There is a certain type of person that the new Beer Market Co. Kitchen + Bar on Studemont will likely be unable to please. She was at the new craft beer spot last night, sipping from a sweaty glass of Sauvignon Blanc ("I only like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand!" she proclaimed to her companion) and berating the general manager for not having a better selection of beer.
"You need to have more American beers," she complained, seemingly overlooking the fact that most of the 365 beers available at Beer Market Co. were, in fact, American. And even though she didn't look like the kind of woman who appreciates irony, she added: "You know, like Stella."
Sadly for Ms. Sauvignon Blanc, Stella Artois (which is a Belgian lager) is not one of the hundreds of beers lining the refrigerated cases at Beer Market Co. Happily, for the rest of us, the selection of mostly craft brews is otherwise extensive and mostly well-curated. Advertised as having those aforementioned 365 beers, it's also certainly the largest craft beer selection in the city (yes, larger even than The Flying Saucer)—though only a handful of those beers are available on draft. The beer menu is organized first by Texas beers, then by country, each section alphabetized. Even New Zealand is represented, though Ms. Sauvignon Blanc likely overlooked this fact in her dogged pursuit of Stella.
But as its name would indicate, Beer Market Co. Kitchen + Bar isn't just a watering hole. Though the joint is less than a week old, its kitchen is already turning out some impressive food, much of which incorporates beer in creative contexts, such as a short rib salad with an Angry Orchard balsamic vinaigrette or chicken tacos with a coleslaw bearing a cream Gulden Draak-based sauce. My favorite was a plate of pretzel sticks the size of baguettes, with a dark, crackly exterior studded with rock salt and a fluffy, soft interior that soaked up the Hans Pils beer-cheese dip served on the side.
"I told them they needed queso!" exclaimed a friendly young woman sitting next to me. "This is Texas after all! But I like that cheese dip," she nodded approvingly toward my plate. "It's close enough."
Like many of Beer Market Co.'s patrons, she told me, she lives next door in the massive apartment complexes that sit to the south, overlooking Memorial Drive and the downtown skyline. The Texadelphia that previously occupied the endcap in this Art Dec-eaux strip center wasn't quite up to snuff as a neighborhood hangout, I was told, but this new spot was already pulling in loyal patrons after only a few days in business. She liked IPAs and was trying to expand her understanding of the style; the bartender handed her a Sculpin from Ballast Point, and she approved giddily.
This is the new face of craft beer: no longer just a spot for beer nerds to congregate over bombers of bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Russian Stouts and check in to Untappd to boast of trying the newest gypsy brewery offering, the modern craft beer bar is entirely more mainstream. Here, there are a dozen flat-screen televisions hanging from the walls. There are women in yoga pants hanging out with their bandanna-ed dogs on the patio. There are Golden Tee machines, and a soundtrack seemingly compiled in preparation for a Chi Omega mixer circa 2001. Beer Market Co. is not The Hay Merchant, nor Petrol Station, nor is it trying to be.
That the same people who run Celtic Gardens and Pub Fiction in Midtown also own Beer Market Co. should not come as a surprise, then. Some people would call Beer Market Co. a watering down of the craft beer concept, catering to an audience which still demands Stella and can't imagine a bar without arcade golf games. I disagree.
This is the natural progression of craft beer, expanding into markets which previously ordered buckets of adjunct lagers with abandon and expanding horizons and palates as it goes. This was always going to happen. As a concept becomes more popular, more people will hop on the beer-wagon, for better or worse. But if the end result is more people drinking better beer and supporting small breweries, who's to argue with the means?
Some craft beer connoisseurs would rather not see bars like Beer Market Co. open up, serving their beloved brews to what they'd term an unappreciative yuppie crowd. But for every Sauvignon Blanc-sipper demanding Stella Artois at Beer Market Co., I saw a dozen other drinkers asking the bartenders for recommendations—whether for a new IPA or "a spicier chile beer" (lady, you are made of stouter stuff than I). No buckets of cheap swill were to be found. The craft beer movement, as I see it, is succeeding—and places like Beer Market Co. are its success stories.