San Francisco’s largest independent brewery, Fort Point Beer Co., starts tapping the kegs at a new flagship bar and restaurant on Monday, October 7. The 3,000-square-foot beer hall, located at 742 Valencia Street in the former Brasserie St. James space, is a major milestone more than a year in the making: Fort Point’s Presidio-brewed beers, like Animal IPA and KSA Kolsch, are widely available on tap and in cans, but have, until now, lacked a central tasting room devoted to them.
Sure, Fort Point opened a modest taproom at the Ferry Building in 2016, and last year they took ownership of Lower Haight brewpub Black Sands, adding to their existing restaurant Mill Valley Beerworks, which brothers Justin and Tyler Catalana started before launching Fort Point in 2014. But “we’re just one part of the Ferry Building, and Mill Valley Beerworks and Black Sands are their own animals,” says Justin Catalana. “[Valencia] is really the first time that Fort Point gets to have its own place and host people.... This is our city, we’re locals, and we’re really excited for that opportunity.”
On Valencia Street, Fort Point will pour 10 to 12 of its core beers, plus limited and one-off brews devised on a pilot system at Black Sands. To offer styles that Fort Point doesn’t normally make, like sours, they’ll pour some beers from other breweries, and they’ll also offer 10 wines by the glass.
Since Fort Point’s beer “isn’t hard to find in SF,” per Catalana, “in fact you can probably [get it] down the block,” compelling food and an inviting space will be crucial to the taproom’s success. Fort Point’s executive chef Eric Ehler (Black Sands, Mister Jiu’s) has an eclectic menu of items to share, including a “blooming artichoke” (with chili-lime vinaigrette, kaya, stone fruit, Thai basil, and peanuts), Dungeness crab rangoon (with plum sweet-and-sour sauce), and a Cream Co. Meats teriyaki burger (American cheese, pineapple mustard, kewpie, iceberg lettuce, and onions). Everything’s meant to be handheld, with utensils available only upon request.
Fort Point Creative Director Dina Dobkin, whose background is in architecture, designed the taproom space. Before joining the brewery, she worked at Lundberg Design, the firm behind SF restaurants like Mourad, and as a designer at Airbnb. “Our big challenge was knowing that our packaging was something people really loved, and thinking about how to translate that into a three-dimensional space without being overtly referential,” says Dobkin. The result involves plaster in colors like electric blue, and two neon art pieces from Oakland’s Shawna Peterson. The main bar area will be standing room only, but there’s seating at benches, in some alcoves, and at several two-tops.
“My hope is that somebody walks in and says it feels like Fort Point,” Dobkin says.
Talking to Eater SF last year, Catalana reflected on the first five years of business at Fort Point, while the company’s focus has been mostly wholesale. “I think you’re going to see a pivot with us doing a lot more retail,” he said. “We really like this aspect of the industry.” True to his word, another Fort Point outpost is already on the way to Oakland: A small Rockridge outpost in the former Trappist Provisions space, which could open as soon as November.