Recently our main production brewery and sister restaurant to The Schlafly Tap Room, Schlafly Bottleworks, was named to represent the state of Missouri in a piece Buzzfeed.com titled, “America’s Most Popular Bars In 2013”. While it is certainly always nice to be recognized in a positive light, I think it would be safe to say that the reaction most of us had around the brewery to the article was more one of curiosity. You see, when co-founder Dan Kopman or even myself find ourselves describing Schlafly Bottleworks to the public, you might assume we were describing a community center as opposed to one of “America’s most popular bars.” So…you can imagine our collective gobsmack.
Since before Bottleworks first opened it’s doors in 2003 in Maplewood, Missouri, it was destined to function as an anchor for the community to gather in. To that purpose, we chose to dedicate a large chunk of the building and the surrounding grounds to features with agendas somewhat divergent from the bar and dining area of the restaurant. We have a community room that we loan out to local organizations and charities for everything from film screenings and lectures to philosophical debates and yoga classes. We have a 1/7-acre urban garden that in addition to providing our restaurant with fresh veggies, also plays host to educational opportunities for local students and backyard gardeners alike. We have a “Brewseum” dedicated entirely to telling the story of St. Louis’ expansive brewing history. Our outdoor pavilion and parking lot get transformed routinely throughout the year into a farmers market, or an art fair, and even a showcase for hundreds of classic motorcycles. Over the past ten years, Schlafly Bottleworks has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people and this idea of local brewery/brewpub as community hub is playing out similarly all across the country.
How does being community focused translate into “Popular”? Looking at the original Buzzfeed article, you will notice that they utilized data and feedback from crowd-sourced “Check-ins” on the online platform Foursquare to choose, “America’s Most Popular Bars In 2013.” Looking further, you will also notice that over half of the bars listed in this “Most Popular” compilation are either brewpubs or bars similar to Bottleworks that are specifically focused on craft beer. Things get more interesting when you think about the fact that the demographics for adults most likely to use social media and mobile Apps like Foursquare are almost identically aligned with the demographics for your average craft beer drinker, so it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that craft beer fans are doing their part to passionately talk up their favorite local watering holes online.
There surely must be thousands of bars across the country that saw more foot traffic, sold more alcohol and food, and made more money in 2013 than the vast majority of bars recognized as Buzzfeed’s “Most Popular”, but their clientele apparently weren’t as inclined to “Check-in” on Foursquare and evangelize about their experience to their friends and followers online. What is it about the bars on Buzzfeed’s list that make them stand out in the minds of their customers to the point that they feel compelled to take their time to stand up and be publicly counted as supporting what they are doing? Given that the list is chock-full of bars taking a similar approach as Schlafly Bottleworks with a focus on good drink and community, I would say the answer must lie somewhere in there. Schlafly Bottleworks has a really nice restaurant and bar, but it is only when you appreciate the location as more than the sum of its parts that it truly becomes special.
We are always thinking about ways to improve the entire Schlafly Bottleworks experience for our customers, the real owners of Schlafly Beer. 2013 saw the opening of our brand new three-season Pavilion as well as continued growth in our tour program, Farmers Market, and Gardenworks, not to mention major investments in the Bottleworks brewery. The new year brings further new projects and improvements to our home in Maplewood. In the coming months we will be rebuilding our cellar tank room that supplies fresh draft beer to our Bottleworks bars and doing a fair deal of painting throughout the building. After ten years, we thought it was time to refresh our color palette a bit.
As the rest of 2014 unfolds we are also looking to tackle further improvements to our front bar, our retail space, and our “Brewseum”. The most significant project on the schedule for 2014 is a complete remodel of the “Crown Room”, which pulls triple duty functioning as our community room, private party room, AND our tasting room for our brewery tour program. If you’ve ever attended our tour program, or joined us for a movie screening in the back room, you will know that the Crown Room is pretty large, so this will be a significant investment for us. Given the heavy and varied usage the Crown Room has seen over the last ten years and our commitment to the space continuing to create value for our community, we couldn’t feel better about the investment.
Thank you for your continued support of what we do. We couldn’t feel more humbled or honored. Cheers to you, our fans, and wishing you all an amazing 2014.