HOUGHTON - 'Tis the season to be jolly and taste the 12 Bells of Christmas at The Library Restaurant and Brew Pub.
The Houghton restaurant is once again celebrating its "40 Days of Christmas" with fun and festive specials continuing through the new year.
The 12 Bells of Christmas is new this year and features some of Bell's more popular brews as well as a few limited batches, which will be on draft during the holidays.
The entrance of the Library Restaurant, Houghton.
"At this point we've got seven Bell's beers on draft; six are here all the time, and we've got one on rotation," owner Jim Cortright said. "The one we have on rotation now is the Batch 9000."
Kalamazoo's Bell's Brewery founder and brewmaster Larry Bell is celebrating his 25th anniversary, Jim said, and the Library was Bell's first establishment to have its beer on draft in the Upper Peninsula back in April of 1991.
"We're getting some items you would consider to be out of his cellar; they're no longer for sale to the general public, but they're things he's had stored," he said. "We've got a crowd that really appreciates the higher gravity beers, like the stouts and the porters, the real bold beers, which Larry is known for."
Of course the Library is home to its very own award-winning brewmaster Bob Jackson, who took home three medals at the Michigan Brewers Guild.
"He's quite brilliant," Jim said.
Personally handcrafting the restaurant's variety of microbrews, Jackson is most recognized for his Miner's IPA, seasonal Octoberfest and Java Stout, which is presently on tap.
The Library will also be showcasing Mexican food items during the holiday season. While Queso Fundido or empanadas might not make appropriate holiday ornaments, they are tasty new items on Habenero's Fresh Mexican Kitchen menu available during the "40 Days of Christmas" at the Library.
"We're using entirely fresh Mexican ingredients," Jim said. "Our jalapenos are freshly roasted. There's no microwaves or can openers. It's fresh."
To prove just how fresh their ingredients are, servers prepare the guacamole tableside, using a molcajete, or mortar and pestle.
"The avocados are coming right out of the skin in front of you," he said. "Again, what we're really stressing is fresh."
On the starter menu, the Queso Fundido, Spanish for "melted cheese," includes Chihuahua cheese with chorizo and rajas.
The empanadas are made from scratch, starting with the dough, before being stuffed with potato, cheese, onion, roasted poblanos, rice and cilantro.
Starting today, the menu is featuring two new items - tomales and gorditas.
Also beginning today, customers who bring in 12 non-perishable food items will get a $5 gift card to use at the Library.
"We're calling it the 12 Gifts of Christmas," Jim said. "We're collecting food items to donate to local food banks."
Christmas is a special time of year for the staff at the Library, particularly Christmas Eve.
In honor of Jon Davis, the restaurant's original founder, who passed away in January, Jim said they're carrying on the tradition of hosting a Christmas Eve Open House from 3 to 8:30 p.m.
"This is the first Christmas Eve without Jon," he said. "So, we're going to do something special in his honor."
While complimentary food will be served, the kitchen will be closed. Guests can enjoy the familiar upside down Christmas tree and comical "Christmas in da U.P." poem, originally read by Jon. Santa will also make an appearance.
Jim, who started working at the Library in 1979, said it's amazing how the food service industry has changed over the past 10 years.
Famous for their Sushi Tuesday and International Night Thursday, the Library has equal access to the same fresh fish and seafood ingredients as upscale restaurants in larger cities.
"Like with our Sushi night, we get the same fish delivered in the same amount of time that the people in Chicago, New York and L.A. get," Jim said.
Featuring a diverse menu of seafood, steaks, pastas, vegetarian dishes and specialty gourmet burgers, the Library offers a unique dining experience in downtown Houghton.
For the sports fans, Tailgate Sunday offers a Bloody Mary bar, featuring eight different mixes and an unlimited array of fixings.
"It's like a salad bar," Jim said. "We do specials on beer until 4 p.m. Sundays."
Diners will find the Library atmosphere comfortable and casual with table or booth seating in the bar or dining area overlooking the scenic Portage Lake Shipping Canal.
The interior has a modern industrial feel with its thick steel beams overhead and brick walls.
"This burned down in '95, but the brick and the steel are all original from the 1890s," Jim said. "Everything that's here, besides the wood we put up, was all left after the fire."
Dotting the steel beams are old beer cans collected from around the world, while the shelves are filled with books of all shapes and sizes.
One can't help but soak up the sights and flavors of the Library Restaurant.
"We want it to be fun and relaxed," Jim said. "Good food. Good service. Good price. That's what we try to do."
The Library Restaurant and Brew Pub offers gift cards and catering services year 'round.
The Library Restaurant and Brew Pub is located at 62 N. Isle Royale Street in Houghton. Kitchen hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 487-5882.
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