The Best Place For Craft Beer In L.A. is a Gas Station in Pasadena

Deep in the wilds of Pasadena lies a secret collection of craft beers only whispered about—and we are going to lead you there

It is said that on the drunkest of nights, in breweries and bars all across Southern California, if you listen close enough, you can hear the whispers of something hidden and magical just northeast of Downtown L.A. It’s something many dare not speak out loud for fear of blowing up the secret and ruining it for all. There is a place hidden in plain sight where only the finest craft beers can be found. Some say the mythical place is never seen in the same location twice; others say it can only be found when you’re not looking for it, and those who seek it shall find only Modelos and Budweiser—or, even worse, Zima.

Entering L.A.’s craft beer cave of wonders, I first notice that murals cover all four walls. On this September visit, there are Formula One Cars, Din Djarin from the Mandalorian, a somewhat familiar kaiju taking on a dissimilar-enough-to-avoid-copyright-infringement Gundam [the Japanese military fiction], and a wall stating, “Do Not Press The Red Button” with a red button sticking out, taunting you, like that copy of Infinite Jest still sitting unread on your bookshelf. (You keep telling yourself you’re going to get to it. You even buy it a second time on your Kindle, so you don’t have to carry the heavy book around. Yet there it is; two of them, monuments to your inadequacy). In the past, I’ve seen murals of everything from Rick & Morty to Invader Zim to Initial D. in this place. And there, beside the red button, craft beers reach to the ceiling, as if being summoned to the heavens themselves.

Now, at this point, you’re probably imagining a bar or hip speakeasy. At least a liquor store or a trendy new brewery called Purple Yeti Brewery or something. Would you believe, intrepid reader, that this hidden legend, this heavenly destination, is but a gas station?

No, seriously. It’s a Shell station in Pasadena.

Shibli Haddad stands outside Shell gas station
Shibli Haddad, seen above, stands in front of his Shell gas station at 290 S. Arroyo Pkwy. Pasadena, CA 91105

To understand this local miracle, we have to travel back to the murky and politically volatile year of 2017—give or take. This is when a simple Shell station started to become something much more. But how was this feat achieved? Well, as with many similar feats of curation, it was the work of one man: Shibli Haddad.

The Haddad family first came into possession of the station and the land beneath it when Haddad’s father, Lamuel Haddad, purchased them in the early 90s. Lamuel Haddad originally came to the U.S. on an education visa that led him to become an attorney. However, he saw an opportunity in this station and dove head first into running the establishment—a seemingly hereditary trait. Much like his father, Haddad pivoted from pursuing a completely separate career as an accountant to jumping straight into a divergent path and began running the Shell station, which he would eventually transform into a haven for craft beer aficionados.

“It all started as a way to thank the customers for supporting us when we were getting started,” Haddad tells LAMag. That kiss to the beer nuts of Pasadena was soon bringing craft beer enthusiasts from as far as Ventura to gaze upon the selection that lives among three fridges in the back of a gas station. Haddad does admit, however, that his own interest in craft beer and a desire to fight the monotony of running a gas station—it was for fun. He knew there was a market for this, with breweries like Stone Brewery right across the street. In fact, it was at this exact Stone Brewery where Haddad first knew his beer curation was a success. On multiple visits, he heard customers telling bartenders about the surprising craft beer cache at the Shell station. As if they didn’t know.

“I know the guy that runs that place. He’s a real asshole,” they’d say before introducing Haddad to his fans.

He keeps his circle tight, working with only 10 (give or take) breweries directly and two distributors. Developing relationships with trusted breweries, including There Does Not Exist, Humble Sea, Creative Creature, and Bottle Logic was only the first step. He’s currently gearing up to collaborate with selected brewers from across the country to create new beers sold exclusively at his gas station. He plans to fly out (on his dime) brewers he tells LAMag he cannot name to L.A. and on three separate occasions in the coming months. The first one arrived on October 1. Haddad’s Instagram (@ReplicantShell) can provide more details on this top-secret project and why it is, in fact, so top-secret.

When I stop by the station on a sunny Thursday afternoon, the exclusive beer in the fridge is called Fuel Up—an American dark lager with Ethiopia wate gogugu coffee. It’s the fruit of a collaboration between Haddad’s Shell gas station and Bottle Logic Brewing, which he has worked on for years.

Bottle Logic x Replicant Shell Collab
“Fuel Up” the result of a collaboration between Bottle Logic and Haddad’s Shell station

You might be thinking to yourself, “What business does a gas station have collaborating with one of the most celebrated names in craft beer?”

Well, aside from developing a solid relationship with Bottle Logic Brewing, Haddad’s gas station is actually the number one retailer of their products. In the world. Haddad sells more Bottle Logic than Disneyland, the city of Chicago, and all of Australia–each of these counts as a single account to which Bottle Logic distributes its beers. While this status is subject to change at any time and resets every year, Haddad’s gas station is currently resting comfortably at the top, selling around 10-15 cases weekly.

When I reached out to Stephen Langton, general manager at Bottle Logic, he was more than happy to confirm this fact while singing Haddad’s praises. “He really takes the time to connect with his customers and find out what they are looking for, then translate that into bringing in the best assortment of what they need from us. My whole delivery team looks forward to dropping at his location since he is so accommodating and pleasant to work with. He and I talk shop daily.”

Haddad is quick to return this compliment to the brewer he now swears by. “If you’re looking for a good lager, Bottle Logic. If you’re looking for a good IPA or stout, Bottle Logic. It’s a no-brainer. You’ll always be happy with Bottle Logic,” he tells LAMag.

Craft Beer
Bottle Logic Brewing is one of many craft beer hotspots in Anaheim

Photograph by Jolie Myers

“I remember they had brewed a specific beer, it was a rebrew,” he recalls, in a testament to the brewers’ quality. “The last time they brewed it was maybe like a year or two prior, and it came in, and they texted me the next day, saying, ‘Hey, we’re recalling this beer,’ which never happens. They almost never recall a beer. I was so confused and worried about what happened cause I had already sold some of the beer over that first day.”

Haddad soon found out that the blueberries didn’t taste exactly how the company had wanted them to, so the entire batch was recalled because “it could’ve been better.”

Hoping to encourage his customers to experiment just like his favorite brewers, Haddad orders only in small batches, switching up the beers found in his fridges weekly. He also sells every one of the craft beers as singles, allowing customers to take a chance on a new beer or brewery without going all in on a pack they may or may not like.

What started as a simple hobby has led an unassuming gas station to become a hub for local, and not-so-local, craft beer enthusiasts. With a philosophy that puts customers, curiosity, and experimentation at the forefront of a secret library of high-quality craft brews, Haddad and his gas station is cemented as a craft beer landmark in a community filled with breweries and bars.

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