Downtown St. Petersburg's bar scene crept even further up Central Avenue last month, with the soft opening of Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe at the far west end of the Grand Central District.
As its name suggests, Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe carries more than 300 bottled and canned beers, as well as more than 75 wines. However, it's also a proper bar, stocking eight beers on tap and a half-dozen or so wines by the glass. A deli counter features a range of sandwiches named after music festivals.
The bottle shop and bar combo has been done locally — Craft Beer Cellar in Brandon and Jug & Bottle Dept. in Tampa, for example — but it's a model that's surprisingly underutilized. Maybe the licensing is tricky, or maybe it's expensive running a tasting room that operates largely under retail margins.
The second one was my concern after spending a night at Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe. It's a big place in a rapidly growing part of town. How sustainable is it to offer $2 beers in a space like this?
At most beer bars, you're looking at $6 to $8 per beer. Indeed, Hawthorne's draft beers fall into this range. But if you hop on over to the retail section, you'll find dozens of beers in the $2 to $5 range, and I'm not just talking about Old Milwaukee (though they have that, too). No corkage fee, either.
Naturally, I'm not complaining, but spending hours at the bar and settling a tab for two people that's cheaper than something I'd rack up flying solo at most other places is a bit jarring. If Hawthorne has done the math and it works out, then I don't think they'll have any trouble drawing a crowd indefinitely.
Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe is conspicuously roomy given its strip-mall location, but it never feels excessive. Its smart floor plan includes a variety of seating options and hangout nooks in the terrazzo-floored main lounge, sandwiched between the retail shop and a partially enclosed outdoor patio with backyard furniture, decorative wood doors and unfinished, exposed rafters.
The three rooms are entirely distinct, but they all flow together, allowing for plenty of space at peak hours without feeling like an empty cavern during slower times.
While there's a definite appeal in drinking the cheap stuff from the cooler, I'd also recommend having a look at the current draft list, which is concise but excellent. Opening selections included a few surprise brews, like the Alouette cranberry sour saison and Frank White (there's somewhat of a Biggie theme at Hawthorne) pineapple Northeast-style IPA from Miami's J. Wakefield Brewing. The latter beer, if I understand correctly, is a Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe exclusive.
I also learned that Hawthorne has a deal in the works with Tampa's Hidden Springs Ale Works, where they will act as a Pinellas-side outlet for the brewery's wares, including brewery exclusives and limited releases. This kind of collaboration with local breweries can really set a place apart, and I think it will go a long way in keeping the place fresh beyond the initial opening boom.
The combination of price, selection and environment at Hawthorne Bottle Shoppe seems too good to be true. You could have several premium brews — not just sad leftovers priced to move — with your friends in a hip new spot, complete with a fresh deli sandwich (throw in a vegan option and I'll become a regular), and not crack the $20 mark. That's pretty tough to beat.
We'll see how sustainable this model is, but for now, I'm going to trust that the folks at Hawthorne know exactly what they're doing. The setup there is great, and I'd love to see it last.