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, at 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," admitted Lewis, a former bartender at Brick Oven Bistro, O'Daniels and Swannie House, before explaining the aim to fill the craft-beer void.
Armed with eight taps, Bottle Rocket rolled out mostly East Coast beers on opening weekend, with Jack's Abby (Massachusetts), Zero Gravity (Vermont), SingleCut Beersmiths (Astoria, NY) and OSB Cider Works (Lakeville, NY) are available in pours.
As Bottle Rocket finds its footing, Lewis plans to expand the taps to 16 total - probably within the first month - 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 mentioned that when the taps grow in number, four locally brewed beers will be on the list.
[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 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, the owners mentioned an 85-inch TV to be used for video-game tournaments such as 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 that's begun to bustle with activity.
"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."
Mexican-American restaurant Cantina 62, a branch of coffee standouts Public Espresso and April Spencer Floral Design are still to come, while the Shea's Seneca Banquets and Catering operation is already in effect. The project also includes 23 apartments.
According to a report by The News' Jonathan Epstein, Schneider Development has spent $9.5 million in rehabbing the former theater, which was torn down in 1969.
Bottle Rocket has one offer slated for Shop South Buffalo, a neighborhood event Friday intended to drive customers to local businesses. A purchase of a $25 gift certificate to Bottle Rocket entitles the buyer to two 5-ounce pours to drink on the premises or to take home.
INFO: Bottle Rocket Beer Reserve, 2182 Seneca St. in Shea's Seneca. 725-6789. For Dec. 6-9, Bottle Rocket will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Follow Bottle Rocket's Facebook page for more info on hours.