In the blink of an eye, a little rumor recently whispered to us became reality this week when Boxing Bear Brewing officially announced it was opening a taproom in the former 5 Star Burgers space on West Central.
To get a little better idea of how it all came together this quickly, I sat down with head brewer/co-owner Justin Hamilton.
“So after 5 Star closed, we saw the building (at 1710 West Central),” he said. “We’ve been hunting (for) taprooms. It wasn’t like 5 Star approached us. We were actively looking for taprooms, not just one, but multiple for a long time.”
Boxing Bear was given a short time to make a decision on leasing the space.
“The timeline was really quick,” Justin said. “Five Star was one of our accounts, so that gave us the heads up. That spurred our interest in that location and that allowed us to pursue (it). We also know there’s lots of breweries looking for that perfect taproom space, so we had to really try to harness it as quickly as possible. I love that location. It’s so much culture, a really, really up-and-coming area. It’s right down the street from the revitalized El Vado (Motel), it’s literally across the street from Albuquerque staple Duran’s, and we’ll be right next to Amore Pizza. All those things are a sure fit for us.”
Justin said he had not been to the West Downtown area since long before Boxing Bear existed. He was just wrapping up his time as head brewer at Chama River when the Draft Station was announced for the property just to the west of where the taproom will be located.
“Draft Station being of that area and culture, I think it allowed that area to be up and coming,” he said. “I think it was something that a lot of the other businesses around there are building, and I think it’s awesome to be a part of. We have this agreement with the landlord that we’re going to be a part of that community and what they’re trying to do in West Downtown. I see us working there really well. Craft beer in that location is perfect.”
Justin compared the neighborhood to one that might be found in craft beer meccas like San Diego, Portland, or Denver, mainly due to the prominence of local businesses over anything from out of town. Of course, that alone will not make an area of town successful. The Albuquerque Rapid Transit project took a bite out of the area with its chaotic construction, which included a sewage leak that ultimately forced Draft Station to close.
Even now, 5 Star said it closed in part due to the reluctance of people to return to the area after A.R.T. Justin, though, said he and his fellow Boxing Bear owners are not worried, and that the neighborhood will bounce back.
“I think it’s going to be less of an issue now,” he said. “If you look at Nob Hill, it’s still torn up. People are avoiding that some times. I think that construction is done down there, it’s a big part of that (traffic) flow. I think it’s going to be easily navigated now. Before that, I could see how it was hard. I could see how any construction going on in roads in that area could be hard on existing businesses.
“But, the fact that it’s done and we’re looking to the future, and A.R.T. is still on the table with new buses, I’m actually really excited about (that area). It’s unfortunate that the area did have such an impact (from A.R.T.), but we’re hoping we’ll be on the revitalization of that area, the upswing, and really bring people into an area they haven’t been to in a long time because of (construction). If you haven’t been to West Downtown, now is your chance to go check it out.”
The taproom will require a few things beyond simply throwing the beer on tap at the existing station inside. For one thing, Boxing Bear will not offer food at this location like the original taproom, but will instead partner up with its next-door neighbor.
“We’re going to be basically trying to utilize Amore Pizza as much as possible,” Justin said. “We’re going to be having their menus on our tables. Amore will deliver their pizza over to our (customers). That takes care of the food option. Here we have a small kitchen, but it will be a different feel over there. We’re not going to be offering our own (food), but having our bases covered with Amore.”
That should be a positive symbiotic relationship, no different than how Tractor Nob Hill and Marble Heights have both taking advantage of their respective neighboring Slice Parlor locations.
“That’s going to be a really nice change for us, to have that real close,” Justin said. “Other than that, I think it’s going to be real fun. The potential to have more taps than what we have here, so there could be a potential to have more specials on tap there, kind of like what you see at Marble Westside and Heights. You have this location where you can push extra styles that people are traveling out to get to, being that it’s a second location for us and nobody (likes) to cross the river and all.”
It will also save on overhead for Boxing Bear, which will have to make some additions back at the brewery itself to accommodate brewing more beer.
“I am (prepared), so we are going to be looking at adding some more equipment,” Justin said. “Honestly, I’m ready to brew more beer, I’m ready to keep ourselves busier. We’re not necessarily slow, but we could definitely brew more. That’s what where I want to be. If I’m pulling my hair out not keeping up with beer (demand), that’s a good thing, supposedly for most people. If we’re consistently brewing a lot of beer and keeping things moving back there, that’s where I want to be.
“I see progress in a lot of other breweries where they’re just constantly hiring new people, adding new positions on staff, and that’s something I want to work towards. I know we’ll be a smaller brewery, so it won’t be that many more people, but if I can get more people working back there and build that family of brewers, it’s going to be great for all of us.”
Many, the Brew Crew included, speculated this meant the end of the rumored plan for Boxing Bear to move into the future Snow Heights Promenade that was supposedly still on track to be built on the southwest corner of Menaul and Eubank. Justin, though, said he still believes that project is going through, and Boxing Bear will still be a part of it if things come together.
“It wasn’t a timing there where (we think) it’s not going to happen,” Justin said of this West Central taproom versus the other. “We are still in communication with that project happening and supposedly it’s still happening. With that being said, absolutely, we want to move forward with a taproom. If it just happens to be where we open two taprooms in March of next year, that would be awesome. That would potentially be hard, but that’s what we want. If we could open two taprooms in 2019, we absolutely would, let’s put it that way.”
For anyone driving by that location in the Northeast Heights, it certainly does not look like there will be much chance of it opening by March. The dirt has been cleared, but otherwise major construction has yet to start.
“But, in that we’re working with a new development, we know it’s dealing with a lot of not even (building) hurdles, but there’s still a lot to be done before construction can even start,” Justin said. “That’s the part that causes all these slow downs. We really are trying to be as patient as possible. As far as that goes, we’ll know by the middle of next year how far that’s going to go. We still have our fingers crossed. If something were to happen to that, which it shouldn’t, then we’ll pick (another site). We want more than one taproom for sure.”
For now, then, Boxing Bear will focus on getting the West Central location open sooner than later.
“I would say late winter, early spring,” Justin said of an opening timeframe. “I think most of it will be dependent on licensing. It’s not like we have to do much there. There was a kitchen, and they’ll have to remove the kitchen and then we’ll make the space work. But, putting our draft equipment in there and the little bit of stuff we have to do, it shouldn’t be that bad.
“It’s just licensing, but it’s the biggest headache you have to deal with. Hopefully it goes smoother than some other places. But, we’re pretty positive we have all of our ducks in a row as far as all that stuff. Licensing is being submitted today so we’re on our way. It’s all very progressive and good stuff. We’re probably more impatient than our customers in opening a second location, let’s put it that way, without having to sacrifice any of our product. We’re super excited just to bring our product and our brand to that part of Albuquerque.”
We wish Boxing Bear all the luck going forward and will be sure to keep everyone up to date on the progress of the taproom. A big thanks to Justin for taking the time to go into detail about the project, and of course for a pour of the delicious Vantablack Russian Imperial Stout!