All right, we’re going to take a moment before we get on with the regular Masters of Brewtality lunacy to let you, dear reader, ready yourself. Down here in the crypt, we understand that Flagstaffians are proudly reclusive folks by nature. This is, after all, a little hippy college town in a state otherwise populated with furious retirees, and we’re justifiably hesitant when it comes to outsiders moving in. But, brace yourselves—Hops On Birch has been taken over by a Phoenician. Heaven forbid!
And he’s a pretty awesome one at that. Future business owners, take note. The way this has gone down is exactly what you need to do to ingrain yourself to the community. Keeping the staff? Check. Keeping the standard accoutrements that everyone is used to? Check. Fixing visible grossness and improving the overall atmosphere while expanding on the things that made you love the spot in the first place? Check. Was the previous owner willingly selling instead of being forcefully bought out? Check.
The freaks and geeks of Masters of Brewtality had new owner Justin Evans down at the crypt last month to chat about his plans for our beloved Hops, and we’re stoked. Ordinarily, our interviews are conducted over a cold pint of beer, but, being a non-local, we opted to tie him to chair in a dark room under a single harsh lamp and bark the questions at him, enhanced interrogation style.
“Admit it!” we screamed. “This is the first wave of gentrification and soon the town will be nothing but Starbucks and Walmarts as far as the eye can see, you Phoenician bastard!”
Quite the opposite, he assured. The regular staff will stay on, save for the addition of our dear friend Anthony Onofrio who jumped back up after a stint at Superstition Meadery. And, as operator of one of the Southwest’s premier craft beer bars, the Wandering Tortoise, Mr. Evans is bringing with him a connoisseur's taste for suds that immediately endeared him to us, but we’re also dedicated to our shtick, so the cruelty continued unabated.
MOB: What gives you the gall to think you can run Hops On Birch? Tell us your credentials.
Justin Evans: Well, I opened the Wandering Tortoise in December of 2016, and we went from a space of 1200 square feet and have doubled it since. We tacked on a patio and the growth has been insane. We’ve gotten beer I never thought we’d see here in Arizona.
I’m a beer geek and a bartender that owns a bar, and the people I’ve gotten to meet in this business are what’s coolest to me. Being from the Midwest, taking care of customers is the most important thing. When people come into your space, they should be greeted and feel welcome.
Confess, you’re going to change everything, and that scares us. Don’t lie!
No, no. This place is a staple. But we are putting in a cold box. We’re putting in three retail reach-in doors and some shelving with mead, wine and sake. Some fun coffee, stuff like that. We’re Superstition’s number one account at Tortoise, so we buy and sell a lot of mead. They were a little mad we took Anthony, though, but they understood it was a good move for him. We’re going to upgrade the bartop, too.
You’re working with Ryan and Laramie over at Dark Sky on the renovations, too, right? Collaborators!
We are. We’ve been friends with them for years and knowing they do construction, it was a natural fit. Supporting local is so important, plus I know they’re going to do a really good job. We’re keeping the live music, it’s such a staple, but we’re going to do a drink-rail along the wall and extending the bar. We’re thinking farm tables, just kind of a communal style seating in the main room.
On the weekends, we might dismiss the darts just for space, but they’ll still be here during the week. We are going to get some dimmers and update the sound system, too. But, again, I want to keep Hops familiar, just shined up a little bit.”
And what about the bathrooms? Not to say they’re bad, but we’ve seen stray dogs leave to take a bath after using them.
That’s one of the first things I told the staff. I take pride in my bathrooms. We’re tiling with a community sink out front. We’re trying to eliminate paper waste, and if someone wrecks the bathroom, they’ll be caught red-handed.
Finally, before we cut the ropes, is there any chance you’ll be able to get TRVE from Denver down here finally?
Never say never! I’d love that!
This interview has been heavily edited for clarity and is completely debased from reality. Masters of Brewtality fully endorses the Wandering Tortoise, Justin Evans, who is hopefully a good sport, and this advancement at Hops On Birch. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!