Entering Upright Brewing is probably as close as you can get to approximating the experience of visiting a speakeasy. The Left Bank building is an urban island in the middle of two major streams of traffic, at the fork where Broadway and Weidler split, right at the nexus of I-5. I don't know that there's a building more cut off by major thoroughfares in the city. You might be able to park at the edge of this island, but careful!--you might also get caught up with the flow and find yourself shooting across the Broadway Bridge.
Once you do get parked, you enter what appears to be a vacant building. Renovated, promising, but vacant; I'm never sure if the front door is going to open when I get there. But it does and you make your way to the elevator and descend a floor to an industrial little hallway. As you stand there, certain you've taken a wrong turn, you do hear murmurs coming from around the corner. Following those you arrive at the basement brewery, which really is just a brewery. The tables around which folks gather appear ad-hoc, as does the gathering itself, like you're at a secretive one-time party. By the time you have a beer in your hand, you feel like you've earned it.
On Friday, Sally and I stopped in for the release of the Upright's oyster stout--a style that is the current front-runner for 2010 trend of the year. I have tried a great many styles of beer, including some of the most obscure, but I've never had an oyster stout. (I hope to get a pint of Fort George's before it disappears, too.) It's a bizarre idea: putting oysters into a beer. No doubt the drunken inspiration of a Londoner who figured that the effort to pair seafood and stout was redundant. The effect, by all accounts, is subtle. You get a briny, sea-water note.
Indeed, that's how Upright's was. The basic stout is burly and heavy. I don't know what the alcohol content is, but it's the unfermentables you notice, with a density akin to Turkish coffee. I didn't get any of the brine at the outset, but when the beer warmed up it emerged. I suspect that you could serve this beer to ten people without identifying it and maybe one would pick up the brine. Knowing to look for it helps, but still, you have to look. (Upright also had five gallons of a strong ale that was heavy and sweet, but finished with a nice cherry tang. I actually liked it better than the oyster stout, but with just five gallons, it's long gone now.)
After Upright, we headed to Spints for dinner--my first visit. By chance, they had Upright Six on tap, and I had a pint. I've had less Six than any of the regular line-up (actually, just once, before the brewery opened), and was delighted to find it on tap. Six is the dark rye beer, which tastes not at all like ryes people normally expect. Since the rye backs the tart, farmhousey quality, it doesn't have the same insistent tannic character. Rather, the tartness pulls out spicy notes and elongates them. Fantastic beer.
As to Spints, the atmosphere is great, but the cuisine is not exactly in my wheelhouse. The food is based on heavy, meaty German cuisine, and I like light, fresh vegetable-rich food. They did bring out a plate of amazing bread, and I'll visit for that alone. An apple bread, two ryes (the dark was fantastic), and a sweet white bread. The beer list is also exceptional, and I think the rumors about pricing are inflated. They have four volumes of glassware (12, 16, 20, and 23 ounces), and the prices for beer range widely depending on Spints' cost. I went with the 16 ounce glass and paid five bucks. That's on the high end, but not excessive. As for the selection, it's exceptional. I won't declare it the best in the city based on a single visit, but it's definitely in the conversation.
Upshot? Put it on your short list for places to visit for a good pint.