Living in Bradenton, at this point in life, it is somewhat less frequent that I feel a calling from the night—to go out and get loose, really put the screws to things, so to speak. I always feel it in Brooklyn, where last October I spent a grand couch-surfing 4-nights from loft to loft running ruthlessly amok on almost no sleep at all; and I feel it right now, stretching across America from San Francisco, who taunts me like some instigating sorority girl shouting YOLO in my face.
And really, it boils down to a matter of options: Had there been more in recent years, I would probably be in jail, locked up in Port Manatee with no hope for bail and no questions asked—Just 3-hots and a cot, and a lot of talk.
[ . . . ]
No, that isn’t true; at least not anymore—I’m a professional journalist, for krissake. This job requires poise, and vision . . . And the point of this is not any one person’s spasmodic tendency toward debauchery; the point lies within the notion that, although I occasionally enjoy tying-one-on Downtown, I doubt I’ll ever meet the future Mrs. Michael P. Tokars in any of the bars on Old Main Street. In fact, sitting in those bars, a man is liable to feel as though he’s about to be punched in the back of the head, by anyone, for any reason at all—and that’s no way to live.
Why, just last month I was shooting pool in one of the above-mentioned establishments, and my friend Ben leaned in and told me that the girl behind us, who was playing darts alone, had spent the better part of last year institutionalized.
“Jesus, what for?” I asked him.
“She’s crazy!” he said.
“And they gave her a set of darts?”
He raised his eyebrows, and we recommenced our game. I couldn’t help but notice that the girl was indeed acting peculiar—She kept up this weird routine of getting a set from the bartender, walking to the boards and throwing one round, returning the darts, and then going back to the boards to stare blankly at the wall for 5-minutes before repeating the whole mad ordeal. Eventually, the manager escorted her out.
Watching her leave, I felt sad for the poor girl. She was quite pretty.
* * * * *
Throughout 2013, a good word spread around town that three breweries were set to open in Bradenton. Thank God, I remember thinking, it’s about time this city showed itself a bit of class. And craft beer, which comes with a thriving subculture of knowledgeable enthusiasts, is a good place to start.
No doubt, the courtesy was long overdue; and two weeks ago, one of these fine new establishments beat the others to the proverbial punch, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a knock out.
On January 21, Motorworks Brewing held their soft-opening. It was a Tuesday night. I was delighted to find the invitation in my inbox the day before, which advertised samplings of their new home-brews, delicious snacks and a free cocktail for guests. Clearly, I had to be there.
I arrived around 7 p.m. The parking lot was full and the overflow lot across the street was near capacity as well. A tall pretty blonde girl greeted me with drink tickets and a warm smile at the door, and I headed to the bar.
Everything about the place was wonderful and relevant, screaming 21st century: the fresh woodgrain bar top; chic lighting; myriad selection of brews and booze; exposed spiral ductwork ceiling and mid-century modern lounge furniture and flatscreen television sets and bartenders in retro uniforms; and the darling baby bartender before me, wearing adorable short retro-diner-dress with her name spelled in cursive letters beside unbuttoned buttons, taking my order—she was wonderful. Her name was Rene, and she moved with infinite class.
Rene brought me a glass of bourbon and I sipped it while glancing around. I was in a sea of well-to-do middle class citizens of Bradenton—many of whom I’d never seen before. It was as if these millennial yuppies and 40-something old-pros had been lying in wait, and sprung for the night at first sign of substance. And why shouldn’t they? These were people who’d earned a night out, and for the first time in a long time, the town met them halfway. There was no need to drive to Sarasota or St. Petersburg. It was Put on the ritz, old sport, tonight we die . . .
As I finished my bourbon, a flight of the just-unveiled Motororworks home brews arrived before me on the bar. A beer flight is a set of craft beers served in small glasses on a plank, for patrons to sample various flavors. That night we sampled the Motorworks Porter, Motorworks Belgian Golden Strong, Motorworks Kolsch Style, and Motorworks IPA. My favorite was the IPA, but all were delicious. I hold an affinity for IPA’s, so my preference ought not speak against the others.
I went outside for a cigarette and made friends with a gentleman named Collin who is the audio technician at Motorworks. He suggested we do a flight, and it seemed like a good idea so I said OK. We settled into a corner booth inside and drank the small glasses, and decided that the best thing to do would be to have one more flight before Collin gave me the tour.
He introduced me to owner Denise Tschida, a charming woman who was kind enough to invite me to the “Facebook Opening” the following night. The Facebook Opening, Denise told me, would be held in gratitude for all the folks who’d been following the brewery’s progress via Facebook throughout last year.
Collin and I went outside to the 13,000 sq. ft beer garden, which is equipped with a large deck built around 100-year old oak tree, and features many rows of Corn Hole, two bocce courts and a 3-hole putting green. A live band was performing in the back corner, and a food truck was parked on the other side of the fence. According to Collin, live music and food trucks will be staples at Motorworks, and a proper stage will be erected soon.
