With no shortage of independent craft beer breweries in the bay area, the owners of St. Pete watering hole Right Around the Corner are taking something of a risk by adding their very own, made-in-the-back-room brews to the menu.
Tom Rockhill and John McMahan don’t see it that way. For one thing, at 2244 Central Avenue, it’s right in the heart of the city’s popular Grand Central District and already has decidedly devoted clientele.
And RATC, which opened its doors eighteen months ago, is an “arcade” bar – there are 15 vintage arcade and pinball games, ringing and buzzing and flashing garish lights and colors, located throughout the 1,400-square foot building. There’s a big-screen TV where patrons line up to play classic Nintendo 64, plus the usuals – pool and foosball tables, a corner for throwing steel-tipped darts – and even quiet tables for playing Clue, Monopoly and other old-school board games. All, presumably, with beer stein in hand.
Still, insists McMahan, “The goal from day one was to become a brewery. It was just a matter of when.”
After crowdsourcing their seed money, the friends took over the front room of the former TropicCool gelato bar in the fall of 2006. The fruity confections were made in the commercial kitchen out back.
“We took over the retail space,” says McMahan. “He continued to manufacture gelato in the back, while we operated as a bar in the front.”
From the start, he adds, “since we didn’t have the capital to start our brewery, we decided to go craft beer bar and focus on what we love. All the beers on tap, and all 40 beers in the cooler, are beers that we would drink. Based on our tastes. And that’s the same thing we do with our brewing.
Seventy-five percent of the beers at RATC are brewed either locally or in Florida.
“The original plan was for TropicCool to outgrow the kitchen and move into a bigger one, and then we’d take over the kitchen and turn it into a brewery. Because what are the differences between making gelato and beer? In terms of a commercial kitchen, it’s almost nothing.”
But TropicCool went out of business altogether, and Rockhill – founder of the St. Pete Brew Club – and McMahon, whose background is in marketing, went into action. They’d already been crafting their own small batches for family and friends, learning and experimenting with tastes they all loved.
Right Around the Corner will debut as a brewery and bar April 7 and 8. A weekend-long celebration is planned.
“One thing about breweries,” McMahan says, “when you go to a brewery, you usually have to drink their beer. You come here, you don’t like our beer, cool. We’re still going to have guest taps.”
There are 15 taps now, double the number when the doors first opened. Three are always dedicated to sour beers like Gosa and Berliner Weisse.
The RATC creations, McMahan explains, will include “classic styles and unique beers, like a toasted coconut coffee porter; watermelon wheat; and a classic blonde treated with strawberries and blueberries.”
Quite a bit of research went into the beer menu. “We really get to venture out and create what we want to create,” says McMahan, “but we also have a year and a half’s worth of data of what people like. And what people buy.
“That being said, we’ve gotten to taste so many different beers from breweries all over the country, all over the world. So we take what we like and we can duplicate it, or mix it up a little bit. But we have the data to create something you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a unique opportunity.”
Right Around the Corner co-owner John McMahan, right, with artist and illustrator Bobby Riedel (robertnriedel.com), who's painting the mural for the bar's new beer garden.
The former gelato-making plant is now devoted to artisanal beers.