Fort Point’s New Taproom Stands Out

The new space on Valencia Street that feels anything like yet another industrial brewery.

Fort Point Beer Co. welcomes you to its new taproom with this badass neon piece by Shawna Peterson. Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

If you’ve ever worked in a bookstore, you know the challenge of someone coming in with a firm idea of the novel they’re looking for — only not by title or author. “It’s sorta turquoise with a little panda on the cover,” they’ll say. “And it’s about that big.”

It’s not just books, apparently.

Fort Point Beer Co.’s new taproom on Valencia Street is built around the Presidio craft brewery’s distinct style, with boldly colored six-pack boxes that depict stylized versions of landmarks like Sutro Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge. Because some people remember the packaging better than they remember that the tropical IPA is called Animal or the KSA is the house Kolsch.

“People come to us because they love our packaging,” says creative director Dina Dobkin, whose husband Justin Catalana is also one of the cofounders. “A lot of people will be like, ‘Oh, I love your blue beer. I like your orange beer.’ They don’t know the names, but they respond to the color of the can.”

But simply exporting those graphics to the interior of a 3D space — a wallpaper print, say — would feel obvious. So Dobkin went a different route. An architect whose portfolio at Fort Point expanded to include the company’s design, she worked with Bay Area neon artist Shawna Peterson to fabricate two pieces that pay homage to the brewery’s iconic linearity. The installation in the rear is that delightfully lurid red of true neon, while the blue piece up front hangs on a deeper blue wall. Color is a big part of the project, Dobkin says.

“On a small object it’s one thing, but when you apply it to a space it can really shift the mood and tone,” she says. “So that’s why in the front we have this bold blue to pull people in from the outside, and a naturally low ceiling that creates this little color tunnel that’s transformative. As you walk in, it makes this double-height space seem even more light and airy because of the contrast.”

With its skylights, the room changes through the course of the day, too, making it look markedly different at various hours of the day. Dobkin wanted to capitalize on its features to draw as much beer drinkers in from Valencia Street as she could — and not just because a lot of beer drinkers walk down Valencia.

“Our Presidio facility doesn’t allow people,” she says. “But we get foot traffic, because in Google it says we’re open and we can’t get Google to fix it — so people come there all the time. We’re psyched to be here.”

Notably, the taproom is not a brewery. All production remains several miles away, near the spot where Kim Novak threw herself into the Bay in Vertigo. Therefore, filling it with brick, rusty metal, and reclaimed wood and the industrial motifs of most breweries that are open to the public wouldn’t be entirely honest. So, as with places like Temescal Brewery and Rose’s Taproom in Oakland, the emphasis was on making this project a welcoming place for people to hang out in what feels a little like a Helsinki cafe from the year 2035, drinking beer that’s “familiar, but different — and a little bit better,” as Dobkin puts it.

Executive Chef Eric Ehler deliberately created a menu that avoids one-to-one food-and-beer pairings in lieu of “tasty and highly craveable food that goes really well with drinkable beer.” Fort Point’s ethos is nothing too eccentric or over-the-top in flavor — the weirdest offering is probably Manzanita, a smoky beer made with wood from the tree of the same name that is still very balanced and non-threatening — so he tried to match that with recognizable versions of 13 or so things that are easy to eat, like fried potatoes, cheeseburgers, and Crab Rangoon. The kitchen serves food every day from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., and while working in it, Ehler admits he’d gotten used to drinking beers warm to save on fridge space. But he’s also partial to drink KSA over ice, favoring lighter beer by day to stay productive all night.

“I go out all the time,” he says. “I have Margarita Mondays with my friends at Los Yaquis or Tommy’s Joynt. Hopefully, this becomes someone else’s Margarita Monday, like ‘Let’s get a cheeseburger and a couple KSAs.’ I want my industry friends to add it to their rotations. There’s not a lot of places you can go and hang out on Mondays.”

“We don’t need to be ultra-precious and make beer into wine,” Dobkin says. “We’re into food, but we don’t need to put it on this crazy pedestal. You’re coming here to hang out.”

As Bay Area breweries open taprooms all over — Fieldwork is set to have seven more in short order — Fort Point isn’t quite on an expansion blitz. There’s a small space in the Ferry Building already, and their Mill Valley Beerworks property is set to get a refresh and reopen as a proper Fort Point location (as is a small spot in Rockridge that they haven’t opened yet). It’s the January acquisition and forthcoming renovation of Black Sands Brewery in the Lower Haight that might be the other big change.

“We started brewing Black Sands’ beers,” Dobkin says. “But not the Black Sands beers that were previously at Black Sands. That will be a subgroup for us, going with the thing that Fort Point is a drinkable beer that even beer people get into. I think the Black Sands people are beer-nerdy, and maybe we would try to make something we wouldn’t make under the Fort Point umbrella. It’s a chance for us to experiment.”

In that vein, Fort Point has draft-only beers that debut once a month or so. It’s the beginning of the product pipeline, a opportunity to play around before something joins the existing line of nine sessionable canned beers, and while Dobkin can’t reveal the details of what’s coming in 2020, she assures us that there will be growlers to go. And Fort Point’s sought-after dim sum event at Hong Kong Lounge II in the Richmond during Beer Week every February isn’t going anywhere. It’s their “crown jewel event,” Dobkin says.

“There’s this guy who celebrates his birthday there every single year,” she adds. “Last year I got him his ticket. It’s kind of similar to our concept of not making beer into something it’s not. It’s the perfect place to drink our beer. But this is our chance to host people.”

Fort Point Beer Co. Tap Room, 742 Valencia St., 415-214-8712 or fortpointbeer.com.

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