When you picture a taproom, what do you see? Maybe a few rows of picnic tables, some errant barrels or kegs. If it’s fancy, there might be twinkle lights overhead. This industrial look, now a trope, makes sense—most taprooms are extensions of breweries, literal sites of production. And so for a long time, taprooms were places for craft beer drinkers to fill a growler and maybe hang out. They weren’t necessarily designed to be sites of discovery; they were transactional destinations for those already in-the-know. But over the past decade, taproom and brewery design has been shifting away from the cavernous and industrial and toward something more considered and inviting.
One of the first examples of the taproom’s shift came in 2013, with the opening of Tørst in Greenpoint. That space, with its marble bar and reclaimed wood, was keyed more toward its vintage-obsessed early-aughts Brooklyn audience than niche beer bros. (The New York Times review noted Tørst’s décor, including details like its “old street lamp from Copenhagen.”) Designed by Home Studios, whose other projects include upscale restaurants and boutique hotels, Tørst moved the taproom from out-of-the-way destinations and into city storefronts. More playfully styled but similarly singular is Roses’ Taproom, which opened in Oakland in 2017. The creation of a husband-and-wife brewing team who met in art school, the double-height, converted retail space, designed with local architecture firm Young America Creative, is wrapped in peach walls offset by scalloped teal tiles behind the taps, and lots of plants.
Even more recently, there’s been a rapidly growing wave of modern taprooms that further extend the concept of how a space that serves craft beer can look and function, and who it aims to serve. Take, for instance, Talea Beer Co., a Brooklyn-based brewery that opened its flagship taproom within its production facility in Williamsburg in 2021. The brand has quickly expanded, with three standalone taprooms in the past three years, including two in Manhattan that have opened since last October. Or Duality Brewing, which this past May made the move from a shipping container to open its first customer-facing space in Portland, Oregon, which it shares with pop-up-turned-restaurant Astral. Though the scale of each operation is different, their ambitions are the same: to attract people who normally wouldn’t want to go to a brewery.
To this end, Talea taprooms open in the morning and operate like all day cafés. They look like them, too—light, airy, accented with greenery and rounded edges. When I met with co-founders Tara Hankinson and LeAnn Darland at the West Village space on an icy weekday morning, only a few customers were dotted throughout. But the decision to keep daytime hours, Hankinson tells me, is more about brand-building than making money. Taprooms, she says, are a brewery’s version of a direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel.
The parallel to DTC brands, which depend on design to differentiate products that otherwise might not catch the attention of a potential customer, is apt. Design can make the mundane feel glamorous and the unfamiliar appealing. For its new locations— the second Manhattan space is in Midtown near Bryant Park—Talea worked with New York–based architectural firm ALA Studio whose past clients include The Wing, Tia boutique healthcare and Athena Club, a DTC razor brand. The design of the Christopher Street location, which, characteristic of the area, has low ceilings and a long, narrow layout, plays into the sense of intimacy those details create. The front is bright, with white tables surrounded by plastic chairs the color of terra cotta and blond wood booths with a visible grain. As you go deeper into the space, the palette darkens and the materials warm up, with velvet armchairs and exposed brick.
“Being in this neighborhood with a space that looks like this, a lot of people don’t know it’s a brewery when they first come in,” says Hankinson. “And that’s great because that’s our mission, to convert cocktail drinkers and wine drinkers, people that think they hate beer, to craft.”
Still, investing in making a space with a relatively small footprint is a gamble compared to the high-volume operation of a typical taproom. “We want to be like nice bars and restaurants, but our average check size is not the same as the restaurants around here,” says Darland.
The idea of balancing attractive design with efficiency is front of mind for Duality co-owner Alyssa LeCompte, who runs the brand side of the business with her chef-turned-brewer husband, Michael Lockwood. There’s a simplicity that defines Duality. The finishes are stainless steel and chrome, the whites off. Limited dabs of color include sand-hued tiles behind the taps, blue cushions on the spare wooden benches and sage green stools. This simplicity carries over to a deliberately limited glassware selection that’s partly an economic choice. “Beers are in bodega glasses; we don’t have five kinds of glassware,” she says. “I think it makes it easier to run a business because you’re not being fussy about anything.” As at Talea, LeCompte says the crowd at Duality is “not your average beer drinker by any means.”
And like Talea, Duality uses inviting design to reel in would-be craft beer drinkers, who might not want to hang out in more traditional breweries with their communal tables and steampunk light fixtures. For LeCompte, a photographer, that appeal was personal—when she visited the vacant space, she saw it as a rare opportunity to translate years of accumulated inspiration into something real. “There are not a lot of places like this in Portland. Our space is very unique because it has tons of windows and these insanely high ceilings,” says LeCompte, who cites La Pepita in Barcelona and Jardín de Cervecera Hércules, outside of Mexico City, as references for the look and feel she wanted to cultivate. Her friend, interior designer Robin Cornuelle, helped her source materials and put it all together.
Duality is located in the Atomic Garage Building, a former auto shop recently adapted into a dozen maker spaces that house a smattering of artists and small businesses. The taproom has acted as a magnet for creative types in the area, and has even converted a few Duality regulars into Atomic tenants. “We showed them spaces,” says LeCompte, “and they were like, ‘Oh my god, this building is amazing.’ Now they’re our neighbors.”
A taproom is a rare specimen in the hospitality world. It can be more inviting than a bar, less formal than a restaurant; many are kid-friendly. With this new wave of design-forward spaces, a category once defined by converted warehouses has broadened to include smaller, warmer places that feel more like neighborhood spots. And with those spaces, beer producers are both responding to and building a wider audience for craft. Most breweries are vying for the local craft beer scene’s attention: “I think a lot of breweries are so myopic about just beer,” says Hankinson. But Talea’s competition? Everyone else.