At the grand opening of Red Bear Brewing Co. last month, patrons exploring the space echoed the same sentiment: NoMa’s new brewery has a philosophy of being open to all.
“It’s a place that really has something for everyone,” says Liz Cox, Red Bear’s taproom manager and veteran manager of the DC restaurant and bar landscape. “[Red Bear] erases that stigma of brewery culture.”
In other words, this isn’t just a bunch of white bearded guys sitting around drinking micro brews. This is an environment for people of all races, genders and sexual orientations.
Red Bear is the brainchild of three friends who were living in Seattle – Bryan Van Den Oever, Cameron Raspet and Simon Bee – all looking to change careers. Van Den Oever came from the healthcare world, Raspet has a military background and was a flight test engineer for Boeing, and Bee worked in property management.
“They wanted to do a nano-brewery but knew they shouldn’t in Seattle because it had the most brewpubs per capita,” Cox says. “They felt bringing the West Coast style to the East Coast would work and chose DC to get it started.”
Although all three owners are gay, they decided early on that Red Bear wasn’t going to be “a gay bar” but rather ultra-inclusive, encompassing more than just the LGBTQ community.
“We try to be disability-friendly, accessibly friendly, a safe space for women [and] people of color,” Cox says. “We even have a bartender who is an ASL interpreter and we are all trying to learn from him as well [to welcome the deaf community and students from nearby Gallaudet University]. The idea was to create a safe space for everyone.”
The trio also wants the establishment to embrace the outdoors and adventure, hence the brewery’s name. The bear is a central theme of the space, and the logo features an ursine figure and Washington state’s Mount Rainier in front of DC’s stars and stripes.
“Visually, our bar is very appealing, and we stick to the theme of bringing outdoors inside,” Cox says. “We have patio string lights out. Simon built a mountain range that lines the bar. The bar is very large and creates two zones; we call one the front yard and the other the back patio.”
Red Bear serves predominantly West Coast-style ales and beers from 24 tap lines in a 7,000-square-foot space.
“Simon is our brewmaster and classifies offerings in three styles,” Cox explains. “[There’s] the old, nostalgic-style beers such as an ESB, which you don’t find a lot of in DC as it’s a very West Coast, Pacific Northwest-style beer. There’s the beers you should enjoy drinking and then experimental beers.”
For example, the pub will be introducing a brut kölsch later this summer. Current on tap offerings include a Belgian wit called Marmalade Skies, Cammy Cam-Cam’s ESB, American porter DC Dirt, the pale ale Polar Bear, American amber Skookum Red Ale, American IPA Mystic Storm and American double IPA Twinsies. Seasonal offerings include Cupid’s Black Heart, a chocolate-strawberry bock, and Swampoodle, an imperial oatmeal Irish stout. In the months ahead, the bar will offer a hibiscus American wheat (Delicate Prissy Flower), cherry almond sour (Manhattan Project), rosemary saison (Something About Rosemary) and a NoMa-based SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hops) brew.
As a brewpub, Red Bear is licensed to sell food and has a small kitchen that is currently being readied to open sometime this summer. In the meantime, the owners are bringing in pop-up food places such as Roaming Rooster and D’s Fish Truck to offer visitors some menu items.
“We also have a stage for live performances and a patio that will be up and going once it gets warmer,” Cox says. “And we’ll be building out our drop lines. We opened with eight beers and have 15 beer lines and two nitro beer lines.”
Red Bear also offers cider, cocktails, wine and a full liquor menu. At the grand opening, all three owners got their pick of one special element for the night, so the party included a drag queen (Kitti Chanel Fairfield), an ice sculpture and live music.
“We’re all about having a good time and everyone here is excited about what’s to come,” Cox says. “NoMa has a ton of people but not a lot of bars, and we want people to feel comfortable here.”
Red Bear Brewing Co.: 209 M St. NE, DC; 202-849-6130; www.redbear.beer