1219 Washington Ave., La Grande, 541-605-0163, sideabeer.com. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday and Saturday.
Let us pause for a moment to appreciate the cultural moment in which a local brewpub is the most happening spot in small towns across the American West. This was true for much of American history, of course, and it's true again at La Grande's Side A Brewing, which is probably the most urbane place in Union County. Side A sits in a former firehouse, and on the cinder block walls hang grainy old photos of men blasting away with big hoses, and a couple of those hoses are woven together for makeshift tapestries. It's a large space with a semi-open kitchen, exposed beams and a long communal table that can seat as many people as a school bus. Their beer can hang anywhere in Oregon—our taster tray featured a solid hazy, an impressive pale ale with local barley and Michigan hops and a nice stout that's good and roasty with a light body. The food is also a step up from chicken-fried steaks—our visit featured a sandwich with an ahi tuna patty seared a perfect pink, and a salad of exotic greens. The rural renaissance may or may not spread to the empty storefronts and blighted Odd Fellows Lodge in downtown La Grande, but Side A makes it feel possible.
Nearby: The unfortunately named Tap That! (1214 Adams Ave., La Grande, 541-663-9010, tapthatgrowlers.net) is a few blocks away on La Grande's main drag. When you walk in, all you'll see is a growler-filling station with 40 taps that include soda and kombucha. But the hallway next to the walk-in cooler leads to a homey brick-walled room with TVs, board games and a big plastic bin of peanuts. The regulars were all wearing camo and debating whether Boise was still a "pretty tolerable" big town.