Buoyed by a reunified Old Courthouse Square and a new public transportation option with the SMART train, a cluster of merchants is looking to capitalize on the renewed interest in downtown Santa Rosa with the lure of barley, hops, yeast and water.
2 Tread Brewing Co. opened its doors Wednesday at the Santa Rosa Plaza off B Street, the latest in a spate of debuts and expansions by beer pubs and breweries in downtown building on the region’s reputation as a beer mecca.
It follows the opening in mid-July of Beer Baron Bar & Kitchen just off the square and the expansion of Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room on Fourth Street slated to be finished by year’s end.
“Because we are known as the spot for beer, why don’t we make this the most badass beer city in the country?” said Gray Rollin, owner and executive chef of Belly, a 4-year-old business that wants to double in size to bring in more than 30 new tap handles and space for musical performances.
Downtown has long been a popular destination for beer lovers because of Russian River Brewing Co., attracting an estimated 300,000 people annually as one of the country’s most highly regarded breweries. Every February, fans stand in a line for hours to sample its Pliny the Younger beer. And Third Street Aleworks, which also brews and bottles its own beers, still remains a popular locale after more than two decades in business, especially for those who want to watch sports on TV.
The recent influx continues a trend of taprooms in a concentrated area that increasingly is giving downtown Santa Rosa a reputation for beer similar to what wine is for Healdsburg.
That also includes such taprooms as Local Barrel, Wilibees Wine & Spirits and Sprenger’s Restaurant & Tap Room. Shady Oak Barrel House, known for its heralded sour and farmhouse ales, operates its production facility on First Street and has plans to open its taproom within two months.
The activity comes as Santa Rosa was already named earlier this year the No. 1 American city for craft beer by the online journal The Pudding, based on data culled from beer-rating sites.
“You can’t ignore all the places that have opened in the past year,” said Charles Evans, a building owner of the space formerly occupied by Flavor Bistro off Old Courthouse Square. Evans has had discussions with at least one local brewery on taking the vacant space.
“The fact that Belly is expanding tells you something,” Evans said.
The most ambitious of these projects is 2 Tread, which is taking over the old Fresh Choice restaurant spot at the mall with a microbrewery, a beer garden that can hold more than 400 people and an upscale pub menu featuring such items as barley risotto with wild mushrooms. It employs about 70 people.
“I looked in Napa, Marin and Sonoma (counties). To find someplace downtown with a beer garden, this was the only place,” said co-owner Bill Drury, whose seven-figure project originally had been slated to open by the end of 2016, but encountered construction delays.
The brewery, which currently has 16 guest taps, plans to offer a wide range of its own beers, such as a pale ale, a porter and an India pale ale. “A goal is to make a variety of ales and lagers of high drinkability,” said veteran brewer Christian August, who also is a partner in the venture.