There's a difference between being enthusiastic about something and being snobbish about something.
The distinction between the two is subtle, but fundamental. Enthusiastic people are eager to share their joy with anyone who will listen, even when those people are not listening intently. Snobbish people, conversely, hoard their joy, even when someone is asking them directly about it.
Enthusiasm is cool. Snobbery is cocky. The people at Petrol Station (985 Wakefield) seem to know the difference, since they are enthusiastic about good beer without being jerks about it.
Built out from a former street-corner gas station, Petrol Station was opened five years ago by neighborhood resident Ben Fullelove. It originally opened as a coffeehouse of sorts, but evolved into a bar a couple of years ago because, as Fullelove jokingly explains, "there was a better market for beer."
It's as easygoing as an icehouse, even though the decor is tasteful. It even has those details every bar hoping to be around for a long time needs; for example, the bar top is a thick slab of refinished pine that was procured from an area resident.
Now, were this place simply a neighborhood bar — it is literally located right in the thicket of Garden Oaks — it would be an enjoyable one. The midweek crowd is hearty, a must for any neighborhood hangout. It has a clever layout, with the bar area sandwiched between front and rear patios.
But Petrol's charm is that since the switch, it has established itself as one of the — if not the — premier craft-beer bars in the city. And although craft-beer culture can be rife with snobbery, neither the bar nor its customers give off that sort of attitude.
"I used to be a Rudyard's (2010 Waugh) denizen, a hardcore Schlitz drinker," says Michael Drever, an engineer in Clear Lake. "I'm a Petrol convert."
Petrol Station rotates different varieties of craft beer in and out on its own timetable, but always carries some fine form of India Pale Ale or Alcohol By Volume beer. Staff and regulars alike are all about chatting up the beers, too. After you try one, you realize there's no possible way you can go back to drinking Miller Lite or Budweiser or whatever other garbage water you were previously drinking. Soon enough, you've joined the craft-beer community, where hobby and lifestyle begin to intersect.
"It's just like the people that collect baseball cards," says Drever. "[Craft beer drinkers] collect, too, but these guys collect it in their stomachs."
A large part of the bar's appeal comes straight from Fullelove, who's every bit as lively and genuine as you'd expect someone with that last name to be.
When asked how Petrol Station can not be snobbish if it doesn't even offer the typical house beers, Fullelove's response is quick. "You don't walk into a wine bar and ask, 'Hey, what's the shittiest wine that you have?'" he says. "We're like that."
Fullelove is a tall guy, easily breaking the six-foot mark, but his easy laugh brings him down to eye level with everyone. He could be intimidating if he wanted to, but he doesn't, so he isn't.
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The rest of Petrol Station follows in kind.
Two things: One, it's just about impossible to talk about Petrol Station and not mention the food. If for no other reason, you should visit simply to try it. The burgers are splendid and the Reubens are rumored to be better. Two, if you'd like to jump face-first into the craft-beer lifestyle, stop by Petrol Station on December 23, the bar's next regularly scheduled craft-beer day. Santa will be there, and so will the handmade fireball launcher built to look like an obscure beer can out on the back patio. We can't explain to you exactly why it's there, only that it is. As far as fireball launchers go, it's pretty nifty.