The Pacific Coast Brewing Co. set up shop on Washington Street when microbrewers were still laboring in anonymity and the Old Oakland district had yet to emerge from years of decay.
Not many entrepreneurs would want to take on those odds. But that's what Steven Wolff and Don Gortemiller did exactly 20 years ago today. (A third partner left years ago.)
It hasn't always been easy, but Wolff and Gortemiller stuck it out.
That calls for a celebration, which is what the owners have planned for tonight and Saturday. And everyone is invited.
The revelry begins tonight, 5 to 10 p.m., with a block party on Washington Street between Ninth and 10th streets. The birthday bash moves indoors Saturday with pints all day for $2.50 (the 1988 price) and music from 6 p.m. to midnight.
The brewery was the first retail operation to move into Old Oakland when the plan to rejuvenate the onetime retail hub was not much more than a dream in the minds of two developer-architect brothers.
"It was a great dream but it didn't materialize," Wolff said. The vision of what Old Oakland could be, however, was enough to draw Wolff and Gortemiller, who took turns bartending, cooking, cleaning and doing whatever else was required.
They spent long hours in the restored 1876 building, which they adorned with fixtures that reflect the history of Oakland brewing. That history was interrupted for nearly three decades between the time the last brewery closed in 1959 and The Pacific Coast Brewing Co. opened.
The stained-glass window adorning the storefront, as well as an ornate bar and beer cooler once stood in the Cox Saloon. Free Wi-Fi, naturally, came later.
In the early days, the neighborhood was quiet, Wolff recalled. But slowly the evening traffic picked up with the addition of more residents, restaurants, bars and other businesses. Now, the district is becoming what they thought it would be 20 years ago.
"We're happy about that," Wolff said.
But when the duo decided to open a brew pub in 1984, the thirst for microbrews had yet to be worked up. Only two years earlier, beer could not be served in the same place it was brewed.
The duo didn't have many models to go on, but by the time they managed to find a location, pull together the money and surmount the permit and license hurdles in 1988, brew pubs were on the rise.
Now, Wolff said, beer lovers are more sophisticated and the selection is vast. That has helped business, he added. Even a potential competitor like the Trappist pub, which opened nearby in December 2007, proved to be a boon for business. The Pacific Coast Brewing Co. offers a menu of hearty, drink-friendly food and a patio, which have their advantages.
All told, it has 24 taps going, with eight home brews available at any one time — and soon to include a beer made by what will be Oakland's only other indigenous brewery, the Linden Street Brewery.
Pacific Coast brews about 15 beers annually downstairs using the first turnkey brewery imported into this country (from Britain) for use as a microbrewery.
Customers are likely to find whatever beer they come looking for — except maybe Budweiser. The Pacific Coast Brewing Co. is not Budweiser territory. The brewery is the home of such selections as the Gray Whale Ale, Leviathan Imperial Stout ("The Stout of Russian Czars"), a barley wine and their 20th Anniversary brew, a strong malty amber ale.
The birthday bash will be the biggest event Wolff and Gortemiller have held. But don't look for the brew pub to get bigger.
"We're happy with what we're doing," Wolff said.
The only change in store, Wolff added, is to "just keep improving."
What: 20th anniversary celebration for Pacific Coast Brewing Co.
When: Tonight and Saturday night
Where: 906 Washington St., Oakland
Friday's music lineup: Includes I am Empire, The Vinyl Trees and Kevin Cadogan
Saturday's lineup: Includes the Skirt Lifters, TV Mike and the Scarecrows and Skippin' Town
Details: Call 510-836-2739. A full list of events can be found at www.oaklandevents.net.