Monday, June 20, 2011

Sports, Televisions, Craft Beer & Community

For those of you who were wanting to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at St. Augustine's Craft Brew House and Kitchen, you had to be there before 2 PM last Wednesday to stake out your claim and secure a seat. Tables were beginning to fill at noon and three hours before the puck dropped, people were being turned away, as the restaurant has adopted a strict policy of sticking to their seating capacity in order to not run afoul of the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch inspectors and to ensure that those who are in attendance can watch the game in a comfortable environment. The enthusiastic early birds arriving mid-day did have something to do with the excitement and anticipation of a Canucks victory that was prevalent everywhere in the Lower Mainland, but a lot of it also had to do with the fact that the Commercial Driver eatery, famous for it's 40 taps of craft beer on offer, has become the place to watch sporting events on Vancouver's Eastside. Game 6 was just as frantic pre-game at Augie's, as it has become known by many locals, and the place was full by 3:15 PM which left even owner co-Anthony Frustagli having to scramble to find a place to take in the action with friends in his own establishment.

Not your typical male-dominated fan base taking in the action
And it has not just been the Canuck's playoff hype that has made St. Augustine's a popular place to catch the games. Over the past few years it has become the gathering place for any significant sporting event for fans who want to enjoy the game amongst other sports fans while noshing on good eats and sipping great beers. Take the UEFA Champion's League final a few weeks back, pitting Barcelona against Manchester United (Boo), when the place was packed with soccer fans by the 11:45 AM kick-off. What I like the most about the sports crowds at St. Augustine's is that they are not just composed of males, swilling beers in the dark in a testosterone-fueled environment. More often than not, you will find families and female-only tables taking in the action and enjoying the vibe in the bright, wide-open space there. I love the fact that I can take my wife and baby daughter to the restaurant and find others who have taken their young ones along to get out into the world and socialize outside the home. My wife and I have met many other parents from the neighbourhood who share our comfort level in the restaurant and who love to stop by for a great craft beer and bite to eat with their families while watching sporting events. The restaurant has become a very real community gathering place for locals and more and more for parents who want to enjoy some more adult pleasures, such as craft beer, good food and sports, in a family-friendly environment, are bringing their families there on a regular basis.

My wife and daughter enjoying Game 7 in a the
family-friendly atmosphere at St Augustine's
This success has not come instantly for the restaurant, which sits in a space that has been several different establishments that have failed for various reasons over the past 15 years or so. St. Augustine's has been the first business that has had any modicum of success at the corner of N Grandview Hwy and Commerical Drive and the owners have worked hard to build up their clientele and realize their dreams of having a sports-oriented restaurant that offers great craft beer and tasty food. The spot has slowly attracted many locals from other restaurants along The Drive who now make Augie's their meeting place and I see more and more young families and couples occupying the tables there. I can remember talking to several other restaurant owners on Commercial who literally laughed at the idea of having an eatery with 40 taps of craft beer in this neighbourhood. Most of them are not laughing now as many of their regulars have slowly migrated away from their establishments and are found at Augie's enjoying what is on offer there.

The owners, Anthony, Mike and Nick, all local boys who grew up in the neighbourhood, have battled the stigma of being an establishment that shows and supports the UFC and have endured undue criticism for attracting a "UFC" crowd, whatever that means. It is true that the big UFC events are shown, but again it is an atmosphere where I feel comfortable going with my wife and in the past have done so. I have never seen any problems during these events and have noticed that there is a large percentage of couples and females watching the fights, which are take place on the televisions only and not amongst those in attendance. St. Augustine's stays loyal to their UFC-loving patrons because is is they that helped keep the place afloat in the early days by supporting the UFC events there and any reports of rowdy, stereo-typical fight crowds in Augie's are simply not true.

The restaurant has also battled for its legitimate spot in the Vancouver craft beer scene. When the restaurant first introduced its 20-tap craft beer line-up, many of the local craft beer insiders shunned the restaurant because of the televisions. When the tap list increased to 40, to become the largest craft beer collection on tap in Western Canada, some still focused on the televisions and not on the great beer line-up on offer. There seemed to be an opinion and attitude among "serious" beer drinkers in this city that televisions and craft beer could not mix. I have always disputed this point of view and wonder why those holding these ideas believe that because I love sports, I should be restricted to drinking marco-beers and eating nachos in the traditional style sports bars and neighbourhood pubs who seem reticent to put craft beer on tap.  I suggested to many of those complaining that if the televisions bothered them, they should maybe find more interesting friends to converse with over a beer, so they can hold their attention, or simply go to another establishment, such as the Alibi Room, which features great beers in a television-free environment.

Now, with St Augustine's becoming an important place in the community for many locals and one of the places in the city to watch big sporting events, I think the restaurant has done much to break down barriers, combining craft beer, televisions, sports and community. I have noticed that as their popularity and business has grown, that a few other restaurants on The Drive have taken notice and made moves to try to attract similarly diverse crowds. It is great to see because, as a new father, sports fan, foodie and lover of craft beer, I can now enjoy social time out in the community with my entire family. There are many other restaurants out there who have televisions, show sports are family friendly and have good food/beers on offer but I would argue none do it better than St Augustine's and the local community is really beginning to take notice and realize what a great spot they have in their midst.

And I often smile to myself and am amazed at how many of those original detractors, the "serious" craft beer drinkers, I now see in St Augustine's watching the big games, seemingly forgetting that televisions, sports and craft beer don't mix.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Paddy. I for one love the TVs, especially the ones showing how much is left in each of the kegs. Mesmerizing!