Rumor has it that downtown culture in San Luis Obispo is over as we know it.
SLO Brewing Co., San Luis Obispo’s jack-of-all-trades concert venue, bar and brewery has decided that come midsummer, it will pack its bags and move on from its Garden Street location in downtown San Luis Obispo. Music, Pint Night, $2 margaritas as we now know them — they’re over.
Luckily, those rumors aren’t necessarily true.
After moving, SLO Brew will unpack its bags just around the corner, next to Frog and Peach on Higuera Street.
Live music’s exact role at SLO Brew’s new location is yet to be confirmed, which has caused buzz in the local music community and among frequent concertgoers. General manager Monte Schaller said the Higuera Street venue will most likely emphasize its restaurant and bar over any potential live music.
“It’s tough to say right now (how significant music will be) because we haven’t completed our brand development,” Schaller said. “A lot is to be seen. We want to make sure we balance equal focus on the brewery, music and restaurant — more well-balanced, tied into the experience of SLO Brew.”
Schaller said SLO Brew has been working on a plan to change venues for almost a decade.
“The plan actually was initiated back in 2007, but the block that we currently reside on has been a development project in the works off and on since then,” he said. “It’s finally gotten its final approval.”
Along with a change in space, SLO Brew is also looking to become a bigger player in the regional beer atmosphere. Schaller said he hopes it becomes a nationally recognized name.
“We are offering and distributing to several places in SLO County,” Schaller said. “We’re hoping to do pretty much all of California in the next year, year and a half — potentially nationwide after that. Definitely the long-term goal is to go all statewide, and then national distribution.”
For this reason, the company is preparing a second location for brewing. The 10,204-square-foot space is in the works near the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport — that’s where the potential for live music comes back into play.
If zoning permits allow it, the brewery by the airport could offer more room for event audiences than the current 457-person capacity at its Garden Street location. In its new venue, SLO Brew could ideally hold 500-700 people.
“We’re definitely hoping that between both locations opening we’ll be able to balance the same amount of draw,” Schaller said. “We just might have to utilize two different spaces to do so.”
That said, a music venue near the airport rather than near the bustle of downtown could present an obstacle for concertgoers. Journalism senior Matt Giancanelli said the inconvenience of the additional distance would keep him from attending shows there.
“People aren’t going to want to go that far,” Giancanelli said. “Students aren’t going to want to drive all of the way out there. It’s too far, it’s going to be more expensive to get there and get back.”
But if the zoning board doesn’t approve SLO Brew’s application, San Luis Obispo may lack a go-to music venue.
Leonard Bessemer is the founder and owner of Lee Golde, an art gallery and venue in San Luis Obispo. He pointed out that, for better or worse, SLO Brew was the only option for larger touring bands.
“I think it has an adverse effect in the sense that SLO Brew is the only place that bands are playing right now,” Bessemer said. “Then again, I wasn’t a huge fan of SLO Brew as a venue in the first place. It’s just the only option.”
Bessemer said he’s optimistic about the state of music in town. He’s confident that, regardless of whether SLO Brew can host large shows in its future location, San Luis Obispo will become a destination with a greater array of musical options than before.
“It would be great if SLO Brew was doing the big bands and other bands playing could play at a smaller location,” Bessemer said. “That’s the best-case scenario. I’m not worried about the music scene. I have a feeling everyone is kind of chattering about it. It’s more of an opportunity, rather than its getting taken away.”
Schaller seemed to agree.
He pointed to SLO Brew’s former co-owner, Todd Newman, who is in the process of phasing out of his relationship with the brewery to pursue his own promotion company in San Luis Obispo, called Good Medicine Presents.
“He’s been putting a lot of energy into Good Medicine Presents — a couple sold-out shows,” Schaller said. “Fremont, Madonna Expo Center, wineries, resorts. He’s alive and well and continuing to do music. He’s also continuing to do the remainder of Garden Street.”
Changes are surely coming to San Luis Obispo’s music scene, but in the words of Schaller, “It’s not as if music will be wiped.”