Beer Town: How some of Atlanta’s best beer bars are responding to pandemic

Argosy in East Atlanta Village has a service area out front. The beer bar and gastropub has shifted to takeout service during the COVID-19 pandemic. CONTRIBUTED BY ARGOSY

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Argosy in East Atlanta Village has a service area out front. The beer bar and gastropub has shifted to takeout service during the COVID-19 pandemic. CONTRIBUTED BY ARGOSY

It’s no secret that Atlanta is home to some of the best beer bars in America. But like metro area breweries and restaurants, they’ve been forced to become takeout operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early March, Brick Store Pub in Decatur was once again named the favorite beer bar in Georgia, according to the 2020 Great American Beer Bars readers poll at CraftBeer.com.

But some two weeks later, Brick Store closed to the public, briefly transformed into a soup kitchen, then joined with Leon’s, its sister restaurant around the corner, to create a curbside pickup menu.

“We’re holding up OK,” said Dave Blanchard, who partnered with friends Tom Moore and Mike Gallagher to open the Brick Store in 1997. “We closed down to do a whole bunch of renovations. And we’ve been doing a hybrid Leon’s and Brick Store menu out of the Leon’s kitchen, so that’s kind of how we’ve been spending the last four or five weeks. But it’s actually been a bit of a gift. There’s been so much work we needed to get done after 23 years, and now we finally have a good amount of time to repair and improve things.”

It turns out the Brick Store’s downtime has been something of a gift for beer lovers, too.

Under the headline "Bring the Brick Store Cellar Home" on the pub's website, you'll find links to lists of rare and vintage beers for pickup. Most bottles are discounted by 25%, and can be ordered directly from the Brick Store or in "Cellar Packs" through CraftCellr.

“The first couple weeks, we put up 30 or 40 bottles, and they sold out in like 20 minutes, which was great, so we’re continuing with that,” Blanchard said. “Provided we can get through the next four or five weeks, we should be in good shape. But who knows? No one is comfortable with (Gov. Brian) Kemp’s plan. No one is opening now. The next play is to try to all get on the same page for when we feel it’s the right time to reopen.”

The Porter Beer Bar, which opened in Little Five Points in 2008, was the longtime dream of owners Molly Gunn and Nick Rutherford, who live nearby in the neighborhood.

“We’ve been doing to go, and doing OK,” Gunn said. “We’re technically classified as a restaurant, which is why we’re able to stay open. We sell more food in terms of dollars than alcohol. But we’ve also been selling heavily on CraftCellr. People still have to come in to pick it up. And people who are coming in to do that are frequently adding food, which is awesome for us.

“But we’re also lucky that we have this cellar to pull from and sell from. We’re certainly not buying much beer. I bought a little bit because the first week I sold out of all my lagers that I had in cans. There were a lot of people who wanted to add that to their burger to go. Then there are the people who are excited to buy a Jester King SPON and take it home and drink it. And I’ve had people saying they are starting their own cellar.”

As far as keeping things going at the Porter day to day, it’s been the smallest crew possible, Gunn said.

“It’s just me and Nick, and part of that is that reduces the potential for contagion,” she said. “And then the other part is that it’s much easier not to lose money if you’re not paying anyone. We’ve applied for some things and we have gotten some help. And fortunately we have a landlady who is working with us.

“I don’t think our customers want us to open right now, which I completely understand. The point of a pub is to serve the public good. Our current plan is to wait until the mayor is saying it’s OK to reopen with restrictions, because it seems like she has a more level head on her shoulders.”

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To-go beer and food are being sold at Argosy in East Atlanta Village as the pandemic alters how beer bars have been operating. CONTRIBUTED BY ARGOSY

To-go beer and food are being sold at Argosy in East Atlanta Village as the pandemic alters how beer bars have been operating. CONTRIBUTED BY ARGOSY

Combined ShapeCaption
To-go beer and food are being sold at Argosy in East Atlanta Village as the pandemic alters how beer bars have been operating. CONTRIBUTED BY ARGOSY

In 2013, Argosy opened in East Atlanta Village as a labor of love beer bar and gastropub from the partners behind Atlanta’s Bookhouse Pub — Ben Rhoades, Donald Durant and Armando Celentano.

The partners also opened Sceptre Brewing Arts brewpub in Oakhurst last year. And right now, Argosy is offering a takeout menu featuring a family meal that includes a four-pack of Sceptre beers.

“We’re focusing on smaller breweries, and I’m trying to promote local as much as I can,” Celentano said. “The fun, fresh IPAs that I enjoy personally, and that I can sell in 16-ounce single or four-pack cans are what people are more likely to pick up. And they’ve been a colorful marketing tool, too. At some point, you’ve got to stop taking pictures of burgers and pizza to put on Facebook or Instagram.”

When Argosy shifted to takeout, Celentano said he made changes to the regular menu, and shifted to a system he described as “just as safe and efficient as possible.”

“We reduced our menu and took the entree section off because that was another two stations on the line,” he said. “Right now, one person works the line. One person works expo a safe distance away. And we have another expo station before it gets delivered to the customer. Everyone is masked and gloved, and we have sanitizer to spray on credit cards and it’s available to everybody during the transaction.

“Sales have been better than I actually expected. But it’s still only about 10% of what we normally sell. It wouldn’t be a sustainable model long term. But for now, I’m happy to do it because it allows me the opportunity to keep the kitchen functioning. A complete restart would be much more difficult. And it keeps those core employees on that we’ll need when we get through this.”

Asked when he thinks Argosy might open, again, Celentano thought the end of June or beginning of July was the best-case scenario.

“What we’re looking at is CDC recommendations,” he said. “I don’t go by anyone’s press conference. What we’re looking for is two weeks of no new cases in Georgia, and then we will consider bringing our staff back to get set to reopen a few weeks after that.”

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