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Habitat Tavern and Commons is set to open its doors this Friday. It will welcome people into a gorgeous, light-filled space partitioned into two main areas: the bar and the Commons, a gathering place for community members. Local beers will be on tap, and brewing plans are in the works. Habitat will be pouring its own beer for patrons in the New Year.
Owner and brewer Matt Addis is opening Habitat with his wife, Jennifer, and friend Jonathan Myers. Although Matt grew up in Charlotte, the trio met in the Pacific Northwest, where they were impressed with area bars that were vital and connected parts of communities and neighborhoods. "The brewery was my idea," says Matt. "I've been brewing a while and I realized it was what I really wanted to do. We were living in the Northwest, in Portland at the time and decided to move back this way. Asheville seemed to be the obvious location for moving from a culture like Portland, and the beer culture was flourishing. I have connections here, so it's felt like a homecoming."
The community engagement piece fell into place naturally. "Jonathan and I met quite a while ago," says Matt. "He'd done some community organizing and non-profit work in Seattle, and I wanted community engagement to be a part of what we did. We wanted to create a space alongside the brewery that could operate as a gathering place, with programming, events, all of that. I started telling him about my vision and the three of us had a lot of conversations. I told him we were going to move to Asheville, and he started making plans to join us."
Matt signed the lease on the space, just down the street from the Moog Factory, about seven months after moving to town. The building, which been previously been occupied by a door manufacturer, "needed a lot of work," he says. Matt and his team built an alcove for the front door to set it back farther from the street and added glass to flood the room with light. They also removed the plaster that covered the walls to expose the brick underneath, and they exposed the gorgeous, 1920s-era ceilings.
Last summer, Matt purchased an old barn in the Candler area and used the wood to make the bar, tables, and much of the accent work. "That's the seventh dumpster we've filled," he says, laughing and pointing to said dumpster out back. With the dumpster out of the way, the space out back will be outfitted with tables and chairs, and Habitat hopes to bring in food trucks. "Ideally we'll do something like what Burial did with Salt and Smoke [their on-site food vendor]," says Matt. We'll build a little shack out back and have someone here all the time, hopefully by next summer.
"That feels like it will happen naturally," he continues, "when we meet the right person or come across the right opportunity. Our goal right now is to have food trucks here two nights a week. I don't have any intention of doing food myself. That's way outside my wheelhouse."
What most certainly isn't outside his wheelhouse is beer. "We'll have a one and a half or two-barrel system to start," he says. "Innovation Brewing in Sylva started at the same size, and they just bought a seven-barrel system. We have space for 10 barrels, but I'm leaning towards seven." Habitat doesn't currently have goals for distribution, but plans to reevaluate in a few years. "We have no current plans to go outside of WNC at this time," Matt says, "but we'll see."
And what kinds of beer will be on tap? Habitat will concentrate on standards, especially during its first several months of brewing.
It would be really hard to bring something to the Asheville beer scene that it didn't have already, but my focus is really just standards. A lot of people are branching out, opening sour houses, etc, and I love all of that. But at the end of the day, stouts, porters, IPAs, those kinds of beers are my go-to. The metaphor I always use is that beer is like sandwiches. You can have a crazy deli that does all this creative stuff, but at end of the day it's the classics that a lot of people want: ham and Swiss, pastrami and rye. That's my perspective. That won't keep us from doing some creative stuff down the road, but my focus is on making standard beers that are really good quality.
While the beer will be classic, what will be new on the scene is Habitat's emphasis on community. The Commons space, which can be separated off from the bar area completely, will be a spot for community events, including Professors and a Pint, a monthly series scheduled to begin in December. Happening on the first Tuesday of the month, Professors and a Pint will feature UNCA professors from a variety of disciplines who will discuss their research. The evenings will last about 1 and 1/2 hours, opening with a talk and moving into a Q&A period. In December, a professor whose specialty is entrepreneurship and small business will speak, along with a few local entrepreneurs. A neuroscientist, scheduled to come in the new year, is currently researching the effects of brain games on memory.The Commons. Source: Habitat
The space will also welcome other community leaders and organizers, including the local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), who is planning a film screening and discussion night. "We honestly want to meet the neighbors and see what people want to do," says Matt. " We have the ability to show films and have speakers. We have a dual sound system, and we can split off the Commons so people can come and go in the bar area while something separate is going on in here. I'm really excited about the possibilities."
Other events, including art openings, classes, and live music, are in the works. "The walls in here are intentionally bare right now so we can hang some art," says Matt. "We may have rotating artists, and a couple of folks have said they'd love to create work for the space, so we need to figure out what that would entail. I'd love to have gallery nights and have the artists come out. The space could also easily fit easels, and I've talked with artists in the River Arts District about teaching classes early on a Saturday morning. By the time class is done, students can have a beer or a glass of wine."
For Jennifer, it was also important to create a family-friendly space. "I loved that about a lot of Portland breweries," she says. "They were family friendly, and there was often a designated area for kids. We have children, and we want this to be a neighborhood thing and not just another bar. I love bars, but yeah--we want it to be homey enough that you could bring your kids and hang out for a little bit. They'll be welcome and comfortable."
The crew plans to create a kids' play space in one corner of the Commons room, complete with toys and a chalkboard wall.
Another plus? The parking. Matt notes that "We'll probably have the biggest parking area of any brewery, besides Sierra Nevada (laughs)." The lot across the street will be available, as will the Moog lot after 5 pm and on weekends.
The decision to be a little bit off the beaten beer path was deliberate. "We're a little outside of the South Slope/heart of downtown loop, but we're not in Weaverville," says Matt. "We're clearly and intentionally a part of the Asheville scene, and we really wanted to be. We were seeking to be a part of the neighborhood. It worked out to find this place. It's an absolute miracle."
"I think culturally, a lot of things are shifting," he continues. "People are gathering more at places like this rather than at churches, conference centers, and other spots, especially in the South. That culture is already there on the West Coast in a lot of ways, but it's definitely changing here, particularly in Asheville.
"Places like this are becoming the centers of the neighborhood. So we want to help provide that."
Habitat Tavern and Commons will open its doors this week at 174 Broadway St., Asheville, 28801. Ko keep up with them on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and be in the know first. Until their own brewing permits get approved, they'll be serving up local flavors from Innovation, One World, Burial, Wicked Weed, and more. They'll also have Blue Blaze sodas and a small wine list.