Beer Scout: Taprooms in unexpected places

TENTS AND TAPS: Black Dome Mountain Sports manager Kurt Shoemaker, right, converses with patrons at the gear store's bar. Shoemaker says the double-takes when visitors stroll past the shop's camping supplies and see him pouring a beer are a highlight of his day.
TENTS AND TAPS: Black Dome Mountain Sports manager Kurt Shoemaker, right, converses with patrons at the gear store's bar. Shoemaker says the double-takes when visitors stroll past the shop's camping supplies and see him pouring a beer are a highlight of his day. Photo by Edwin Arnaudin

Many customers who walk through the doors of Fifth Season Gardening Co. think store manager Kristin Weeks is joking when she offers to pour them a beer. In a city where one can sip a pint while getting a haircut (The Local Barber & Tap) and until recently could to do the same while browsing cycling gear (Beer City Bicycles) or waiting for a load of laundry to finish (Bar of Soap), they assume she’s poking fun at the ubiquity of beer in Asheville.

But once they see the bar and its eight taps in the middle of the store surrounded by plants and tools, they realize she’s serious, and many take her up on the offer.

“In a time when you’re up against places like Amazon, you really need to create an experience, and what better way to do that than a bar in Beer City?” Weeks says. “But we sell homebrew supplies. We want to educate people and we thought this bar space would be a great environment to do that.”

The double-takes when visitors stroll past the tents and camping gear at Black Dome Mountain Sports and are greeted by its bar is one of manager Kurt Shoemaker’s favorite parts of working at the store. Already a gathering spot after a day of biking, backpacking or climbing where adventurers would bring their own six-packs, the Tunnel Road outfitters validated the idea and upgraded to six taps.

Now a place where regulars share GoPro videos from their latest outdoor jaunt on the television, the bar was built with wood sourced from the barn on the Georgia family farm of owners Debbie and Trent Thomas, which was damaged when a tree fell on it. Other recycled materials include metal on the front of the bar that was once the barn’s roof and a cash drawer that came from Black Dome’s original Biltmore Village location.

“When I was in high school, my dream was to have a gear shop with a bar in it,” Shoemaker says. “I had a lot of other ideas, too. I wanted a snowboard shop attached to it and a coffee shop — everything I liked all together in one building seemed like a good idea.”

Offering a comprehensive, family-friendly experience also appeals to Heather Hopey, a mother of four and store manager at Hopey & Co.’s South French Broad Avenue location, which opened its taproom in early October.

“Anything with four kids is planned well in advance. So when I go to the grocery store, I know what I need — I get in, I get out,” Hopey says. “Sitting in a taproom a little while with four kids in tow isn’t exactly ideal, but if you know that that’s what’s there, you can plan around it.”

Soon to be accompanied by a kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven and a flat-top grill, as well as a walnut bar top, the 20 taps (15 of which pour beers from local breweries) are part of the grocery store’s overall mission to serve its up-and-coming neighborhood — and Hopey says residents already appreciate the convenience. Grail Moviehouse patrons regularly stop by for a beer before seeing a film, and it’s also where diners wait out the occasional long lines at Little Bee Thai.

A few blocks toward downtown, located two buildings up from Bhramari Brewing Co. and behind Wicked Weed Brewing, Lexington Glassworks is right in the thick of the South Slope brewing district. Marketing director Ashleigh Hardes says the inspiration for its four-tap bar — whose cross sections are repurposed car lifts from the building’s days as Brown’s Automotive — came from a desire to do more events and use its big open space for more than a gallery and working glass-blowing studio.

“Our mission is to allow people to come sit, watch the artist work [and] really develop a relationship with the artist. You’re so close to them — you can talk to them while they’re working. You don’t get that in many other situations,” Hardes says. “I think the bar really gives people an extra something that makes them stay a little bit longer and dive a little deeper into who we are and what we do.”

Hardes notes that being surrounded by fragile, handmade glass art makes studio visitors more mindful of the space, and her unusual taproom colleagues report a similar respect for their outside-the-box spots. Limited operating hours and the absence of liquor help maintain an atypical bar atmosphere and handling the occasional accident falls in line with the businesses’ regular maintenance.

Weeks and her co-workers are used to spilling dirt and water and can easily run a hose on the floor, and Hopey compares cleaning up a fallen beer to doing the same with a toppled container of ketchup. As for Black Dome, Shoemaker says that while its carpet has “taken a toll,” a certain quality shared by most of the store’s wares keeps him from worrying about beer mishaps: “Most of our merchandise is waterproof anyway.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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