Thirsty Eye takes multimedia approach to create community gathering space

Combination brewery, coffee shop, gallery, and event space, Thirsty Eye is already establishing itself as a fixture in East Downtown

A new year offers a time for reflection. What have we accomplished over the last year? The last six months?

For the team at Thirsty Eye Brewing, the answer to that question is a lot. Having just opened in mid-June, their already impressive list of events, workshops, and of course, beers, only continues to grow.

So far, the brewery has hosted live music, spoken word, belly dance shows, costume parties, fashion shows, writer’s workshops, drag queen trivia, Skål, Flamenco, and election events.  They plan to continue all of these and add even more in the new year.

The small stage space at the front of the brewery, where Thirsty Eye’s many events are presented.

Tapping into what they describe as under-served communities and tribes, their unique events bring in a variety of cultures. To determine the type of events to feature, general manager Amelia Salas said they communicate with people in the neighborhood to determine what they want, and become more aware of the community’s needs.

“We’ve got a pretty good engine here,” said Shawn Turung, co-owner and artist. “It’s a pretty special place.”

Brewer John Kofonow agreed, recalling one event when customers arrived accessorized in animal outfits.

“It’s such a great social space,” he said. “People come in and enjoy the environment. I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t just a brewery.’ ”

The others are just as quick to sing John’s praises.

“Two years of teasing people what was coming … and the beer is great,” said Kim Arthun, co-owner. “John does a great job.”

In the new year, they hope to expand to nitro taps to add some texture to beers like the Rented Tux Porter, that Amelia said are “already solid and delicious.”

“Amelia and John try to educate us on what’s going into the beers, digging a little deeper into our beverages,” Shawn said. “John does descriptions online. It’s an enjoyable education.”

When the Exhibit 208 gallery next door hosts an art opening, there is a corresponding beer release named in honor of the show. The latest release is a chocolate oatmeal stout, Moonracer, which the website promotes as “an easy drinking chocolate ale worthy of the King of the Island of Misfit Toys!” It coincided with ‘Toy Show: a celebration of toys and art’, which just completed its run at the gallery last Saturday.

Additionally, the popular Biscochito Liquido, a winter seasonal with anise and cinnamon, was just re-released last Friday.

Beer is not the only beverage on the menu. According to Kim, Thirsty Eye is one of the top 10 breweries in wine sales, in large part because of the associated art community. Because of this, he said they are careful to choose good quality local wines to be sold at the brewery.

Early risers may have noticed some schedule changes beginning in the fall, when opening hours were moved to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday, and noon on Thursday through Saturday. Despite the trimmed hours, they plan to continue serving coffee.

“We like to have a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic (beverages),” Shawn said. “It fits into our community.”

Mondays are brew days, when “John comes in and does his magic,” said co-owner Shawn.

Despite all they’ve already accomplished in the brewery’s short history, the team is looking toward doing even more in the future. One goal is to add more in-house food options. With no extra space to spare for a kitchen, this would likely be counter top service, although they’ve talked about a number of options.

In the meantime, they are happy with the food truck vendors that either park out front on Broadway or set up shop inside or on the back patio. Mighty Mike’s Barbecue is a common fixture, and it even served up turkey legs and beef ribs for the quarterly Viking Skål event held at the brewery.

“It’s like something out of the Flintstones,” Amelia said.

Because events at the brewery and art gallery often go hand in hand, future plans involve both locations, from hosting art openings on the brewery side of the building, to adding art talks and hands-on art events, and eventually adding signs out in front of both businesses.

“Something you can see driving down Broadway,” John said.

On the brewery side of things, in the coming year, they hope to begin attending beer festivals, enter brewing competitions, and work on collaborations that have already been initiated with other breweries.

As the landscape of East Downtown changes with the initiation of the ART Project and an increase in new construction, the Thirsty Eye team said they hope to grow and change along with it. They are excited for the addition of the new hotel across the street, both for the increase in business at the brewery, and the potential opportunity to work directly with the hotel as artists.

The Thirsty Eye crew from, left to right, brewer John Kofonow, co-owner and artist Shawn Turung, general manager Amelia Salas, and co-owner Kim Arthun.

“I think this space is such a source of inspiration — so personal, hand done,” Amelia said, adding her hope that the community continues to be involved, to “not only go and watch something, but be a part of it.”

Thanks to Shawn, Kim, Amelia, and John for taking some time out of their packed schedules to provide an update on the many goings-on at Thirsty Eye!


— Maureen

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