First Look: Little Lager in Princeton Heights
Little Lager, a beer bar promoting all things lager, opens at 5848 Hampton Ave. in Princeton Heights today, Tuesday, Oct. 31. The bar will offer a constantly rotating draft list of lagers on side-pour taps, with a selection of canned beers available for purchase.
Owner Manny Negron, who has over a decade of experience in the beer industry, has managed and bartended all over St. Louis at places like Modern Brewery, Wellspent Brewing Co. and Craft Beer Cellar. Now, Negron is excited to break off and build his own project. “I kind of get to do whatever I want in here. I have no boundaries and no restrictions,” Negron said. “I started this bar completely alone, so I've got no one really holding me back. I get to learn and make my own mistakes.”
Previously operating as a salon, this 500-square-foot space has been transformed into a beautiful lager pub with a long, L-shaped bar made of reclaimed basketball court wood that takes up much of the space. The bar seats 14 customers with three two-top tables behind the barstools. Overall, there are 20 seats, and the space has a capacity of about 28 people. According to Negron, the space has been maximized to function as he sees fit. “I think we did a pretty good job of maximizing the amount of space,” he said. “I've been to a lot of places that will utilize a small space like this by having a small bar and a ton of seats. Personally, I've always liked going to a bar to sit at the bar.” The interior design is a culmination of numerous bars that he enjoys. Most materials were sourced locally in St. Louis from thrift or antique stores. He wants Little Lager to feel as if it’s been there for years, even though it's been there for days, as he pointed out jokingly.
Little Lager’s inspiration comes from German- and Czech-style pubs that feel more like cafes than bars. The size of the space and bar calls for a more rigorous selection process for beers on tap. “Because my place is so small, I had the luxury of having a massive selection to choose from,” Negron said. “This gives me an opportunity to play with an entire list and try new things.” He said that setting a limit on the number of taps combats the surplus problem he sees in bars and breweries today.
Negron wants the opening draft list to be a representation of St. Louis. “I figured during the opening, I should [support] the city that helped me build this thing,” he said. While St. Louis beers will be featured initially, Little Lager plans to bring in beers from all over the country and even the world. Beers on the first draft list include Dunkel from Kansas City’s KC Bier Co. and Tiny Bomb from Wiseacre Brewing Co. in Memphis. Representing St. Louis are Rain + Snow which is a cold IPA from Modern Brewery and Bread, which is a West Coast-style Pilsner from Wellspent Brewing Co. Little Lager offers any of these beers as milk shots, which are shots of beer foam meant to be chugged. The foam is much sweeter and thicker than people expect and acts almost like a dessert. According to Negron, each beer’s milk shot brings out a different element. “It brings out the sweetness from your malts and it brings out the tropical flavors of your hops.”
A key feature of Little Lager is the custom-built beer taps. The five side-pour faucets from the Czech Republic company Lukr are designed to give an optimal lager pour. Aspects of Czech beer culture are filtering into the American beer scene and Little Lager isn’t missing a beat. Rather than the open-and-close method of a standard tap, these faucets feature a ball valve that allows for more control over the beer. The mechanics of Lukr faucets allow the bartender to manipulate the flow of the beer and precisely control the level of foam in each glass.
Negron has built up a lot of trust with his colleagues in the beer community, which allows him to work with local and national breweries to create beer collaborations. Currently, he has two collaborations in the tank, one being Gold Tooth from Perennial Artisan Ales. In these collaborations, it remains important to represent St. Louis; Gold Tooth will highlight the city in a way not all breweries do. “We use straight St. Louis water and Missouri rice. There's a little bit of St. Louis and then a whole lot of Germany.”
Little Lager will not offer cocktails to start, but there is a chance for that in the future. They’ll have a few wine offerings and a small collection of amari, including Aperol, Campari and Sfumato Rabarbaro. In addition, you can go all out with a shot of Malort. They also offer “bitter bears,” gummy bears soaked in Malort and served with grapefruit soda as a shot. For customers who don’t drink, Little Lager offers the non-alcoholic beer Cerveza Athletica from Athletic Brewing Co. Although Little Lager doesn’t offer food, Negron said customers can bring in or order their own food.
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