Town Hall Brewery didn’t earn its place as a local beer-scene bastion by rolling out gutter-ball beers. The pioneering brewpub’s 10-pin touch is helping keep it fresh, even 16 years after opening.
Last Friday, co-owner Pete Rifakes opened Town Hall Lanes — a beer bar/bowling alley hybrid in the former Skylane Bowling location in south Minneapolis. With the addition of Town Hall Lanes, Rifakes has three spots under his popular beer brand, including the original Town Hall Brewery at Seven Corners (where all the beer is produced) and Town Hall Tap, less than three miles from the new outpost.
Amid the Great Minnesota Beer Boom, more and more makers are vying for their slice of the same still-baking pie. Uniquely, Town Hall can now boast of offering its in-house artisanal brews with bowling. “Bowling and beer go together,” Rifakes said.
Indeed they do. But traditionally blue-collared bowlers, such as the ones who frequented Skylane, are more apt to grab a Budweiser than one of Town Hall’s bolder beers, like its popular Masala Mama IPA. Anything Town Hall touches will attract the contemporary craft-beer crowd, but Rifakes also hopes to lure neighborhood “old-timers” who may be less suds-savvy. To appease stout- or hops-haters, brewmaster Mike Hoops whipped up Super Strike lager — a Town Hall Lanes exclusive. The refreshing pitcher pounder (the only beer available by the pitcher, in fact) is a low-alcohol option.
“You can have more than two of them and still be able to bowl a strike,” Rifakes said.
Opening night drew its share of young faces, but longtime Nokomis residents Greg and Sue Martin were first in a line that stretched around the building when doors opened. The couple, whose son worked at the old Skylane, live two blocks away and said they were excited for Town Hall’s arrival. “It’s a big event for the neighborhood,” said Greg, who has lived in the area more than 50 years.
After acquiring the building last year, Rifakes oversaw an extensive remodeling of the nearly 8,200-square-foot space. Rifakes said Skylane had a lot of “deferred maintenance” and was completely gutted. The 10-lane alley was built anew and designed to rival top-tier bowling centers. Instead of those ugly and uncomfortable plastic swivel chairs, the bowling area is stacked with more pub-like wooden benches and tables.
The full-liquor-licensed bar features 20 taps, eight of them pouring Town Hall flavors, and the food menu is a mix of newbies and favorites from the other locations. Expect a cask or two in the coming months. As at Town Hall Tap, Rifakes’ affinity for retro beer signs is on display, and an elegant chandelier hangs above the dining room.
With Minnesota brewpubs prohibited from distributing to liquor stores and separately owned bars, the beer boss said he’s had to be creative in how he gets his malted masterpieces to consumers. Like Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, Town Hall is following the tied-house model — opening satellite bars to expand its beer-soaked footprint. Rifakes said the original Seven Corners location typically sells around 1,200 barrels per year. With Town Hall Tap and now Town Hall Lanes, he expects to brew between 2,000 and 2,200 barrels.
With room under Minnesota’s 3,500-barrel brewpub production cap, more sister bars could be on the way. Plans to beef up Town Hall’s brewhouse are already in the works.
“We want to expand,” Rifakes said. “If the law doesn’t evolve with us, we will continue to use this structure and expand.”
Town Hall Lanes
Where: 5019 34th Av. S., Mpls.
Info: www.townhallbrewery.com or 612-767-3354.