The last month-plus has seen good and bad news coming out of several off-site taprooms around Albuquerque, ranging from two openings to two closings to other potential developments that have left folks wondering if the bubble is bursting. As a public service, we tried to sort through the rumors and figure out the solid facts.
On the good front, La Cumbre Westside and Tractor Westside are both humming along. Tractor opened first on McMahon, just east of Unser, and quickly captured the vibe of its other locations. La Cumbre opened to huge crowds with a touch of the original location blended with a more modern atmosphere. We also got good news that Quarter Celtic will open its first taproom in early 2019.
Then, there was everything else. First came the news at the end of July that Monks’ Corner was closing its doors. The location at Third and Silver was never able to draw in the crowds like Abbey Brewing had hoped, and in the end, the decision was made to shut down that taproom. Whether or not a replacement ever opens is something that will be decided at a later time.
Of course, since then, events might have given Abbey a reason to pause. All of us in the Crew were as surprised as anyone when Red Door abruptly announced the closure of its Northeast Heights taproom at Wyoming and Comanche. The taproom was packed with folks on Friday night, answering the call to help drink up as much of the beer on hand as possible. By the time I arrived around 9 p.m., there were only four house beers and the cider left on tap. All the seasonals were long gone.
I missed owner Matt Biggs by mere minutes, he later told me, but we will be meeting this week to discuss Red Door’s upcoming fourth anniversary. The reason given by Red Door in its social media posts was “a landlord dispute,” which sadly is not all that shocking around Albuquerque. Anyone remember when Pi Brewing had to shut down after its corporate landlord put off repairs to the damaged building for six months? (It had been hit by an out-of-control pickup truck that crashed off Coors.)
The specter of a bad landlord, or something similar, then seemed to crop up with the Soo-bak food truck posted that it was no longer going to park outside Tractor Nob Hill due to an unexplained dispute with the new property owner. That, in turn, led many to suspect Tractor would also shut down its original Albuquerque location, which has been serving folks since 2011. I contacted president/co-owner Skye Devore via email, and she said no one should panic, that Tractor is not closing the taproom.
“The building was purchased last year and we are working on adjusting to the new dynamic, which includes having a cafe next door, but we have no intention of shutting it down,” she wrote. “The food truck situation is delicate. In no way does Tractor want food trucks to cease service and their food will always be welcome in our Nob Hill location.”
So far, it seems this is an isolated incident rather than a radical change to the long symbiotic relationship between Tractor and the food trucks. Considering that the new landlord was also helping Tractor out by giving the brewery the space to expand its walk-in cooler and add more bathrooms, overall the relationship seems to be OK.
Now that everyone is breathing easy again, we feel that we can now report that the Duel taproom in downtown Albuquerque is closing some time in the near future. Real estate ads, like this one on Craigslist, have shown that the space is up for lease, though there has been no official announcement from the brewery in Santa Fe. Events are still listed through Saturday, September 15 on the taproom’s Facebook page, so it seems the closure is not necessarily imminent. We will keep an eye on the situation as it develops.
Before anyone starts screaming that the bubble is popping around here, most of these closures appear unconnected. It is possible to draw the line between Duel and Monks’ Corner, and the general difficulty of staying open downtown. People can point to the crime and other issues there, but we have long felt that downtown is simply a different animal as far as the crowd goes. It is not an area populated with craft beer lovers who want to kick back and relax, but is instead a more high-energy area of rising and falling trends. Basically, the downtown crowd is incredibly fickle, and with a few exceptions (Anodyne, looking at you), it can be very hard for any bar or taproom to gain a foothold there. Then throw in the issues with crime and the ongoing exodus of businesses from the area (which impacts lunchtime and happy hour crowds), and it pretty much conspired to kill Monks’ Corner and, apparently, Duel.
The boom times may be coming to a close, that is true, but it does not necessarily mean a massive contraction is at hand. Breweries and taprooms will not be shutting down en masse, but fewer and fewer are on the docket to open. At present, there are only three confirmed breweries pending for the ABQ metro area, plus three off-site taprooms.
In other words, yes, we have seemingly hit our saturation point. The remaining areas in town that lack craft beer are either too expensive in terms of rent, or too stricken by poverty. Darn, guess we will have to live with the award-winning breweries that are already here, instead of always looking to see who is coming next.
If anyone out there ever has any information for us on our local breweries, please, never hesitate to send it to us at email@example.com, or contact us via our social media pages.
Until next time, stay positive, Burque.
3 Comments Add yours
Ok, let me preface with saying that I may be speaking out-of-my-ass here, and I sincerely welcome being corrected or better informed here. And it is based on anecdote and conjecture.
I do not find this list too surprising.
First: Abbey. Ok, I never actually went to the Abbey Tap Room but what it had going against it was (a) downtown (as you talked about in the article) and (b), while Abbey beer is very good, there is not much diversity! [Really speaking out of my ass here]: Did they have specials? I know I very rarely go to a tap room and order what I can buy in store. It’s about new stuff.
Next: Duel. Again, downtown. But also, a massive location with tons of empty taps. I actually really enjoyed their beer, when they had the same thing in stock consistently. And, even their regulars had a flavor shift through the years. Honestly, I think their beer style is kind of niche. It’s good, but you have to be looking for their styles. I am sad to see them go but unless they got an amazing deal on rent, that location seemed overkill.
Finally, Red Door. I am surprised by this only because I would have thought that business, and more importantly, the banks that finance them, would have done their due-diligence before starting this project. I personally have not been impressed with Red Door. I think their beer is far from the top-tier of ABQ. When I saw their new location, I figured that (a) I was in the minority and (b) they did their research. I do not know about either of them, but I would much rather go to Poki Poki next door and order a better beer (plus, I really like the food at Poki Poki). Also, their parking sucks there!
If I haven’t hedged and made clear enough already, I am not an expert by any sense of the imagination. So take this with a grain of salt.
On a side note: I would be curious to better understand what drives people to a tap room? As I said, if I can get it at home, I am much less likely to get it at a tap room (one of the reasons I don’t frequent Santa Fe Brewing; I like the stuff in cans but why pay more for it?). Am I alone in that? Do breweries think about this before they distribute? I go to a tap room to try new things and hang out with my wife and kids out-of-the house. I have made friends randomly at tap rooms but it isn’t my main goal.