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The artists and the breweries shall inherit downtown.
Almost as an act of magic, a few key breweries started gaining traction almost overnight several years back throughout the Roosevelt and Downtown areas. Specifically, 2019 was the year both Grand Avenue Brewing and Wilderness DTPHX opened. Greenwood came in 2020.
There was a time when the concept of brewing downtown was nascent. On the edge of Roosevelt Row, Julie Meeker opened Mother Bunch Brewing, formerly on 7th Street, in 2014, the first to plant their flag in a Downtown setting.
On Roosevelt Row, the creativity of the area’s breweries and the artistic residents connect them to an audience who wants to consume their product. Along Roosevelt, creative brewers and an artistic neighborhood are a perfect marriage that creates a big draw.
“It’s the premier neighborhood in the State of Arizona, specifically Roosevelt Row,” said Jonathan Bufford, the co-founder of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. “Its demographic and diversity is exactly what we want. There’s activism, arts, different cultures, representing a greater demographic than the state and it’s all in this area. Who wouldn’t want to invest in that?”
As more of them flock to the area, brewery destinations like Denver, its River North Art District, Portland and Seattle, come up as touchstone with local founders as an aspirational goal.
In those places, walkability mixed with the cluster of breweries make for ideal pub crawls and tourism.
Roosevelt Row has both.
The founders of the Roosevelt Row breweries jumped aboard a moving train of their own propulsion.
Within a couple of blocks, Wilderness and Greenwood opened a little more than a year apart in 2019 and 2020, both contributing in their own way to the gradual transformation of the neighborhood.
They arrived to the Evans Churchill Neighborhood as art and culture was firmly established, First Friday was a big draw, and residential developments begun filling in the neighborhood, a purposeful feature of living nearby.
This change was not oblivious to John Coll, the founder of the nearby Grand Avenue Brewing, who bought his brewery building in 2007, gradually witnessing the character of Downtown and Grand Avenue slowly morphing as local business owners organized and incorporated.
“I could sort of see it marching toward Grand Avenue,” said Coll.
As a proxy of the development within Downtown, Coll saw the infrastructure on Grand Avenue slowly change too. Initially, he’d clean graffiti up every week or so. But, in the intervening decade, local business owners, with stakes in the neighborhood ‑ Bacanora, Testal, Wayward Tap Room, Trans Am and Grand Ave Pizza ‑ set up shop.
The two main breweries representing Downtown for most of 2010s were Mother Bunch, and State 48 Brewery, opening in fall 2018. Both on either end of Downtown.
When Megan Greenwood, the founder of Greenwood Brewery, moved into the small but growing neighborhood its non-replicable aspects struck her: walking to the gym, coffee runs and going out to dinner, and not needing to return to her car until Monday when she commuted out of Phoenix for work. It is not uncommon to bump into people she knows at the grocery store.
Coming from a manufacturing background, a hobby grew from a brewery kit into a ‘Herstory Pale Ale” on tap at Changing Hands’ First Draft Bar, then contract brewed at a local brewery, a temporary place of operations. A brewery was the next logical step.
But with real estate at a premium, where would she make roots?
By chance, Cindy Dach, the founder of Changing Hands, owned the property housing Eye Lounge gallery, which was in the process of relocating. And their location happened to be an area Greenwood envisioned for her business.
“It was almost like divine intervention, it was the exact location I wanted to build,” said Greenwood. “I couldn’t have asked for a better location.”
By the end of 2018, the proverbial fermentation process began to convert the existing building into a taproom, and overall brewing site, the first for the area, and into zoning headaches to move the process along.
Around the same time, Pat Ware and Jonathan Bufford, the founders of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. began expanding their footprint from their original Chandler location to Downtown Phoenix.
As the adaptive-reuse project developed, the site’s barbed wire fencing and parking lot quickly transformed into the iconic evergreen beer garden from a few key observations. Under the neighborhood’s art district designation, they learned they wouldn’t need parking if they planted a permeable garden that retained water.
Thus the 626-person beer garden was born.
Bufford views the beer garden and brewery as an optimal third place community gathering spot.
“What breweries are offering, we’re kind of your living room,” said Bufford. “That’s what we built this comfortable space to able to choose where you want to be.”
But the pandemic was obviously a hurdle.
Greenwood arrived in mid-July 2020, a grand opening pushed back from March when the whole nation shut down, at the height of the pandemic in Arizona. By the beginning of the month, cases surged and ICUs filled up with patients.
Like countless businesses during that time, Greenwood operated in survival mode, placing them in the awkward position of simultaneously operating a business while keeping employees and clientele safe, using every health and safety recommendation to keep afloat: to-go beers, curbside pickup, drinking in the beer garden.
It was not her ideal situation to have customers consuming beer in the new garden during triple-degree weather under an unforgiving Arizona sun. Their grand opening was dedicated by economic and necessity.
“We open now or we may never open,” recalled Greenwood.
Over at Grand Avenue Brewing, Coll placed employees on furlough to stay solvent, and worked the bar alone in his converted 1940s warehouse.
But, more than two years later, the viability of these businesses have become more assured.
Julian Wright has only lived in Downtown about a year but he can see potential.
The founder of Pedal Haus opened the newest location in Downtown, the third following Tempe and Chandler, last November.
Whenever he opens a new brewery, Wright looks for a walkable urban neighborhood, with surrounding residences and a thriving tourism industry. Similar to the flagship location in Tempe, Downtown has a buoyant events calendar on a larger canvas, from Margaret T. Hance Park, the Phoenix Convention Center and the multiple sports arenas.
Pedal Haus and Khavi (which Wright also owns) took over the former MonOrchid gallery, just a few blocks separated them from Wilderness and Greenwood.
All this happening around the intersection of 3rd Street and Roosevelt Street, coincidentally the most densely populated area in the state.
But, there’s more on the horizon. For instance, Huss Brewing opened at the Phoenix Convention Center in the spring. Across the street from the Wexford Science + Technology, Gus Fowler, a former employee of Wright, will open Safe Haven Brewery. In May, Roses by the Stairs opened in a partitioned area of the former Easley’s Fun Shop on McDowell Road. A few more dots closing the distance between breweries spread throughout Downtown.
Greenwood Brewing recently marked their second anniversary with tours, live performances, a release party for a new Grapefruit Kolsch and other delights – a remarkably different place than before. But, Greenwood hesitates to definitively say “they’re out of the woods.” They’ve recently noticed shifts in the supply chain which complicates their operations. Surviving through more than two and a half years has made her naturally cautious.
“We have somewhat of a sustaining business, starting to get the right people in the seats and growing a great team,” Greenwood said. “That’s something I could’ve only hoped and prayed for two years ago and we’re getting there.”
In a sign of things to come, the four current breweries operating in Roosevelt Row talk to each other with some regularity, for now sharing information, expertise and the occasional bag of grain. Last fall, Pedal Haus and Wilderness collaborated on an Oktoberfest beer. The Greenwood, Wilderness and Pedal Haus all operate on the guiding principal of “coopertition”, and in turn are not shy about sending customers to their neighbors’ businesses. It’s the Downtown Way.
“When you have enough breweries in the area, especially if it’s walkable, you get little tour guide businesses pop up when I visit other cities,” said Wright. “It’s a really good way to meet people, see the city, and try some local beer. It’s a fun day.”