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The Trappist, a Belgium Beer Bar opened recently on 8th St. in the Old Oakland area of downtown. It was standing room only on a Friday night, Jan 11, 2008. (Laura A. Oda/The Oakland Tribune)
OAKLAND — If you want to hit THE hottest spot in Oaktown, get over to The Trappist on 8th Street.

I dropped by the other week to check out the pub that specializes in Belgian beer to find out what all the buzz is about.

The Old Oakland pub run by a beer-loving duo by the name of Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen has been packed since it opened Dec. 7.

Say goodbye to the halcyon days of easy parking.

"I give this place a rave review. Super, super fun," said Elizabeth Fischer, who visited The Trappist for a second time Jan. 11.

Her first time (there's always a first time), a weekday evening after work, was so packed Fischer said she had trouble getting a table. It was worth it, she said.

The Piedmont resident confessed she isn't "that into beer" and usually steps out after-hours across the Bay. But inside, she said, she was well-advised about which beer to order andpleasantly surprised at the newest pub offering in Oakland, which is near other hip hangouts such as the Air Bar, B Restaurant, Lavende East and Tamarindo.

"Just look at the ambiance," Fischer said, nodding her head toward the pack of patrons filling every available inch of The Trappist, talking at full-bar volume to be heard over the din.

Fischer wasn't the only conversion — an appropriate choice of words, given that The Trappist is named after a contemplative Roman Catholic religious order that heeds the teachings of St. Benedict.


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Jacqui Cosgrove said she had been "educated" that Friday night visit about beer by a "fabulous" bartender.

That bartender would be Nicole, whose most prized job qualification was that she "came to us with a great understanding of beer," said Porter. "She basically told us we'd be stupid not to hire her."

Cosgrove got religion from an $8 glass of Het Anker Gouden Carolus Grand Cru that "tastes like caramel — all the way down."

So complete was Cosgrove's conversion that she handed off the glass of white wine she originally ordered to Amelia Johnson, who recently returned from Oakland after several years.

"I wasn't expecting to deal with crowds in downtown Oakland," she said. "I expect Oakland after-hours to be a little dead. But I'm happy to see it's not so.

"If I have to suffer a little, then that's progress."

The success of The Trappist even came as a surprise to the owners.

"I thought I'd be sitting on a stool," said Chuck Stilphen, who runs rehearsal studios by day.

Porter is an architectural designer.

"We're getting used to not sleeping much," Porter said on a quieter Wednesday night (they're closed Monday and Tuesday). Even for a quiet night, the place was full with a half-dozen 20-something professionals lining the brick wall behind the polished, wood bar. The two sitting rooms also filled up by 7 p.m. But the mood was mellow.

The duo shopped around for a spot in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco when they finally decided in 2006 to take the plunge.

Oakland was the most inviting, Stilphen said.

They chose the tucked-away 8th Street site because of its "odd-ball" size — 10-feet wide — that fit with their vision of creating something in the Bay Area like their favorite haunts in Belgium and Holland.

Stilphen and Porter were careful to keep their renovation true to the 1870 Old Oakland Victorian they moved into (the elegant wrought iron and wood door in the back was a total find from Craigslist) but the beer is another story.

They serve six Trappist brews complete with the correct glasses. Otherwise, they have a menu the size of a novel, describing some of their 120 Belgian, Dutch, French and U.S. micro brews.

Sorry, no German beers. And you'll just have to go to the abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren for a glass of Westvleteren. Better to settle for a bottle of Trappist Achel, a chocolate-dark, frothy ale from the Sint Benedictus Abdij (aka Saint Benedictine Abbey). There's something for everyone.

"I'm not much of a beer drinker," I confessed to Porter as he served up a sampling of four brews, from a honey-colored, yeasty Chimay Trappist ale to a smooth Val Dieu Grand Cru.

"We'll see what we can do," he replied with a slight smile on his youthful face. 

Ultimately, I had a glass of malty Petrus Dobbel Bruin at the suggestion of five-time patron Brad Aiello, who waited out the crowd one night down the street at the Pacific Coast Brewing Co.

There's enough love to go around.

My suggestion is to look at the beer list before the first drink. This ain't Budweiser territory. The Trappist's stuff packs a punch.

Stilphen said they try to feature local "artisan" brewers — "The closer the better" — such as Oakland's Linden Street and Berkeley's Rolling Rock. Porter and Stilphen chalk up The Trappist's success to being a cozy place that offers something new to people who like beer — and those who don't yet know they like it.

That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig, e-mail me at awoodall@bayareanewsgroup.com or visit the Night Owl blog http://www.ibabuzz.com/nightowl for more events and oddities.