South Park's neighborhood brewery zeroes in on its identity

Less fish, more beer

The remodeled dining room at South Park Brewing Company
  • The remodeled dining room at South Park Brewing Company

"I believe every neighborhood should have its own brewery," says Scot Blair. That's why, four years after opening Monkey Paw Brewing in East Village, Blair launched South Park Brewing Company last year to serve the neighborhood he calls home. The two breweries share the same award-winning brewer — Cosimo Sorrentino — and both serve food in a casual atmosphere.

However, the identity of each has been defined as much by its respective neighborhood as its beer. Monkey Paw is mostly surrounded by warehouses and freeways, and serves 30 taps of house and guest beers alongside a full bar and cheesesteak-centric kitchen. It's a drinking stop for people leaving work, going to a Padres game, and for beer pros meeting to drink and discuss beer.

By contrast, South Park Brewing sees single-family homes in every direction, leaving it to stake an identity as one of San Diego's rare residential neighborhood breweries — as appealing to young families as it is couples and friends looking for an approachable meeting place. Since it sits next door to Blair's original beer-centric business — Hamilton's Tavern — beer pilgrims coming to South Park to drink and discuss beer already have that sort of destination.

When South Park Brewing opened, it was designed to double as a fish market and seafood restaurant. After some retooling of the menu over the past year, the fish market aspect was officially scrapped this summer, and in July the brewery underwent a remodel to remove the large glass fish counter.

Blair says he'd originally envisioned a restaurant akin to successful Mission Hills seafood restaurant Blue Water, but with beer. While he thinks the concept is sound — as evidenced by recent openings of likeminded Beerfish in North Park and Shore Rider in La Jolla — he's come to realize the effort that goes into being a fishmonger pulls focus from the brewery's strengths. Instead, he's adapting to the ways his customers approach the space.

"It’s my job to listen to the story being told," Blair explains, "and settle in as our identity becomes more apparent based on our failures and successes…I finally feel like our identity of what and who we are and want to be, for both the South Park and San Diego beer communities, are clear."

He expects the newly remodeled kitchen — which it shares with Hamilton's — to improve quality and expedite preparation. The revised menu carries over the more popular seafood offerings — including ceviche, fish tacos, and oysters — while adding comfort food items along the lines of burgers and grilled sandwiches.

It also expands the scope of South Park's food-friendly beer. While Sorrentino initially focused on a few beer styles that paired well with seafood, the expanded menu has opened the door for him to produce a greater variety. In its first year, South Park Brewing poured guest beers to fill out its 13 handles. These days, house beer usually pours from all taps.

Losing the fish counter also made room for additional seating and improved flow in the restaurant's dining room, increasing its value to the community as a gathering space and setting it up to host Hamilton's beer-pairing dinners in the near future.

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