This may be remembered as the year the craft-beer boom finally hit the South Bay. The brewery count south of the 54 is up to three, and rumors swirl about existing breweries planning to open tasting rooms around Chula Vista. But perhaps the more telling sign craft has found a place south of San Diego is the trio of tap houses that opened this year.
319 Third Avenue, Chula Vista
Third Avenue Alehouse became the latest, opening October 9th in the mid-revitalization Third Avenue Village. The family-owned business focuses 100% on San Diego–produced beers, in bottles and 29 taps (2 nitro). Chula Vista residents Stephen and Melinda Stenberg opened the bar, partnering with their son Mike and his partner Kendell Manion.
"We're all beer enthusiasts," Manion says. "People here know Stone and Coronado and a few others. We want to change the palate a bit around here."
So, while construction continues on the sidewalks out front, the bar opened with a tap list featuring breweries from around the entire county, including Oceanside's Legacy, Santee's Butcher's Brewing and Chula Vista's original brewery, Bay Bridge.
A mile away, a 60-year-old dive bar has been reborn as a beer destination. Once known as Manhattan Piano Bar, then Mac's Manhattan and Manhattan Cocktail Lounge, it became Manhattan Bar when purchased by Matt Cieslak at the beginning of the year.
The former Blind Lady Alehouse manager and Pizza Port GM left the old drinking hole's charm intact but added about a dozen taps, with a preference for seasonals, one-offs, sours, and rare and barrel-aged beers.
"I thought it had good bones," say Cieslak about the building. He moved to Chula Vista to start a family with his locally raised wife. Currently earning his brewing certificate at UCSD, Cieslak has ambitions to start his own brewery but for now hopes Manhattan Bar can bring to South Bay what Hamilton's Tavern has to South Park. "There's so many people who live down here and are looking for good craft beer," he says.
2325 Highland Avenue, National City
400 Broadway, Chula Vista
Those sentiments are echoed by Eddie Trejo, who opened Machete Beer House with his partner Joann Cornejo about the same time as Manhattan Bar, across the Sweetwater River in National City. Trejo says his South Bay customers were already craft-beer fans, they just had to drive farther to get it.
Perhaps fittingly, the former beer distributor sold his car to put money into starting Machete, which splits its 30 taps about 50/50 with local beer and highly regarded craft breweries from around the U.S. — and a growing number from Mexico. Machete also features a tantalizing variety of rare, sour, and barrel-aged bottles to serve in its low-key space, which is decorated with local artwork and images from the Mexican revolution.
Machete started the hashtag #southbayuprising, and the three businesses have picked it up, working together to gather momentum in their community. As Cornejo says, "Who doesn't like a good beer? We just make it more accessible."