Protagonist Beer Co.’s new Lower South End location is now open.
With live plants, white oak and another neon sign behind the bar declaring, “We make beer,” the new space — designed by Charlotte’s Cluck Design Collaborative — shares a lot in common with the brewery’s original location in NoDa.
But the new brewery will have something the original location lacks.
“I think what I’m most excited about is just the amount of space and the amount of people we can have in this space, obviously safely right now,” co-founder Mike Salzarulo said.
The extra space will come in handy with COVID-19 cases on the rise again. Salzarulo said the team is taking all precautions ahead of opening the new space to the public. They’re wearing masks and requiring customers to do the same when not seated, they’re cleaning tables between groups and they’re spacing tables 6 feet apart. And for anyone hesitant to spend a lot of time indoors, there is a beer garden filled with picnic tables.
“We have just a massive outdoor area,” Salzarulo said. “I think some people feel safer being outside, as well. We’ve got 150 seats outside with three TVs and a projector.”
Most of the 6,000-square-foot patio is covered and can be heated and used year-round. The taproom, which was previously home to sister businesses The Broken Spoke and Great Wagon Road Distilling Co., boasts a variety of indoor space and private event rooms across its 15,000 square feet. A wall that separated the previous two businesses has been removed, opening up the space even more.
Joining the signature neon “We make beer” sign is a new one that says, “We make pizza.” The brewery boasts an open pizza kitchen that will crank out pizza by the slice or by the pie (an extra large pizza comes in at 28 inches). All of the dough and sauce is made in house. “When you walk in on a busy night you’ll be able to see someone making the dough in the back of the house, someone tossing the dough in front of you and then putting the pizzas in the oven,” Salzarulo said. The brewery will continue to work on the menu, eventually bringing in more appetizers and “family favorites.”
Protagonist’s first location — the “Clubhouse,” as they call it — will be more of an R&D brewery, co-founder and brewer Jeremy Claeys said. The new brewery’s 15-barrel brewhouse dwarfs the original brewery’s two-barrel system and will allow Claeys to re-brew some of Protagonist’s most well-received beers (like Danks Obama, a West Coast-style IPA), as well as a “seasonal revolving door of beers.”
“One of the things we’re really developing over here, and something that’s a sign of the times and something I’m really into as well, is a robust lager program,” Claeys said. “Making sure we always have lager beers that are on, that are available, that are approachable for people. With such a space like this, we just feel really great about having an outdoor beer garden, so we have mugs to kind of match up with our lagers. I love that format, for people to have a nice mug of beer. A 22-ounce mug of lager is just something that’s always been really cool to me.”
Claeys describes his approach to beer as “classic styles plus” — traditional styles with his own twist. In addition to the brewery’s lagers, there will also be several hoppy beers as part of the lineup. Most of the brewery’s beers will be named after classic protagonists. The opening taplist, for example, includes: Mr. Diamond, a cherry wheat named after Neil Diamond’s “Cherry, Cherry;” Quaid, a spiced pecan porter named for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in “Total Recall;” and Kal-El, the name given at birth to the character we know better as Superman.
Protagonist will offer bottle service starting this Friday, where you’ll be able to order 750-ml bottles of the brewery’s mixed-fermentation saisons. Claeys has plans for a bottle-conditioning program in the future and expects the barrel-aging program to grow, as well. (The brewery is already discussing a “barrel swap” program with Great Wagon Road Distilling Co., which moved to NoDa).
“We want nonprofits to be able to come and utilize our space as much as possible, rent-free,” Salzarulo said. “We want to work with nonprofits to have a building and a place to come in and have their meetings or get-togethers within our space.”
Protagonist Lower South End will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
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