When the vendors were announced last summer for Blue Bride Hospitality's Liberty Public Market, they included purveyors of locally roasted coffee, a butcher shop, and a place to get Maine lobster rolls. At that time, there was no mention of craft beer. However, in the intervening months, Little Italy's Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room has signed on to make the Liberty Station open-stall marketplace its third location.
Bottlecraft owner Brian Jensen says the public market concept — modeled after Seattle's Pike Place and Barcelona's La Boqueria — immediately appealed to him. "I've always wanted to be involved because I love the idea. I love going to other big cities, and these are either popping up or they're institutions."
Bottlecraft first opened in May 2011, offering a wide breadth of curated beer ranging from domestic craft to highly rated imports. Customers could buy individual bottles to go, or to drink onsite — a hybrid business model that put a focus on beer education and conversation. As Jensen explains, "I didn't want it to be just a retail transaction."
He first got the idea for Bottlecraft while working in a New York wine bar. "I was drinking beer and homebrewing at the time," Jensen says, "but every time I would buy beer at a bodega the guy wouldn't know anything about it. Then I worked at a wine shop and everyone was so educated. I thought the beer shopping experience should be like that."
Over the past five years, the original shop moved into a larger space two blocks over, and a second location opened in North Park. Each store now features craft on draught in addition to bottles and cans covering about 700 distinct beers, plus a beer-knowledgeable sales staff. Jensen says that, at 1000 square feet, the Liberty Market stall will be smaller than his other locations, leaving room for closer to 500 bottles to complement a 20-seat bar serving 26 beers on tap.
However, the market will feature shared dining and patio space for all its food and drink vendors, which includes wine and cocktail bars. In addition to sitting on the patio, beer drinkers will be allowed to browse. "We've worked it out with the ABC," Jensen points out, "that you can grab a beer and walk around with it, shopping at all the other vendors."
He estimates his shops rotate in about 15-25 new bottles per week, with nearly half the inventory devoted to local product. While a similar rate of turnover can be expected with the new location, Jensen anticipates more tourists will be drawn to the market concept, seeking out San Diego brews. "I'm interested to see what the clientele wants," he surmises. "That will dictate the draft list. If it's people from out of town, I'm definitely going to highlight San Diego beer."
Liberty Public Market was originally slated to open late fall 2015, but now appears to be on track for early spring 2016.