What was once a bordello, card room, antique store, art gallery and small-town café, is now transformed into a taphouse. Mare Island Brewery has kept the sparkle shining on one of our most historic buildings. The First Street Taphouse.
After months of driving by, “patiently” waiting, anticipating, seeing what was happening on the inside, I finally got my spot at the bar on a perfect summer’s evening. As I walked in, I was greeted with my choice of seating. Of course, I was not going to pass up a view of the sunset and a spot front and center at the bar. I started off with my favorite, a pour of the Hydraulic Sandwich IPA.
The sun started to set over the taproom, and began noticing more details. Copper tap handles and fresh paint that reminded me of a dark schoolhouse chalkboard. What stood out the most was the historic pictures. A timeline of Mare Island and Benicia. All in all, a respectful but a much-needed update. Finishing off my first beer and ready for my second, the Survivor’s Tale Pale Ale was my next pick; pairing perfectly with the Roasted Beet Salad. A beautifully textured salad; fresh and acidic from the grapefruit with a cooling sweetness from the whipped feta and ending with a savory pistachio crunch. Finishing my last beer, an order of the Truffled Fingerling Potatoes satisfied my buzz. Everything I wanted and needed to end my Wednesday night. Of course, followed by a brisk safe walk home…
After this experience, I needed to know more.
I sat down with Mare Island Brewing Company owners, Kent Fortner and Ryan Gibbons, longtime friends, colleagues and former winemakers from Napa Valley. The partnership between these two seems to be a match made in heaven. Both having a love for fermentation and enjoying a good beer at the end of a long day, together have created a beer dream. Their love for the area and history helped shape the Vallejo Ferry Taproom and Mare Island Coal Shed Brewery locations. Already fans of Benicia and its businesses, opening up a spot here wasn’t a hard decision for them. Originally only inquiring about the availability of some restaurant equipment quickly turned into their new project.
Starting this new location, they wanted to preserve the building’s character. Ryan and Kent took the time to partner with Benicia Historical Museum to learn more about their new space and the town’s historical past, sourcing prints of old photos for their décor. Amazed by the history, they are making sure to showcase it. I got a sneak peak of the upstairs space, where the plans for their wall art really showed me how far they have dived into the building’s and the town’s history. I’m not here to give away details but there was one picture in particular that struck me. Safe to say, Benicia was definitely part of the wild, wild west.
With the three locations so close together, Ryan and Kent wanted to bring a different experience to each location.
Besides the building and the décor being different, the food is what really changes the experience. Chef David Starr was the key to changing up the menu. David, born and raised in Vallejo, and a long-time customer, brings his experience as an executive Sous Chef from Charlie Palmer Restaurant, located in Napa. Since 2019, he has brought a different menu to each location. The Benicia location can expect a seasonal menu with a more playful approach. Don’t worry, the original burger is here to stay, but in slider form… if you feel like sharing. The First Street Taphouse would be great for a date night, while the Ferry Taproom is good for families and The Coal Shed Brewery is ideal for larger groups.
Talking with Kent and Ryan and looking back on their original business plan compared to where they are now, really shows that their partnership is magical. Their love for the location and the support from locals continue to drive them to bring new experiences for those who love the bay area.
Go check out this amazing new location! Open Wednesday – Sunday, 4:30 – 10pm
Take a look at their menu at https://www.mareislandbrewingco.com/
Enjoy the Benicia way..