On Saturday evening, social media began lighting up with reports that the last day of business for Bluegrass Brewing Company's original location in St. Matthews would be Sunday, January 29.
Two old friends were there for dinner last night, and their server let them know. Another friend learned the same way, and still others have stopped by to pick up their Wort Hog Club mugs. A few employees issued social media "wait and sees," and we must do so, although something clearly is afoot.
Sunday passed without official confirmation of these reports, perhaps because the various rumors all came with an asterisk attached: The "other" BBC location at 3rd and Main opposite the KFC Yum! Center, which has its own small brewing system, is to remain open for business.
My prediction: Whatever else comes of this, it probably has far more to do with the price of square footage in St. Matthews and pure, hard business decisions than a decline in popularity. There are no indications that business hasn't been good, but it's an expensive piece of ground, and the entertainment demographic in St. Matthews has changed considerably.
Also, BBC's owner Pat Hagan recently expanded his portfolio to include a Craft House in Crescent Hill and another in Germantown. The latter was euthanized after only a few months in operation, and a new fast casual concept (with the same ownership) is about to reappear there under the banner Goss Ave. Pub.*
There's nothing like bleeding money to suggest reining in costs and recouping cash, especially if Hagan still is planning on rebuilding the 4th Street location in the new Kindred Building.
If so, perhaps St. Matthews is the redundant cog in spite of its ancient tradition and the fact that the older brewery kit there was upgraded within the past couple of years, when brewer David Pierce returned after a stint at NABC.
The market for used equipment remains solid, and the smaller 3rd Street brewery would be capable of supporting the remaining locations. Regrettably, jettisoning the St. Matthews brewhouse has a certain logic.
I'm just like one of those ex-coaches calling ballgames, and only guessing. But the pain is real. BBC St. Matthews pioneered the local craft beer scene way back in 1993, and outside of my own two pubs, I've spent more time atop bar stools there than anywhere else. My mug's #66, and that tells you something.
The last 15 months in the "craft" beer biz have been brutal and tumultuous, quite apart from the many mergers and acquisitions. Mitch Steele left Stone, and Dan Kopman's gone from Schlafly. Phil Dearner works for Pabst, not Goodwood. Hell, I'm gone, myself. Now if they'd only pay me ...
It seemed so right to have Pierce back in St. Matthews, and now it's almost unimaginable that neither he nor BBC will be there any longer.
And you're still wondering why I'm no better than a reluctant capitalist.
* For those interested in foreshadowing, consider this ominous passage from Steve Coomes' preview of Goss Ave. Pub:
The 50 craft beers on draft will be reduced to about a fifth of that number, while the rest of the lineup will include 20 domestics and 20 imports. Pitchers will be on offer, and beer bucket and cocktail specials will be standards during games.
“There will be a lot of beers people will recognize and be comfortable with,” he said. “Craft beer’s expensive, so it allows us to keep costs down with what we’re going to now.”