Home Pub bar Craft beer bars are closing just when we need them most

Craft beer bars are closing just when we need them most

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On the first day of the last week of its existence, Falling Rock Taphouse opened at 5:00 p.m. Late in the afternoon of June 23, patrons lined up on the sidewalk outside the downtown Denver beer bar to enter. ramp at the entrance, Paul Vismara, the former bartender and long-time artist who painted the murals hanging in the courtyard, stood at the front to greet customers.

It was like a funeral.

Since the bar opened in 1997, Chris Black, co-owner and public face of Falling Rock, has been a frenzied force in the large but comfortable space, playing ping-pong behind the bar, where he checked taps and pulled pints, to monitor the barrels in the cold room directly behind, through the kitchen or down to the cellar in the basement, while having snatches of conversation with anyone who wanted his attention. This night was no different, except that several customers also wanted to express their sadness that this institution steeped in lager and ale would soon disappear.

The average restaurant in the United States has a lifespan of five years, according to a study conducted several years ago. Falling Rock reached almost 25 years of age thanks in part to its commitment to craft beer, long before it was popular, and because of the relationships it established with customers and breweries.

Falling Rock’s bottom line had been declining for the past few years, says Black. Covid has made matters worse, as has almost continuous construction on and around the Blake Street bar location over the past two years.

“It would have been nice to turn 25,” Black said in a phone interview after the bar closed. “Getting here was good, but it wasn’t easy.

Monk’s / Photo by Eddy Marenco

It would be easy to attribute the closing of Falling Rock to another great bar becoming a memory, but its end has come when beer drinkers need craft beer bars most. With an emphasis on microbreweries and imported beer, Falling Rock was the kind of quirky place where beer lovers could feel right at home, adventurous drinkers could find satisfaction, and brewers could find an ally of the world. ‘hospitality.

Black made Falling Rock an international beer destination, a place where rare kegs were mined without fanfare, where it was not uncommon to see famous brewers at a stand having pints, where service was attentive but a bit gruff.

As 2021 draws to a close, other bars cut from the same bar towel have also called for a shutdown. Among them are The Blue Tusk in Syracuse, New York, and The Tap & Mallet and Unter Biergarten in Rochester, New York.

“When the pandemic hit it came at a difficult time as the pub was already feeling the effects of the changes in the craft beer industry that we all continue to enjoy,” the Tap & Mallet posted on social media. early December. “We have all persevered, but we have made the difficult decision that it is time to call last orders. The bar is expected to close at the end of the year.

Tap and Mallet beer bar
Tap and Mallet / Courtesy of Joe McBane

That’s not to say that beer still isn’t sold in bars. He is. Many big cities have beer bars like Falling Rock or Tap & Mallet. There’s also The Avenue Pub in New Orleans, Hopleaf in Chicago, The Blind Tiger in New York, and Toranado in San Francisco. In addition, there are currently around 9,000 breweries in the country, most of them with an auction house selling direct to consumers.

But the list of bars and taverns that serve to educate and excite beer pilgrims with a range of offerings of different flavors, styles and brews seems to be getting shorter every year.

This is due in part to the success of craft beer itself. The growth of the category has led to more than just American light lagers sold in restaurant chains like Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, or in convenience stores and grocery stores. With craft beer available even in the most common places, drinkers no longer need to search for specialty taverns.

Falling Rock was special because every year beer lovers and the industry flocked to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, the largest gathering of beer lovers in the country. Even as more bars and brasseries opened, a good percentage of the 70,000 festival-goers would make the trip to Falling Rock at least once.

Some hoped that the bar would become a permanent institution, like Belgium’s famous beer cafes or German breweries, but Falling Rock was eventually overthrown by the very industry it was helping foster.

Avenue pub
Avenue Pub / Photo by Donavan Fannon

Denver is Colorado’s fastest growing city. As the region grew, more breweries opened, taking away beer-centric customers who wanted to drink from the source. Larger state breweries like Odell, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, and others have opened their own taprooms near Falling Rock, which has siphoned off some customers.

In 2019, the city’s construction blocked road access to the Falling Rock block and was followed soon after by the outbreak of the pandemic. Black and his brothers, Al and Steve, have done everything they can to keep things going, including uploading their famous list of bottles for sale in December 2020. This has injected some cash in. which kept the lights on for a few more months.

Falling Rock was ultimately overthrown by the very industry it helped foster.

Tom Peters, the owner of Monk’s Café in Philadelphia, an equally beloved craft beer bar, is preparing for his 25th birthday celebration in 2022. He too has faced increased competition, but has also been successful in bringing in some regulars for a meal and a large list of beers. Its longevity was a selling point.

“A lot of people are celebrating their 21st birthday here,” he says. “It means a constant influx of new blood that will become regulars.”

It doesn’t try to compete with the multitude of bars and tavernas that sell macro beer or are just a place to get together with co-workers after a shift or to watch a game. It focuses on beer lovers, beer tourists and those who want a drink.

“Beer tourism is huge for us,” says Peters. “Beer bars stay true to the original vision and remain destinations for people around the world. We receive people from everywhere. We bring in Belgians who come here to drink beers that they cannot find in Belgium!

Tom peters
Tom Peters / Photo by Eddy Marenco

As brewery taprooms become the new beer drinking destination for customers, what is lost is variety. Yes, breweries can have different beers on tap, but they are almost always all homemade and can only tell the story of its four walls. Beer bars like Falling Rock and Tap & Mallet could organize beer lists to offer a wide selection of flavors, styles and brews.

“I don’t know if there is still a market for what I’m trying to do,” says Polly Watts, owner of the New Orleans’ Avenue Pub. Previously owned by his father, Avenue Pub remained open 24 hours a day before the pandemic. In 2009, Watts changed the bar to rely heavily on specialty craft beer as well as imported note beer.

Since the start of the pandemic, she has reduced the pub’s opening hours and days and focused more on the kitchen offerings. Keeping full-time staff employed remained a challenge and she said the emphasis on serving lunch helps keep the lights on. It also offers a full bar alongside Avenue Pub’s well-curated beer list.

“You’re not going to find 12 barrel IPAs here, because you can go to any brewery or other bar and find it,” she says. “We have some really special beers and a staff who knows how to store and pour them correctly. ”

Craft beer destinations can often invest more in training their teams than crowded breweries that often operate as tourist destinations with seasonal staffing needs. It remains to be seen if more of these bars will open in a post-Covid landscape.

The last call to Falling Rock was on a Sunday. Shortly before closing the doors to patrons for the last time, Black drank a pint of IPA from Comrade Brewing IPA, one of the few beers that remained on tap, said goodbye to his brothers and his staff, then locked the door and walked away.