Looking for Design at the Bottom of a Pint Glass, Pt. 1

With our taproom in the planning phase, we have been actively seeking out design inspiration.

Recently, 4 members of Humble Sea (Nick, Frank, Ben, and Jacob) descended upon the Greater San Francisco Bay Area in search of inspiration for our upcoming tap room on the West Side of Santa Cruz. Normally, when we hit the City, we are on the hunt for great beer. On this particular trip, beer took a passenger position to interior design. Primarily, we were seeking out those places where design intersects with a communal space, and a business’ philosophy and passion collide with practical, physical spaces. 

Miraculously, we managed to work in quite a bit of great beer.  

If you know where our tap room is slated to open, you might have a slight sense of some of the challenges we’re facing. First and foremost is size. We’re going to be honest here; it’s just not that big. The building we chose for our 10 barrel system has just enough legroom for all of the fermentors, boilers, mills and pumps we can afford. For now. We’re lucky that the space also comes with frontage on Swift Street that’s just big enough for an iconic, custom bar and some stools, but that’s about all we have space to start with. 

This constraint inspired us to research, small, comfortable places and focus on the finer details of how to make a crowded space functional.

Sightglass Coffee

Dropping into tasting rooms and bottle shops all day long meant we needed a little juice to work on. Besides, when thinking of comfortable, well designed spaces meant for building a communal atmosphere, you simply can't gloss over the local coffee shop.

Frank recommended we start at Sightglass Coffee on 7th Street.

We were impressed by this wall of hanging racks in the entryway to Sightglass. Simple, beautiful, and protected. 

We were impressed by this wall of hanging racks in the entryway to Sightglass. Simple, beautiful, and protected. 

We decided early on that bike accessibility will be very important to our space. The biking community is prolific in Santa Cruz. It’s its own culture of pedalheads who ride, eat, and drink together. We want them to have a place to rest without worry. 

Situated just off of Highway 1, and only a few blocks from the beautifully scenic West Cliff bike path, we’re sitting in the middle of a bike rider’s fantasy. And who doesn’t like a pint of beer after a long pedalfest up the coast? Probably no one.

Oh and then there’s the fact that we’re sitting directly on the railroad tracks– the future home of the Santa Cruz Rail Trail. A few years from now, you’ll be able to bike smoothly from downtown and beyond, directly to our backyard in only a few minutes, all on one path.

So, you can see how having ample, accessible, easy to use bike racks is going to be important to us. And they have to look good. Look at how the entrance at Sightglass pulls in elements of the outdoors with the hanging plants, stone, and wood, yet it prepares you to transition inside, where wood is paired with steel, aluminum and brass. 

This table didn't just look hip as hell, it makes good use of a small space; providing a surface for at least four people to enjoy themselves for an extended period of time.

This table didn't just look hip as hell, it makes good use of a small space; providing a surface for at least four people to enjoy themselves for an extended period of time.

The lighting in Sightglass was an element that demanded attention immediately. The place was full of floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights; flooding the room with natural light. 

This atrium-like skylight flooded the first and second floor with natural light.

This atrium-like skylight flooded the first and second floor with natural light.

It brought to mind an interesting dilemma for us: do we open up the windows, raise some ceilings and use light colors to make our space as big as it can feel, or do we incorporate elements of old world pubs (dark wood, low ceilings, charming little trinkets) and make the place a comforting, and intimate den? 

The artificial light was warm, and very intentional– complementing the natural light well– and represented in custom, eye-grabbing installations.

We’re definitely going to need some of these.

We’re definitely going to need some of these.

This thing was quite the light fixture

This thing was quite the light fixture

For us, the takeaway from Sightglass was that it's possible to incorporate many different elements into one cohesive experience. It's not just the details that make the space– a surface meant to seat more people in a small space, or a beautiful light fixture– but those details need to play off each other to create a comfortable, impressive experience.

City Beer

This says it all

This says it all

Our next stop was just around the corner, and a little more in our wheelhouse. There’s little we can do to replicate a wide open space like Sightglass, aside from incorporating concepts we find in the finer details. What we needed to see was small spaces where people flock to imbibe beer.

The first place that came to mind was City Beer Store on Folsom. 

This space has that small, pub-like quality we were pondering earlier. Dark wood, dark wallpaper, low ceilings. Familiar; like having a pint at home. Except we don’t have fresh kegs of Sante Adairius, Alvarado Street, and Fieldwork on draft at home.   

This corner intrigued us. The dark, 3/4 wall made the place feel smaller than it would have otherwise. The artwork was like that artwork in your house from that friend of yours who everyone thinks should get paid to make art for a living. 

This corner intrigued us. The dark, 3/4 wall made the place feel smaller than it would have otherwise. The artwork was like that artwork in your house from that friend of yours who everyone thinks should get paid to make art for a living. 

The details were all perfectly familiar, down to the simple pint and chalkboard menus.

The details were all perfectly familiar, down to the simple pint and chalkboard menus.

The takeaway from City Beer Store? Small works. Comfortable is good. There's something warm and inviting about a room that's not overly open and bright. Beer drinkers like that.

Cellarmaker 

If you’re in the area of City Beer Store and you’re interested in looking at how taprooms work in small spaces, you can't avoid Cellarmaker on Howard Street.

To be honest, we debated even stopping here because most of us are at Cellarmaker so often that we could tell you the color of the toilet seats. But we couldn’t argue when someone brought up the tap list for the day.

We decided to go take a good, hard look at just how they handle the demand in such a small place.

And maybe have just a couple Mo’ Simcoes.

It's not quite a cave, but some people have hibernated in here

It's not quite a cave, but some people have hibernated in here

It was so busy that we didn’t snap too many pictures, but Cellarmaker plays both sides of the comfy/airy argument: dark walls, and dark elements of wood and finished metal, but large, open windows, and high ceilings. 

Having a long, open bar plan with an angle is a key element in a space like this. It provides more seating and leaning space, with more surface area for customer-to-beertender contact (platonically). Spreading out the service area and promoting the old belly-up-to-the-bar model reduces the line and alleviates a little of that Leming anxiety.

The most important thing we learned from Cellarmaker is that, even if you have a small space, if you provide something good, people will find room.

After Cellarmaker, we were an average of three beers deep and hungry, so we found our way to some BBQ on Haight Street. 

We found this interesting mural on the way. Anyone know a good muralist?

We found this interesting mural on the way. Anyone know a good muralist?

Toronado

To balance the scales, we took our BBQ into Toronado; a local beer staple since the 60’s. We heard it was a place to get a good craft beer among familiar faces, surrounded by local charm and history.

Just with that short introduction, you might have already pictured the whole place plastered with stickers and vintage signs. Of course it was. Which reminded of us that every brewery we love incorporates a little bit of the grunge and punk scene. We at least need one sticker wall in the brewhouse.

A regular patron even gave our Assistant Brewer, Jacob, a new hairdo, and publicly ridiculed our Brewer, Ben’s, choice in footwear (he wore Birkenstocks to San Francisico).

So much charm.

Man buns are in, right?

Man buns are in, right?

With enough BBQ and potato salad to absorb another 5 rounds, we slammed back what was left of our pints of Rare Barrel and sloshed out the door in search of more great beer.

I mean interior design.

Pt. 2 of our saga coming soon