In Charlottesville, as elsewhere, craft beer has gone mainstream. What was once a mysterious beverage enjoyed by geeky, bearded, Neanderthals in dark, dingy dives is now everywhere – on the shelves of supermarkets, in convenience stores, and even in refrigerators at gas stations, where we have recently spotted cult favorites like Founders All Day IPA and Lagunitas Sucks Ale.
For more than a decade, Charlottesville’s beer pioneers have been waiting for this boom. Court Square Tavern, South Street Brewery, and Michael’s Bistro all opened long before craft beer was cool. Some of that old guard – e.g. Blue Ridge Brewing and 12th Street Taphouse – couldn’t survive the wait. But, there is no question that the craft beer boom is here.
Evidence abounds. The best family restaurant in town is called “Beer Run,” which can have an hour-long wait for brunch minutes after opening. Breweries along the Nelson 151 attract hundreds of visitors daily, with new ones continuing to open in and around Charlottesville. And, it is virtually impossible for a restaurant to open in Charlottesville, regardless of type, without devoting serious attention to its beer list. Gone are the days when a new restaurant could get by with a few domestics and imports, and leave it at that.
Now, a new entrant is poised to join the fun. In fact, Sedona Taphouse, which plans to open in June on Milmont St., is a direct product of the craft beer boom. Five years ago, its founder, Dennis Barbaro, could hardly be called a hophead. A veteran of restaurant operations, Barbaro had opened 27 restaurants in his career, mostly chains like Chi-Chis, Outback Steakhouse, and Bonefish Grill. As managing partner of a Bonefish Grill in Williamsburg at the time, he recalls being asked one day to add more craft beer to the menu. Barbaro took to his new task immediately. “I became fascinated with the craft beer phenomenon occurring,” Barbaro says.
After four years of on-the-job training in craft beer at Bonefish Grill, Barbaro opened his first Sedona Taphouse in Midlothian in 2011. Barbaro sought to create a destination that would appeal to more people than just the typical beer geek. Craft beer had gone mainstream, and so could a craft beer restaurant. In particular, Barbaro had in mind one set of potential customers that some beer bars had given short shrift: women. “I wanted a place that would appeal to women equally as much as men,” says Barbaro, “a place that I would like to go and enjoy quality food and awesome beer and also a place that my wife and her friends would feel equally comfortable.”
Barbaro succeeded. Sedona Taphouse has been an enormous success, and a full 50% of customers are women. It has been so successful, in fact, that he is ready to open a second (with more in the works). Asked “Why Charlottesville?,” Barbaro cites his fondness for the city, as well as its proximity to local breweries and wineries. Perhaps most important, though, is the presence of Scott Hutson, longtime Managing Partner of Charlottesville’s Bonefish Grille, who will be a partner in the Charlottesville Sedona Taphouse and will manage day-to-day operations.
So, what can we expect from the new Sedona Taphouse? The best indication may be the old one. While Barbaro expects the Charlottesville outpost to develop a character of its own, the food and drink menus will be very similar to those of the Midlothian original, at least initially. Beer lovers can expect a rotating menu of more than fifty draught beers, and 500 more in the bottle (yes, 500). Sedona Taphouse has already built a presence in the industry that also allows it access to rare beers that are particularly appealing to beer aficionados.
As for the food, Barbaro has spent much of his career in restaurant kitchens, and is responsible for recipes of most menu items, from small plates to entrees. Barbaro’s personal favorites include the Acapulco fish tacos, the wagyu sliders, and the Filet Oscar – a hand-cut filet mignon, wood grilled and served with crabmeat, lemon butter and asparagus. Barbaro also recently hired Executive Chef Jordan Clegger, who most recently ran the kitchen of Richmond’s Mosaic.