San Marcos grows around a brewery

"We're basically the anchor tenant of the whole city."

The unveiling of an anchor property in North City.
  • The unveiling of an anchor property in North City.

From Vista to Chula Vista, craft breweries have increasingly been seen by local cities as cornerstone businesses capable of anchoring economic development projects. Perhaps no project has taken this concept to heart more than the North City development in San Marcos. And Monday, April 10th, at 5 p.m., its cornerstone opened for business with the official launch of Urge Common House and its onsite brewery Mason Ale Works.

Urge Common House + Mason Ale Works

255 Redel Road, San Marcos

To call either enterprise an ambitious undertaking might be selling them short. Pitching it as "North County's downtown," San Marcos has been actively turning 220 acres adjacent to its Cal State University campus into a high-density urban village, creating a mixture of student housing, apartment buildings, and hospitality businesses.

"They call it North City. It isn't downtown San Diego, this is north San Diego," says Mason Ale co-owner Zachary Higson, "and we're basically the anchor tenant of the whole city."

For Higson and his partners in the 3 Local Brothers hospitality group — Grant Tondro and brother Nate Higson — this makes the third Urge-branded property and fifth restaurant overall. However, none have operated on the scale of this more than $6 million investment.

Fixtures at Urge Common House include couch seating and personal TVs, and lighting made from kegs.

Fixtures at Urge Common House include couch seating and personal TVs, and lighting made from kegs.

Urge Common House occupies a full acre of land, complete with a 450-seat full-service restaurant, a boutique bowling alley, two private event spaces, and a 15-barrel production brewhouse for Mason Ale Works, which launched 16 months ago in Oceanside. It also features 13,000 square feet of outdoor space, offering counter service, bocce ball courts, live music, and games including corn hole and giant Jenga.

"You could put almost all of our restaurants inside this one," Higson says of the massive undertaking. Foodwise, the menu echoes the burgers and elevated pub fare of the other Urge restaurants in Rancho Bernardo and Oceanside, with the addition of flatbread. It also offers 42 beer taps, rotating numerous guest beers in addition to Mason Ale's.

The onsite brewhouse will be used to produce Mason's core beers, largely to feed a shiny new canning line that arrived the same day as the restaurant's opening. Mason Ales only began distributing canned beer four months ago, and the new machine will quickly help the company expand its footprint. "We launch in Orange County and L.A. next month," says Tondro, noting the launch will include a canned collaboration with Kern River Brewing and Eagle Rock Brewery, to be called Gutterball Trio.

That reference is to the bowling alley that may be the standout amenity of the whole restaurant and brewery complex. Cult-comedy film The Big Lebowski is the theme of the alley, featuring large screen prints of the movie's central character, the Dude, as well as a dedicated White Russian bar, offering ten different takes on the Dude's drink of choice.

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