Nathan Manna and Billy Lewis have heard the cry: South Buffalo beer fans are tired of driving 20 minutes into the city to enjoy hard-to-find craft beers.
The co-owners of Bottle Rocket Beer Reserve, now open in Shea's Seneca (2182 Seneca St.), have begun a business that's roughly 70 percent bar and 30 percent beer store. The duo has crafted a relaxed social setting for curious and ardent beer drinkers.
"There's mostly shot-and-a-beer bars around here," said Lewis, a former bartender at Brick Oven Bistro, O'Daniels and Swannie House, before explaining the aim to fill the craft-beer void.
Bottle Rocket differs from most bars in that the beer selection changes whenever the kegs run out. Currently armed with eight taps, Bottle Rocket rolled out mostly East Coast beers on opening weekend in November, with Jack's Abby (Massachusetts), Zero Gravity (Vermont), SingleCut Beersmiths (Astoria) and OSB Cider Works (Lakeville, N.Y.) represented.
For Dec. 20-23, Manna and Lewis plan to carry Fat Head's Holly Jolly Christmas Ale, Cider Creek's Winter's Cinn, Maine Beer Company's Woods & Waters IPA, SingleCut's DDH Cold Fire DIPA and Upstate's Honey Porter, among a few still to be announced.
The beer selection showcases a wide-ranging appreciation of locally brewed beers from across the U.S. that are desirable, but sometimes hard to find.
Five-ounce pours range from $2.50 to $4, while 12- to 16-ounce pours range from $5.50 to $8. Bottle Rocket also carries wine and soft drinks, but no liquor.
As Bottle Rocket finds its footing, Lewis plans to expand the taps to 16 total with a heavy rotation of beers that changes whenever a keg is kicked. Lewis mentioned Mikkeller, a trendy New York City brewery, as another likely to appear on the tap list.
Thin Man Brewery's Minkey Boodle, a raspberry sour, was the lone local brew on the initial list, but the owners said that when the taps grow in number, four locally brewed beers will appear.
[Related: 5 craft-beer trends latched onto by brewers]
For the beer store, the Bottle Rocket owners - who will continue to work other jobs - brought in an old locker from a school on Normal Avenue in Buffalo's West Side, which - along with wooden bookcases - will house a cast of hard-to-find beers in four- and six-packs. Lewis explained that customers who find a beer they like in the cooler can drink it at the bar, provided a bar employee opens it.
For additional entertainment, there is an 85-inch TV used for video-game tournaments such as Nintendo's Super Smash Bros, the James Bond series and Mario Kart. A record player will allow Bottle Rocket to host vinyl nights, too.
The chill experience Bottle Rocket intends should fit nicely in with the multi-faceted complex.
"We knew we wanted to be in South Buffalo - we both live here," Manna said. "We were drawn to this building - it's huge - and the plans blew our minds. There's the old-school theater entrance, too. We knew events would be coming in, as well as other retail businesses."
The commitment of developers and local businesses to revitalize Seneca Street remains fierce, and Bottle Rocket is yet another newcomer striving to find a niche.
2182 Seneca St. in Shea's Seneca (725-6789)
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday through Wednesday.
Don’t miss: Updates on Bottle Rocket’s Facebook page about specialty beers they’ve received. A recent example is Barrier Brewing’s Buffalo 666 collaboration with punk band Every Time I Die that arrived Dec. 14, the day before the TID the Season concert in Buffalo RiverWorks.
Remember: Bottle Rocket’s taps will double, from eight to 16, in early January.
Don’t forget: Patrons are welcome to bring in and consume food from other businesses.
History: Shea’s Seneca will soon house Public Espresso, a Mexican-American restaurant and a florist. The former theater was built in 1929, partially torn down 40 years later and is now deep into its rehabilitation.