Tucked along Chorro Street, BarrelHouse’s new taproom is easy to miss. After all, the lights are dimmed and behind the large window facing out to the street is a barbershop, not a bar.
That’s on purpose. In fact, “it’s just kinda part of the rouse,” according to BarrelHouse Speakeasy and Barbershop Bar Manager John Pranjic.
Walking past the barber chair, down a large flight of stairs, the lights brighten and the music becomes louder. What looked like a sleepy shop closing for the night is a speakeasy, awake and thriving.
The prohibition-era speakeasy theme was the idea of BarrelHouse CEO and co-owner Jason Carvaiho, who picked it based on what the space presented, according to Pranjic.
When BarrelHouse bought the space and started construction about year ago, the canvas was essentially blank — the basement, that would eventually become the heart of the taproom, was barren. A ladder was the only way to access it, and there wasn’t much more than a dirt floor and steel beams overhead.
Now, soft yellow light illuminates dark wood furniture and exposed brick. Knickknacks, including brass instruments, a rifle and a framed portrait of President Abraham Lincoln hang on the walls to create an atmosphere that feels entirely unique to the area.
“It’s kind of cool — walking in and not realizing that you’re in a bar at first,” Sports Warehouse photographer Joe Long said.
Many who were there for the first few nights after the taproom opened on Jan. 8 were either followers of the brand, or heard about the opening through word-of-mouth. Even so, the room was mostly hitting capacity on a nightly basis, filling the small room to approximately 70 people.
The biggest draw, according Pranjic, is the quality and diversity of the beer.
“It’s not the kind of taproom where you’ll walk in and get 20 different beers that all kind of taste the same,” he said. “We use rum barrels, bourbon barrels, we use white wine barrels, we use red wine barrels, and all of those bring really unique flavors and characteristics.”
Computer science senior Clay Jones, who came to the taproom on the suggestion of nutrition senior Delainey Womack, agreed that what set the new BarrelHouse location apart was its level of quality.
“It’s just focused on good beer,” he said.
Womack agreed, also noting that the speakeasy is well-kept, clean and that the staff was approachable, adding: “Everyone here is really nice.”
Out of the entire beer list, Pranjic suggested BarrelHouse’s bourbon barrel aged stout: Curly Wolf.
“It has big bourbon notes, which are really cool, plus I’m a fan of dark beers — of stouts,” he said. “So those two together makes a really interesting combination.”
And anyone looking for a wider range of tastes is also welcome to create a tasting flight. The setup is a little abnormal, where instead of being given a standard set, tastings are bought by the glass — usually about $2 to $4 per glass — and can be composed of as many or as few tastings as someone wants.
“It’s really cool, because we have some beers that are pretty big,” Pranjic said. “Like, we have the Grog, a 12 percent, Caribbean rum barrel aged imperial sugar brown ale. And getting four or five ounces of that alone is perfect for what some people want sometimes.”
In making a starter flight, Pranjic suggested a couple of BarrelHouse’s flagship beers: the BarrelHouse IPA, a hoppy, unfiltered IPA with mango notes; and Sunny Daze, a clementine blonde ale with honey notes, according to the BarrelHouse website.
However, the taproom’s growth is still ongoing. The barbershop upstairs will be fully functioning within about a month, according to Pranjic.
The San Luis Obispo-based barber will be using old-school techniques and tools — including a straight razor — to add to the speakeasy’s atmosphere.
The taproom is also set to feature a menu of neighboring restaurant’s foods in upcoming months, as well as cold brew coffee on tap. But in the interim, people are welcome to bring in their own food.
A resounding issue for several was that the room was too loud, especially for an atmosphere intended to be more low key. Further, despite the beer-hungry crowd that fills downtown on Tuesday nights, BarrelHouse Speakeasy and Taproom doesn’t plan to feature any Pint Night specials.
“We’re not really looking for people to come and guzzle down one dollar beers,” Pranjic said. “Not to say that’s not ‘our crowd,’ but that’s not necessarily what we’re going for. We’re not looking to funnel beer down anybody’s throats and send them on their way after five or six (beers).”
All the same, Pranjic seemed optimistic about the speakeasy’s ability to fill a void in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“There are people looking for places to drink beer — especially craft beer,” he said. “And I think that if people are looking for a quality craft product that they’ll find it here.”