On a recent evening at Neighbors Tap & Cook House, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. That’s exactly the way co-owner Chris Bessinger likes it.
Bessinger and his staff glided behind an eight-sided bar tending to customers who could choose from more than 35 beers plus an interesting mix of wine and cocktails.
The beers ranged from traditional lagers like Bud Light to innovative IPAs like Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin to heady stouts and porters like Founders Breakfast Stout. That stout features “a frothy, cinnamon-colored head that goes forever,” according to Neighbors’ beer guide.
In the kitchen, chef Armando Luna and his staff were busy turning out entrees like Alaskan Salmon and Build Your Own Burgers from a menu that also includes appetizers, salads and sandwiches.
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Wherever you looked, there was a flat screen TV — Neighbors has 15 of them. There’s not a bad seat in the house, and there’s no danger of missing the big play or the latest sporting news.
Later in the evening, guest artist Jason Ellis of Squaw Valley strummed his guitar and sang country tunes about lost love and the like. Different artists appear on Wednesday nights and occasionally on Saturday nights.
The goal at Neighbors is simple, said Bessinger, who also serves as general manager.
“We want to be a comfortable place where people can go to get a bite to eat, drink a good beer and watch the games,” he said. “We’re not the big party place in town, and we don’t want to be.”
Put another way, Bessinger said, folks can come to Neighbors and know they’ll be able to get up for work the next morning.
Neighbors opened at the southeast corner of Fowler and Nees avenues in 2009, and the current ownership group took over in 2010.
The eight-sided bar is reminiscent of the one on the 1980s television show “Cheers.” But Neighbors is thoroughly contemporary. The wide variety of beers gives customers many choices — and choice for consumers is the hallmark of the new millennium. Neighbors rotates about half of its beers, giving customers even more opportunity to sample new brews.
Two of the on-tap choices are Double Barrel Ale (a British pale ale) and Luponic Distortion (an IPA), both from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles.
The Double Barrel Ale is fermented in American oak barrels “to balance the hop character with hints of smokiness and vanilla,” according to the beer guide.
The Luponic Distortion changes every 90 days because the brewing team at Firestone Walker mixes things up and delivers a new batch. “You’ll know which Luponic you’re drinking by the unique revolution number on the label,” according to the beer guide. “It kicks off with Revolution 001.”
On a recent visit, Neighbors’ 16 on-tap selections were priced from $3.75 to $7 for 16 ounces, with many at $5. Twenty-one beers in bottles or cans ranged from $2.75 (Pabst Blue Ribbon) to $20 (Firestone Walker Sucaba, an English barleywine style beer). Most were priced between $3.75 and $10.
Bessinger is always on the lookout for interesting beers, and he uses an app called “Untappd” to get ideas. He also belongs to a Facebook group that talks about new beers.
“I like to take people to what’s new,” Bessinger said.
This spring and summer, he’s offering Hell or High Watermelon, a wheat beer brewed with real watermelon. The design on the can — the Statue of Liberty swinging from the Golden Gate Bridge holding a Hell or High Watermelon — is “almost as cool” as the beer itself, Bessinger says.
Neighbors’ wine selections feature California vintners, including Tobin James “Made In The Shade” Merlot from Paso Robles and Cru “Montage Vineyard” Pinot from Madera. Prices range from $6.50 to $13.50 per glass.
Neighbors serves lunch and dinner daily, plus breakfast on Saturday and Sunday (8 to 11 a.m.). The Build Your Own Burger allows customers to choose from three types of meat (choice ground sirloin, grilled chicken breast or salmon steak) as well as make choices in bread, cheese, sauces and toppings. The price is $11.95.
Each month, the kitchen serves a burger themed to the season. In March, for example, a corned beef burger commemorates St. Patrick’s Day, and in December, there’s the Rudolph burger. It’s venison served with a cherry tomato on top, Bessinger said.
A 2001 graduate of Clovis High School, Bessinger played football at Fresno City and Sacramento State. He is an assistant football coach at Buchanan High School, and, he said, Neighbors supports teams in the Clovis Unified School District through a variety of promotions.
Bessinger likes his job. “The thing I enjoy the most is creating a fun, social atmosphere,” he said.
James Landano of Clovis said that atmosphere, plus the variety of beers and good food, make him a regular. “Not to sound cliché or cheesy, but it’s like a ‘Cheers’ atmosphere. People know who I am,” he said.
Neighbors Tap & Cook House is at 1175 N. Fowler Ave., No. 800. The telephone number is (559) 298-4020. Hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Monday to Friday; and 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday. The website is neighborscookhouse.com. The restaurant has a Facebook page.