A Birthday Drinking Song

(The Potable Curmudgeon seeks to avoid self-aggrandizement when it comes to his own place of business. However, today is a special case)

Today is the 5th anniversary of Bank Street Brewhouse.

As luck would have it, Monday is our Ruhetag (in German, “rest day”), so the toasts must wait until the 11th.

The first official day of business at BSB came on March 10, 2009, and ever since then, NABC has been a three-legged stool: A front-of-the-house in two different buildings, plus a brewery at each, which we treat as one. Let’s see; that’s three, two and one, and it equals three.

As many of you know, math’s never been my strong suit. I’d much rather be drinking beer in a clean, well-lighted place, and pontificating on topics ranging from the tyranny of organized religion to two-way street conversions.

NABC’s high command decided quite some time ago not to do anything special to mark this anniversary; after all, lives and businesses go on, at least until they don’t, and we’ll use the time saved in 2014 to prepare for marking our first decade of longevity in 2019. Did you know that anniversary number ten is to be celebrated by the gift of tin?

As we’ve approached the end of the first five-year plan, I’ve been reaching back into 20th-century Soviet history for pertinent analogies. As such, since last September, and with enhanced intensity the past two months, you might say that lately we’ve undertaken a round of perestroika at the expense of glasnost, which is to say that economic restructuring (perestroika) has been occurring at Bank Street Brewhouse without concurrent openness (glasnost).

Translation: We’ve been making some changes, and not talking very much about them. Back in those USSR days of old, there was plenty of talk, but not enough reform. These days at BSB, we’re hoping it’s the other way around.

My personal position since January 1 has remained unchanged: We’d commence these necessary structural alterations, and as soon as someone asked me about them, I’d be my usual truthful self and tell all. As I imagined all along, the free-lance writer Steve Coomes was the first to notice, and to ask. Here are the answers, and as usual, Steve gets it right.

Restaurant Roundup: Bank Street downscales, TPD upscales, chef Schwartz to Doc Crow’s, Doc Crow’s to Cincy, by Steve Coomes (Insider Louisville)

The partners behind Bank Street Brewhouse have scaled back its gastropub menu in an effort to control costs and better position the operation in the casual marketplace of downtown New Albany.

That’s the official way of saying, “Oh, the menu it is a changin’.”

The new BSB menu? It’s different, but not radically so. We simply looked at what was selling and what wasn’t; we kept the former and did away with the latter. Not exactly rocket science.

After surveying the facts, the second most difficult decision was to let go of the pork chop entrée. It was easy until we learned that those precious few servings being sold in a typical month generally were being purchased by our landlord and his family. But he’s okay with it now.

(Note to self: Who needs rent parties when we might have periodic Pork Pitch-Ins?)

By far the hardest part was the decision to relieve Chef Matt Weirich of his position of almost three years, but Matt’s a class act from start to finish, and we all love him dearly. He’s a talented young man, and already has landed on his feet. I suspect you’ll be seeing a lot more of him, and locally, too.

We decided not to be chef-driven. BSB’s current General Manager, the multi-talented Kimberly Durham, is managing the kitchen, where our staff remains in place. She’s crunching numbers and making improvements designed to set a banker’s heart racing … and even make a few bucks for the company. The bankers keep telling me that’s important, although I can’t imagine why.

In Steve Coomes’s estimation, we’ve gone from being a gastropub to pub, but the likely semantics of this distinction aside, items like the burgers, croque, fish, frites and tacos still are being made in the same way as before, and by the same folks. Of course, so is the beer, which in my view remains nonpareil even if I’m not prone to bare-chest thumping.

The as-yet-unanswered question is whether these moves will improve the bottom line, and although early returns are favorable, five years of incessant trench warfare have proven nothing if not the sober merits of taking an extremely long, patient view.

Bank Street Brewhouse is a warm weather kind of scene, and to have maintained our sales equilibrium these past two months while retooling in mid-air with the engine light flashing during the coldest winter in recent memory strikes me as no mean feat, and a favorable first step. But it’s only a first step, and that rhetorically hackneyed jury remains out.

Since the Sherman Minton Bridge reopened in 2012, we’ve often been tantalizingly close to the desired alignment of Bank Street Brewhouse’s financials and aesthetics. But five-tool players only succeed when they use them all in synchronicity, and close only counts in Horseshoe Casino’s proximity to the Floyd County border. We’ve gotten close, although not quite close enough.

I’ve always tried to be honest when asked, “How’s Bank Street Brewhouse doing?” It depends on what you mean by “doing.” To be sure, in five years of business, enough management mistakes have been made to preclude restful sleep for the rest of my life, if I were to opt for self-flagellation – and yet I don’t, because at the same time, especially in this brutally competitive line of work, keeping doors open for more than a year or two qualifies as an achievement in itself. We’ve done a lot of things right, too.

Consequently, given the number of eateries and bars debuting in downtown New Albany during this same span of time, most of which still are in business, it makes me feel good to know we made a beachhead and weathered 60 whole months. And, while BSB’s original business plan had become entirely obsolete by March 11, 2009, one plank of the platform always has held true, through thick and thin: We promised to be leaders, and not followers.

This we have done, come what may.

But screw the elegiacs; after all, this isn’t an obituary. We’re still alive and kicking, if evolving into a slightly different sort of food and drink beast than before. The landscape in downtown New Albany is different, and a career in opportunism now beckons.

Lately, I’ve been conceding to close friends that it’s just dandy if other establishments move to the front and guide the peloton, as we’re perfectly content to draft for a while and enjoy the advantages of the slipstream.

Yet even this analogy is imperfect. When it comes to fresh, locally brewed craft beer, there are no holes in NABC’s lineup. We’ll be placing greater focus on the future of the brewery operation in the context of an American brewing scene gone wild. The terrain remains foggy, but the road ahead is long. You merely have to keep moving forward.

NABC always has been an evolutionary process, and it will continue to be. Thanks to all our friends and customers who’ve supported us along the way.

The next five-year plan starts NOW.

What's your take? Please comment below.