We ran into the congenial Head Brewer Bob Haa, who has been brewing for over 15-years and, according to MotorworksBrewing.com, has won 23 medals in “regional, national and international competitions for his outstanding beer.” Haa told me about his previous jobs, which included a long stint as national research and development brewer for Hops Restaurant, Bar & Brewery. Haa was also Head Brewer at St. Sebatian’s Brewery in Spring Hill. We got to talking about beer—
“What was that ‘Hammerhead’ beer they had at Hops?” I asked Haa.
“That was Hammerhead Red,” he replied.
“My grandfather loved that beer,” I said. “He used to give me sips of it when I was a kid—It was probably the first beer I ever tasted.”
“There’s a good chance I brewed it,” Haa said; and, considering the important role that beer has played in my life, the idea to have just met the man who made my first one was quite thrilling.
I suddenly realized I was drunk, and needed to save face by getting the Hell out of there as quickly as possible. I excused myself from the conversation and called my ex-girlfriend the flight attendant for a ride home. She didn’t answer. Soon, a text message came through; it was her:
“I’m in Dallas what’s up?”
“Was hoping for a ride”
“DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE MIKE”
“Of course not, darling, those days of wine and roses have long since passed–You know that”
She did not respond. I dialed up my old buddy Bruce, who always comes through in the clutch.
On my way out I bought a two-toned Motorworks Brewing baseball cap at the merchandise stand, which is also stocked with various t-shirts and accessories and, most notably, the Motorworks Brewing Dickie’s work shirts worn by male bartenders.
* * * * *
The following morning I was pleased to find my car not-stolen or broken-into. Motorworks is on 9th St. W., very close to 14th—which has served as the tried and true punchline for just about every crack-head prostitute joke I’ve ever heard, and rightly so. You can see them out there, at all hours of the day, walking slowly down the sidewalks clad in last-year’s clothes that some 8th-grade girl’s well intentioned mother ditched at The Salvation Army. Their pimps are always nearby, trolling behind slowly on a spray-painted BMX bike or standing dumbly out of place, hanging-10 on the curb, watching.
I wasn’t surprised, then, when later that night at the Facebook Opening my friend Ogden, who works with Habitat for Humanity, told me he was very excited about the opening of Motorworks. “This brewery is very much a part of the movement to revitalize the community,” Ogden said. “And I think it has the potential to save the area.”
We were playing bocce ball in the beer garden, and sipping pints of frothy ale. Bocce ball, like Corn Hole, is a good game for drinking because you only need one hand to play.
Ogden threw a ball that knocked mine from it’s comfortable position beside the pallino, and won the round. He took a sip of ale, and turned to me and said, “You can’t improve neighborhoods without places like this; without businesses that are brave enough to come here, and will inspire people to move in.”
Indeed. There is no doubt that Motorworks is a valiant endeavor, made by owners Frank and Denise Tschida, who took this daring step toward progress for The Friendly City.
The Tschida’s effort is probably the biggest fruit to grow from the labor of Realize Bradenton, the non-profit that gave us The Riverwalk, and the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority (BDDA), which works to revitalize downtown Bradenton and the 14th Street Community Redevelopment Areas by consulting the district’s new and existing businesses on financing, construction, design and public relations. BDDA also supports the area with Tax Increment Financing, which is a method of public financing used as a subsidy for community-improvement.
In other words, the mission of these groups is to make downtown Bradenton better—and the opening of Motorworks Brewing is a symbol of the growth that is possible for the district.
When they were scouting for the location that would become Motorworks, the Tschidas saw potential in 1014 9th St. W.—which was originally built as an auto dealership in the middle 1920’s. In fact, this history is what spawned the dynamite Motorworks theme.
There is a comforting feeling of continuity that comes with this notion; and one can only suspect that, if those old American dreamers who set up shop there 80 years ago could see Motorworks Brewing today, they would be pleased—And much more so, I’m certain, than if it were home to another paraphernalia-selling bodega or full-body-rub massage parlor.
* * * * *
I stopped in to Motorworks about a week later, to have a beer and begin writing this story. I was nursing my second Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA at the bar, when a young man took the seat beside me. He was a handsome boy, with a young face, and endearing smile. 27, 28-years old.
“What are you working on?” He asked me, pointing at my opened MacBook.
“A story about this brewery, actually—I’m a journalist.”
“Who do you write for?”
“The Bradenton Times. What do you do?”
“I’m a pharmacist.”
“Wonderful,” I said.
He asked me if I like craft beer. I said I do, and we were now on the same page. He told me about his home-brewing operation, and the new flavor he was working on.
“What do you think of this place?” I asked him.
He glanced around and smiled, and said, “I’ve been waiting for a place like this for a long time.”