in their own albums for a spin. Stereo Brewing doesn’t offer a standing “vinyl night,” but only because records are playing on any given day. The albums he’s showing me range from artists like Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and indie surf rockers Sonny & the Sunsets, to more well known, on-brand staples like the Pixies or Leonard Cohen, whose album Death of a Ladies Man has served as the brewery’s closing time LP since they opened. For the most part, patrons seem to understand the vibe and bring in records that reflect it.
“Records are fun and interactive and we wanted to convey this tremendous love for music. So we created a clubhouse where we drink beer and listen to records together.” As Rick says this, he peeks down the bar at everyone who was making fun of his dislike of Tool and Soundgarden and indeed, more music discussion has unfolded. “My taste is very eclectic but also I’m sort of a music snob,” says Rick. “You’ll never hear Top 40 in here. It’s not what I want to listen to and it’s not what the people that come here want to hear.
Stereo’s commitment to vinyl doesn’t just exist in the beer and on the speakers of the taproom, though. In early April, Stereo hosted a vinyl swap night where people could bring CDs, cassettes, mixtapes and, most importantly, vinyl, to trade with other music lovers. It’s an event that they’re hoping to make a more regular occurance. “It makes the music part of our vibe tangible, more than just pressing play on a playlist.”
“We wanted to bring vinyl in strictly because its my hobby,” Rick says. “When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is put on a record. When we were deciding what we wanted to name the brewery, I was living in a little one bedroom place in Morro Bay, with a 1000 records on a shelf, a record player, a TV, another 1000 records on a different shelf, and a couch.” He pauses and smiles. “I guess it had to finally come around to Stereo Brewing Company.”
As vinyl continues its unprecedented climb back into the culture, the concept of a night where you can bring in your records to a place, have a beer and enjoy those songs with friends will likely become less and less novel, but at Stereo it will always be central to its DNA. Just don’t bring in Journey.
Stereo Brewing is located on 950 S Vía Rodeo, Placentia, (714) 993-3390, www.stereobrewing.com, open from 4-10 pm. Mon-Thurs., 12-11 p.m Friday Saturday, 12-8 p.m. Sunday.