When one mentions the sleepy little Marin County hamlet of Fairfax, a few images immediately come to mind. One is, obviously, bicycles. They’re almost comically ubiquitous throughout the town. Yet, in contrast to the healthier aspects of bike riding, another image that comes to mind is slow-moving traffic. With Fairfax’s oddly bi-level street layouts and strange stops within intersections, newbies to the area are undoubtedly flummoxed when attempting to navigate the town. With these Farfaxian (Fairfaxist?) notions in mind, perhaps relaxing for a beer and a bite is the best course of action while in Fairfax. You can ride your bike, or park and walk, as all of these places are well within three-quarters of a mile of one another.
Venerable grub-and-pub Iron Springs Pub & Brewery has held down the fort as the apex of Fairfax breweries for over 15 years. And for good reason. It’s welcoming to all ages, has a solid beer menu (they brew them right at the Fairfax location at 765 Center Blvd.) and has a great food selection to boot.
When asked what the secret to Iron Springs’ longevity is, manager Sammy Howard says, “It’s all about community and it’s all about family.” A five-year employee of Iron Springs, she says, “I’ve seen kids come in who were in their mother’s wombs a few years ago. Now I know their names, where they go to school. Eighty percent of our guests are families.”
Server David Perez, who is approaching his 10-year anniversary at Iron Springs, echoes this sentiment.
“It’s all about the regulars, I know all of them by name,” Perez says. “We lost Arnold last month. He drank Casey Jones every day from the time we opened 15 years ago. I cried hard the day he passed.”
Howard also cites Iron Springs’ excellent menu as a reason for the establishment’s popularity.
“Our head chef Alex [Klarkowski] has a lot of great relationships with local purveyors,” which keeps the menu seasonal and fresh, Howard says. Dim Sum Saturday, a new tradition that just kicked off in 2020, features a nice selection of dim sum to go along with Iron Springs hoppy beers, many of which—such as Iron Springs mainstay Casey Jones Imperial IPA, a dangerously drinkable 9 percent beer—are odes to local heroes the Grateful Dead.
Maybe your primary relationship is with your bicycle, and a family-friendly establishment holds little attraction to you. Or, maybe you just want a no-nonsense place to grub and peruse a nice selection of beers. In that case, downtown Fairfax’s Gestalt Haus (28 Bolinas Rd.) is probably right up your alley. As close as one can get to a beer dive bar (in all the best ways), Gestalt Haus is small, crowded and has an indoor rack where you can park your bike alongside all your Lycra-clad buddies’.
Upon entering, you’ll see long, skinny tables lining the cement floors, with the aforementioned wall-length bike rack on your left. After parking your ride, you can grab a table or saddle up at the lengthy bar to complain about the guy who nearly sideswiped you on the corner of Pastori Avenue. Man, it was like he didn’t even see you or bother to look.
As a way to assuage your brush with death, peer up at the colorful chalk menu above the bar and drool at the beer and brat listings as well as at the T-shirts that comically display Gestalt Haus’ claim of being voted “worst food establishment in Marin County, 5 years running”—clearly a joke. Even though they serve the food on compostable paper plates, they based the menu on German comfort food, with delicacies like warm potato salad, Bavarian bratwurst and freshly made pretzels. Further pushing themselves as “Un-Marin,” Gestalt Haus also serves specialty sausages (Louisiana hot links, green chili chipotle and zest Italian, to name a few) and fat sandwiches.
The beer menu is impressive, with 32 taps. Of note is an always-rotating tap featuring two of the best Bay Area breweries—Fieldwork and Henhouse—as well as an excellent selection of German brews including HofBrau Original Lager, Weihenstephaner Wheat Beer and Aventinus Wheat Doppelbock—because, hey, not everybody likes their beers bitter.
San Anselmo–resident Matt Ridella, who’s enjoying a Fieldwork at the bar, arrived via car, not bike. He says he likes Gestalt Haus because, “It’s unpretentious and the beer and sausage selections are always on point. Great people-watching, too.”
Also catering to the Fairfax bike community, Splitrock Tap & Wheel (2020 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.) is not only a brewpub with a nice, casual dining feel; it’s also a functional bike shop where you can get your bike fixed while grabbing a beer and a nosh. Granted, the smell of tire rubber isn’t for everyone. Yet, Splitrock feels like an indoor garden party, with nicely spaced picnic tables, a classic-style bar … and a meandering dog who looks like he’s hoping someone drops a french fry. If you’re hoping to base an entire day around beers and bikes, Splitrock is conveniently located within 100 yards of the Marin Museum of Bicycling.
Rounding out this selection of Fairfax brew pubs is relative newcomer the Lodge (1573 Sir Francis Drake Blvd). Owned by Lori and Brian Bruckner, the Lodge is a family affair, with son Mick working the bar one recent Sunday. He says the family opened the establishment in April 2019 as an extension of both their bike shop in San Francisco and their dedication to biking in Marin. The killer selection of beers, curated by the senior Buckner, features selections from Kern River Brewing (a nod to his childhood in Bakersfield). The food menu is simple, with deli-type sandwiches as well as tasty treats such as banh mi, kalua pork sliders and a nice selection of salads.
There’s a nice outdoor area and ample parking for both bikes and cars. Mick also proudly notes the Lodge features frequent bike clinics aimed at new bicyclists, as well as local rides that start at the café.
While it’s important to note that one should drink beer in moderation before riding a bike, Fairfax is the perfect place to explore new roads as well as grab a beer and a bite. Just watch out for that guy on the corner of Pastori Avenue, will you?