Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Skybox Manager Embracing Local Brews as Keys to Success

Last week, I attended the Mother Earth Brewing beer dinner hosted by Skybox Grill & Bar at the North Raleigh Hilton. In the days since, I've had an ongoing conversation with manager Chris Allen about his efforts to bring in more local and craft beers and break free from the perception that Skybox is "just another hotel bar".

Working across the street, I've been to Skybox for countless lunches, but never really spent time at the bar. So, I decided to pay him a visit on Monday to see what was on tap.

I was pleased to see a good local selection. On the day I visited, they had beers from Big Boss, Mother Earth, Red Oak and two from Foothills ( the Hoppyum IPA is fantastic). They also had other craft favorites from Bell's and Brooklyn Brewing.

Chris said that offering a good mix of local beers makes sense for a bar that gets most of its business from the hotel.

"People who are traveling always ask for something local" and having a variety on tap (and in bottles) lets him showcase some of the quality beers that North Carolina has to offer.

Aside from exposing local beer to out-of-town visitors, he wants to make Skybox an attractive place for the hometown crowd to get great beer at reasonable prices. Because the bar is owned by the hotel, he has less overhead, which means he can sell drinks at lower prices.

He pointed to the Mother Earth Weeping Willow Wit I was drinking, and said, "You can get that same beer downtown, but it'll cost $7.50 for a bottle."

"And look at all these TVs. We're a serious sports bar. You can come in on any Sunday and watch every game."

What he left out was the ample, free parking.

So what's next? Chris says he's planning more beer-pairing events like the one I attended and he's actively working to expand his local and craft selection, hoping to soon double the number of beers on tap and offer 20-plus new bottles.

I certainly hope he's successful in doing that, because the only thing I like better than a good local craft beer is one that's conveniently located and relatively cheap.

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