A mural on the back patio of the Groundswell Brewing tasting room in Chula Vista.
It's been about three years since the hashtag #southbayuprising started calling attention to the demand for craft beer south of Highway 94. In that time, a bevy of taprooms and breweries has established a strong presence in the South Bay, with the greatest impact being seen in the vicinity of Chula Vista's central hub, Third Avenue village.
With the recent opening of taproom Bar Sin Nombre (253 Third Ave. #100, Chula Vista) and a brewery tasting room representing Groundswell Brewing Company (258 Third Ave, Chula Vista), Third Avenue's transformation to bona fide beer destination has been made complete.
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Years in the planning, Sin Nombre started making noise on social media immediately upon opening to the public during San Diego Beer Week. It's the work of Chula Vista resident Tony Raso, who first slaked Third Avenue's thirst for craft as a beer buyer for La Bella Pizza a decade ago.
"They told me I could never sell IPAs in Chula Vista," he recalls. "I brought craft beer into Bella, and in six months beer sales were up 40 percent."
Raso had initially planned to open under the name Biere Café at a different location up the street, but with Sin Nombre, his aim remains the same: to serve a wide selection of world-class beers, including "bone-dry farmhouse beers and pilsners."
A big reason for Sin Nombre's early buzz are beers made by several globally renowned breweries that rarely distribute to the San Diego market: brands such as Vermont's Hill Farmstead Brewery, Northern Michigan's Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, and Belgium's Brouwerij Cantillon.
Raso has access to such beers via a relationship with the distributor Shelton Brothers. In fact, brother Dan Shelton joined as a partner in Sin Nombre, ensuring the bar maintains a tantalizing balance of styles representing local, domestic, and European producers.
In early December, the new Groundswell tasting room opened just across the street from Sin Nombre. Though they recently expanded their business into a large brewing space in Santee, Groundswell founders Kevin Rhodes and Christianne Penunuri have lived in Chula Vista for 17 years and embraced the chance to serve beer closer to home.
Penunuri notes that Chula residents at least partly own the going-on-six beer-centric businesses that have opened along Third Avenue in the past three years, which also include taproom and bottle shop Third Avenue Alehouse and breweries 3 Punk Ales and Chula Vista Brewery.
"We all know how great this community is," she says, "and we all appreciate how refreshing it is to have a place like Third Avenue where we can walk, shop, visit, take the family, the dogs, and not have to leave our community."
The City of Chula Vista has actively courted beer businesses as part of an effort to revitalize its downtown, and it seems to be working. Alan Cassel, who owns several properties along Third Avenue, says commercial lease values have risen in the past two years, from $1.50 per square foot to over $2.
Chula Vista planner and area native Scott Donaghe adds that Friday and Saturday nights have become much more lively in the village since the breweries opened. He also points to new restaurants setting up shop, including farm-to-table eatery Temp, and the soon-to-open expansion of beer-friendly burger spot Balboa Bar & Grill.
Nobody wants to say that craft beer's presence is solely responsible for Third Avenue’s re-emergence, though Balboa founder Tom Logsdon — also a Chula Vista native — acknowledges he might not have risked opening in his home town had he not seen beer businesses addling life to the downtown area.
And Donaghe points out several others have looked into joining the village's momentum, including a few well-known breweries. But they may have to settle for properties off the main drag. "There are several others looking for space," he says, "but there are few vacancies on Third Avenue."