A little piece of Albuquerque’s craft beer history died on Monday. The Chama River Microbar, the tiniest little taproom attached to the back (west) side of the Sunshine Theater, abruptly closed its doors for good. There was just the sad sign pictured above, plus a few messages from the staff letting longtime patrons know that the end had arrived.
So why did it close? As of right now, we can only speculate until someone from Santa Fe Dining (Chama’s parent company), decides to share that information, assuming they ever will. Business decisions are often kept under wraps, lest someone out there get a wild idea about some sort of lawsuit. The less info provided, the less can be dragged into a court.
UPDATE: The good folks at the Albuquerque Journal got the official explanation. You can find the link to their story here. To sum it up, Santa Fe Dining is looking to open another Draft Station, even though they could have done that and kept the Microbar open under the three taprooms law. SFD did not commit to a location or a timetable for a new Draft Station, or even if it would be here in Albuquerque. So, um, OK? The original story continues below.
Until we get the official word, if we get it, again, all we can do is speculate. Theories abound, so here are a few. The first rumors of the Microbar closing began with the 2014 opening of the Draft Station on Central west of downtown. The logic went why have two SFD taprooms so close together (or relatively close, anyway). Still, the Draft Station has been open since August 2014, so it’s hard to draw a direct line between one and the other. Then again, I have rarely seen a lot of people at the Draft Station. Maybe there was some belief, justifiable or not, that part of the lack of crowds was due to the Microbar siphoning off at least some of that craft beer-loving populace. On a personal note, I think the Draft Station’s location doesn’t help it; it’s too far from the other downtown bars, and just a bit too far for the Old Town tourists to see it. (If I’m totally off on the place lacking much of a crowd, then I guess I just have terrible timing in my visits, which admittedly aren’t that frequent.)
Another even more probable reason for closing could relate to the structure that Microbar occupied a tiny portion of, the Sunshine building. The owners of the building might have raised the rent, or just decided they wanted that space for themselves. You have to figure at least some of the alcohol revenue inside the Sunshine’s (overpriced) bar was lost to the Microbar and its superior taps. Then again, the Sunshine probably lives more off the ticket receipts than anything, and half the crowds there are often not very craft-centric in their drinking. Still, these days every penny counts. So either the Sunshine owners decided they didn’t want a competing business on their property, or they just wanted more in rent than a no-frills taproom was worth to SFD.
A third, less likely possibility is that they are simply moving Microbar, or going with a new taproom project entirely. This seems unlikely since they already have Draft Station, and besides, the law now says a brewery can have up to three satellite taprooms. (To our knowledge, Draft Station is not treated legally as a satellite of either Chama or Blue Corn, but we could be wrong.) Moving Microbar somewhere else downtown is unlikely, so unless they are going to send it somewhere west of the Rio Grande or up in the far Northeast Heights, it seems as if it is truly dead.
It is a shame, because in many ways the Microbar was a bit revolutionary in its time. It showed that a craft beer-only establishment could work. Prior to Marble opening in 2008, everything in the ABQ area was pretty much a brewpub. Santa Fe Brewing and Sierra Blanca really had no taprooms to speak of, they just packaged and sold in stores and bars. Otherwise it was just Chama, Kellys, Il Vicino, Turtle Mountain, Second Street, and Blue Corn, brewpubs one and all. In some small way, we all owe Microbar a debt of gratitude for its pioneering service.
Before many a metal show (or whatever music you like), it was the place to stop for a final pint before charging into the pit. It was the oasis amid the clubs and dive bars that populated the rest of downtown. It was just beer, a TV in the corner, a couple tables, and some bar stools. I will remember my last visit fondly, before the recent Anthrax concert, when I sat there with pint of Sleeping Dog Stout, listening to my friends Monica and Samantha wax poetic about mosh pits of years gone by. (For those who know the two women I speak of, you know they are two of the toughest people in town, they moshed with the biggest and best of ’em.) Then it was off to listen to some classic thrash metal, followed by us all getting lost in the exiting crowd. We all reconnected at Microbar, stopping to see our friends Jason and Jessie, who had skipped the concert but who had come in for a pint or two. We ultimately passed on any more beer, deciding we had drank enough, and were sore and tired and mostly deaf, the way you are meant to be after a proper metal show.
Now I just look back on that moment and wish I had stayed for one more pint.
Share your favorite Microbar stories with us in the comments below, or on our Twitter or Facebook pages. Heck, if it’s a long one, but a good one, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Then go raise a pint some time this week to the little taproom that could, and the good times it gave us before its time came to an end.