At the packed opening night of the Rock & Brews in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, earlier this year, former Kiss frontman Paul Stanley stepped onstage to address the assembled army of fans, which spanned generations and many, many yards of spandex. "No hablo español muy bien, pero comprendo sus sentimientos – mi corazon es suyo!" he shouted in tourist-grade Spanglish. (Translation: "I don't speak Spanish very well but I understand your feelings. My heart is yours!") He was then joined by longtime bandmate Gene Simmons and, with the backing of a local Mexican rock band, belted out a decent version of "Rock n' Roll All Night," with packed fans singing along, shouting "And party every day!" It was instantly clear that this new establishment would have a long and fruitful life.
Let us make no bones about it: Our first instinct upon learning of Rock & Brews was one of skepticism – the members of Kiss have never been shy about selling off their rock star cred to the highest bidder, after all (to wit: the Kiss Casket). And indeed, at first blush, the Rock & Brew comes off as a Hard Rock light – just another themed restaurant that sucks in earnest fans and quickly empties their pockets over rounds of terrible food and watered-down drinks. Per the formula, the walls are dotted with classic rock album covers, a forlorn pig hangs from the ceiling with "The Wall" lyrics spray-painted on it, and a pile of other pseudo-historic paraphernalia are scattered around, including, no surprise, a giant lit-up Kiss logo on the stage over the bar. Taking a seat anyway, we opened the menu to see appetizers, listed as "Opening Acts" (desserts, naturally, are "Encores!"), and our heart sank. Then we noticed the draught beer list. And that's when we realized there was actually a little more corazon to this place than we thought.
Turns out the partners behind the Kiss frontmen are genuinely interested in providing quality food and service. Veteran rock promoter and tour manager Dave Furano teamed up with restaurant impresario and master brewer Michael Zislas to open the first Rock & Brews in El Segundo, CA. The two of them were similarly sick of themed restaurants that spend more effort shoving a lifestyle down your throat than actually making good food. So they decided to focus on getting the food, beverages, and service right, and let the rest happen naturally. They also tapped John Weaver of Peet's Coffee fame to create signature teas and hand-selected coffee blends. So behind the marquee rock legends are a legit supergroup of service industry stars.
The beer list comprises an impressive array, including one recent discovery for us, Drake's IPA, and a few we'd never even heard of before (for the record, that doesn't happen often). We ordered the hot wings because, why not, and they were really, really good: Fried to a crisp yet still juicy inside and one notch too spicy – just how we like them. To be honest, our whole order made for excellent brewpub fare: a BLTA Pizza with caramelized onions, fire-roasted tomatoes, and applewood smoked bacon (which can be had gluten-free, no less). And the Angus beef Fireball burger, which is grilled over oak with Pepperjack cheese, serrano relish, avocado, and chipotle aioli. If this is what it means to be in the Kiss army, where do we sign up? [Rockandbrews.com]