You and Scott Safford own Tap & Bottle. Ten years ago, you were a server at Café Poca Cosa. Can you lead us from then to now?
Working at a local institution like Café Poca Cosa was an important foundation for what we’re doing at Tap & Bottle. I got to take part in a successful business that’s been going for a long time, even when downtown wasn’t what downtown is now. Poca Cosa is run by a strong woman, and this planted the seeds for thinking about how I’d run a business. I’d be there, I’d be involved every step of the way, and I’d be downtown, because that’s what I love about Tucson.
Fast forward 10 years, my partner Scott and I envisioned a place where we would want to hang out, as professionals who have remained in Tucson and love beer. We were both really passionate about craft brewing. We planned vacations around visiting breweries and loved spending time at local breweries—Barrio, Dragoon, 1055, Borderlands. We wanted to create a similar environment where you could also have a unique bottle selection from around the U.S. and around the world. We would go to California or Colorado and travel with huge coolers to bring back beer for our friends and ourselves. Why not own that space? Tucson has breweries, we have restaurants with great craft beer, restaurants that highlight great wine; we wanted a place to bring it all together—hence the name.
What were your strategies for building relationships with local breweries, wineries, and the Tucson community?
Our engagement with the community started before we opened, when Tap & Bottle was just an idea. In order to be a thriving business in this town, we needed friends to support us and answer questions. Some of these relationships we’d been fostering long, long before we opened. Scott and I are really new to some of this—we didn’t know how to set up beer and wine taps or a cask system. People have been incredible [in helping us]. It’s been about friendships and businesses helping businesses and it continues to grow with events like tap takeovers or when local breweries release new beers. We want to feature what’s happening in our beer community. Even if they’re happening outside our space, we’re all supporting each other to support the craft. Tap & Bottle’s philosophy is that it’s not just about Tap & Bottle. It’s about craft as a whole. It’s not Tucson versus Phoenix, or Tucson versus Flagstaff. It’s about how we can support communities as a whole.
Tap & Bottle promotes both drinking and eating local. How?
We’re constantly changing the beer and wine tap lists to highlight what’s happening in our town and our state. Typically, one or two wines are from Arizona wineries, and we usually feature several Arizona beers. Because we don’t serve food, we encourage guests to support local takeout from Gio Taco, Brooklyn Pizza, Martin’s, Tasteful Kitchen, Empire Pizza, and Food for Ascension. We provide food on site three nights a week with food trucks that serve all kinds of different cuisine, like Indian, Cajun, Vietnamese, and Mexican. They focus on the food; we focus on the beverages. Everyone benefits from a lovely place to eat and drink. Plus, we are walking distance to downtown and Fourth Avenue. We hope that encourages people to make more than one stop at local businesses.
We are dedicated to serving our community and our neighborhood. I want to be the neighborhood beer and bottle shop. Where you stop by after work and drink a pint, pick up a bottle of wine or a six-pack to go home.
People flock to Tap & Bottle to imbibe more than beer. What do you hope guests will experience in your space?
We want it to be a friendly place that encourages discussion, so there are no televisions. We want people to feel comfortable coming in alone. The staff includes brewers, and people with experience in other local spots—they all bring in their friends. It’s fun to see people having meetings here, like brewers clubs that will come in to open different bottles and taste test. The guys from Borderlands will stop by. I see people in the industry hanging out here. A lot of times when restaurants are looking to expand their list, they’ll come taste from the bottle shop.
In terms of architecture, I wanted Tap & Bottle to feel like it had been around a while. A space that wasn’t new and shiny. I love our old dusty building—it already has so much character despite only being open a year. Tucson didn’t have a craft beer bar and bottle shop but we wanted it to feel organic and authentic. Like once you started going there, you couldn’t even imagine what it was like before you had that favorite space where you go all the time.
It’s fun, we have a good time here and you can feel it. At least one night a week we have local music and it contributes to a great environment. The shows are always free and the door is open so you can come by anytime.
What are the joys and challenges of being a female in the craft beer world, which is largely dominated by males?
I know so many amazing individuals—brewers, vendors, customers. It’s such a fun community. Everyone is so excited and supportive. Yes, at this time, it’s mostly male dominated and that does stand out. You’re constantly dealing with stereotypes, like I didn’t know that girls like beer, or what’s a girly beer you have on tap? People have ideas about the kind of beers men drink and women drink.
I’d say, though, that we’re living in a very exciting time. There are a lot more women entering the craft beer world at all levels, from the brewing process to selling to marketing to owning businesses. At the bar, sometimes there are more women than men. I love when women come in and want to learn more. That’s how the community grows and people come to work in the field. In Tucson, Girls Pint Out started their chapter in October of 2013. Each month there’s an educational and social event—each month it gets bigger and bigger. ✜
Tap & Bottle. 403 N. Sixth Ave. 520.344.8999. TheTapAndBottle.com.
Rachel Mindell grew up in Tucson and currently lives in Montana, where she teaches and writes poetry.