I was at a wholesaler event last night in Bryn Mawr. Gretz Beer, one of the area A-B wholesalers, was launching the new Budweiser American Ale and 're-introducing' some of the other beers in their portfolio. I saw Michelob Pale Ale and Dunkel Weiss, Unita Punkin, Czechvar, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Victory Festbier, Löwenbräu, and some others. It was an event for retailers, mostly off-premise folks, and they were reacting well to the Bud Ale, including Matt Capone, the Energizer Bunny of beer launches at Capone's in Norristown. He said to me, "Pretty good!" Keep in mind, of course, that he was surrounded by A-Bvolk at the time.
Had several good chats with the folks there, including Brian Quinn, an A-B draft guy I'd met last year at Markt for an A-B/InBev lovefest (that turned out to be a prelude to this year's goings-on). Some of it was heartening, proving that A-B and their wholesalers really do get what's going on in craft beer -- and some agreement that the brewmasters have a lot more input at the company than they did, say, five years ago. But I still heard things like "not bitter, like other bocks." You can't just give salespeople words when you expect them to make sales to people who actually know what the hell beers are, you have to make them understand what those words mean, and in what context they are meaningful. Otherwise, they clang like a broken bell.
Anyway, after I left the event, I headed back Lancaster Ave. towards the Blue Route, where I saw Maia. Now, Uncle Jack had gushed about it, and then the esteemed Craig LaBan gushed about it, so I think to myself, hey, maybe oughta stop in. So I did, and it impressed me with its design right away, as in, it was so designed that I couldn't tell if the damned place was open or not until someone walked out the door. Okay, that's me.
So I walked in, and the open plan (with map, as LaBan points out) drew me further in. Kind of reminded me of a place Steve and I went in Ghent, Brasserie Pakhuis (and that Frommer review I linked to really nails the similarity: "Although maybe too conscious of its own sense of style, Pakhuis...is all stocked up in matters of taste."), which is in a former warehouse, whereas Maia is in a former supermarket; similar spaces. Nice-looking beers on tap -- Maredsous, Victory Donnybrook, Goliath -- and a very good selection of spirits (top-heavy on vodkas, but that's a fact of life). Downcheck on the barstools: too high (and if they're too high for a guy who's 6'1"...) and looking like porch furniture.
Service was very quick, damned near immediate. I saw a Gaffel Kölsch tap in front of me, and thought, yeah, light, crisp, just the thing for one more before heading home. "A kölsch," I said, by way of a test, and he passed brilliantly. The pour? A small tulip glass -- downcheck on glass, amused upcheck on size of portion -- and set down with pride in front of me. I asked to run a tab; I saw someone enjoying some soup, which sounded right. Then I looked at the temporary check he set down. My Gaffel, which looked to be 10 oz. or less, was $7. Wow. Hey, I know bringing in low-volume imports ain't cheap. But that's the kind of price I'm used to paying for something like Chimay White, and while Gaffel Kölsch is good, it ain't Chimay White.
Whew. I decided I had to get another beer to see what was going on here. I ordered soup (a choice between gazpacho and French onion; I got the hot one, and it was very, very good) and got a Victory Donnybrook. It came in a 20 oz. dimple mug, and was $6.50. Well, that's better, for a 20 oz. pour. Again, the service was almost telepathic, but it was a good thing I'd checked the taps as I walked by. The chalkboard beerlist only gave the brewery names, in big letters. Victory makes a bunch of beers, guys; telling me you have "VICTORY" doesn't help a lot.
All that said, Maia has a good vibe. I've seen people complain that it's "confusing," that it takes too much work to figure out what you want and where to get it. I only concur so far as the beerlist. In short, grow up. This is a different idea, a different layout, and you need to have fun with that, not whine about it. Besides, with bar service like that, I'm willing to put up with some thinking (though not $7 mini-beers). If the rest of the food is up to the soup -- and LaBan emphatically says it is -- I'll probably bring Cathy by, and we'll have another look.