On rotation: New Harrisburg venues offer showcase for Pa. craft producers
Two new tasting rooms opened at the end of February in downtown Harrisburg, promising to give Pennsylvania's swelling roster of craft breweries, wineries and small-batch distilleries a better – albeit limited – opportunity to sell their beverages.
The first is sip@soma, a tiny pop-up tasting room on South Third Street, part of the so-called SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood.
The other newcomer is Hops, Vines & Spirits, which on North Second Street next to the Hilton Harrisburg.
Resembling a farmers market with separate bars for vendors, the new tasting room was opened by Kamionka Entertainment Group. It will be open five days a week with a slate of Pennsylvania breweries, wineries and distilleries that will rotate each month.
The venue, which replaced Mulligans Café & Courtyard, also will serve food from local purveyors and it has a bottleshop stocked with Pennsylvania products available for takeout.
Blocks apart, the new venues aim to draw more people downtown.
And their owners believe they could help spawn the next iteration of nightlife concepts along Harrisburg’s restaurant row – one they hope turns visiting vendors into full-time tenants for the capital city.
“I think Harrisburg has plenty of untapped potential,” said Bozich, who also is advising Kamionka on which craft alcohol vendors to highlight. “We would love to see guests have a permanent spot in downtown Harrisburg. That would be exciting for people living here or nearby.”
Moving away from Miller Lite
Ron Kamionka has made a career out of selling Miller Lite to the masses.
But the longtime Harrisburg bar and nightclub owner – known for popular Second Street spots such as Bourbon Street Saloon and Sawyer’s – said it was time to try something different, more grown up, if downtown is to bring back the 30-somethings who have been lured to the suburbs by a flurry of craft beverage hot spots.
“Second Street needs an influx of the older demographics, people who are looking for more experiential places,” Kamionka said. “For Harrisburg to keep up and attract the 29 to 59 crowd, we need experiences.”
Hops, Vines & Spirits is one way to regain that crowd. He spent about $150,000 to remodel the space.
Kamionka said he sees a lot of the Broad Street Market in his latest nightspot. People can come in and buy pints and flights of handcrafted beverages from five different companies each month: two Pennsylvania breweries, two wineries and one distillery.
The new establishment also will feature actual Broad Street Market food vendors and other local producers who want new outlets to sell items like tacos, cheesesteaks, pizza, ice cream and gourmet popcorn.
For smaller craft producers that do little or no distribution, a Pennsylvania-focused tasting room is a “means to get the product out and become bigger,” Kamionka said. He said he sees a lot of enthusiastic startup producers with a good product, but many have a tough time standing out in a crowded industry.
Kamionka, now 56, said he believes his 4,000-square-foot space could lead to a bigger project with the same theme in the Harrisburg area. If it goes well, he said, he could see opening a larger mall-style venue of 35,000 to 50,000 square feet with 20 to 25 vendors featured monthly.
“I want this to go big-scale,” he said.
The challenge, he added, is coordinating the vendors each month and resetting the venue.
“This is not like calling Sysco for food distribution,” he said.
He also has to hire people who can pour a drink and tell a story about the featured vendors.
Hops, Vines & Spirits is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. brunch until 8 p.m. on Sunday.
It plans to hold at least three special food and music events each week. The first event, held March 2, was a bacon festival. A Soul Burrito food truck night will be held March 6, followed by The Cheesesteak Guy tasting night on March 9.
In contrast to Hops, Vines & Spirits, sip@soma doesn’t have a regular schedule.
Featuring 12 taps, sip@soma will be open largely during city events, such as Third in the Burg, which takes place on the third Friday of each month. Craft vendors, booked by Bozich, will staff the venue. People who want to drop in need to make reservations through Bozich first.
Bozich and Brad Jones, the president and CEO of Harristown, are fine with a limited schedule.
Like the other downtown tasting room, sip@soma is more of an incubator — though its goal is a bit broader.
It is selling space as much as it is selling drinks.
Jones sees the event-focused tasting room as a way to showcase the neighborhood, where his company has at least six first-floor storefronts available. Harristown has been adding apartments there to entice residents, but Jones also wants to attract more retail to the area.
The area figures to draw more investment attention once Harrisburg University of Science and Technology breaks ground on a new educational and hotel tower at the corner of Chestnut and South Third streets.
“Once construction starts on the tower, people are going to go ‘wow, this is happening here,’” Jones said. “This is a great way to bring in brewers and other companies to test the market.”
The first vendor in the space for a private event was Free Will Brewing Co., based in Bucks County. Free Will plans to return from March 14 through March 16.
Jones said he would love to see breweries, wineries and spirit makers open up downtown. But he is perfectly fine seeing small boutiques rent space as well. He also is open to expanding the sip@soma model.
“We can do more than one or have multiple on the block,” he said. “It could be a tasting row.”
Harristown, which spent about $30,000 to renovate the space, would like to use sip@soma for a few events per month, with Bozich tasked with booking and promoting them. She also will be handling reservations.
“We are trying to drive a lot of event activity here,” Jones said.
Indeed, sip@soma is already booked with events through May, Bozich said. That includes multiple events connected to Harrisburg Beer Week, which runs April 26 to May 5.
If their experience is good, she said, companies featured at sip@soma may open their own locations in Harrisburg or expand their distribution.
How to sip
Sara Bozich will be booking all sip@soma events, which will occur primarily around Third in the Burg weekends in Harrisburg.
She plans to book guest vendors for up to three consecutive days of tastings as seating is limited to 20 people per event. Reservations in the form of free tickets will be made available through Bozich’s online channels, including sarabozich.ticketleap.com.
Bozich also will be promoting the events through her blog and social media channels.
Free Will Brewing will be back from March 14 through March 16.