Beer Geeks, one of the Region's first, most beloved and most influential craft beer bars, closed after more than a decade and is being reimagined as a new concept.
The bar at 3030 45th St. in Highland will be replaced by B-Side Bar Lounge, a new concept that promises nostalgia, good vibes, craft beers, cocktails and spirits.
Beer Geeks opened in 2010, transforming the former End Zone Pub dive bar into a hip space with graffiti-covered walls, obscure B-movies on television, vinyl records on the stereo, trendy foods like ramen and more than 20 carefully curated craft beers on tap at any given time.
Pouring once-rare craft beers from breweries like Toppling Goliath, Russian River, Founders, Stone Brewing and Urban Artifact, it helped usher in a boom of craft brewing in the Region. Northwest Indiana had only a handful of craft breweries when Beer Geeks first opened, and now has more than two dozen.
"There was nothing when we opened," owner Jason Owens said. "If you wanted craft beer and lived in Crown Point, Munster or St. John, this is where you came."
It went on to influence a generation of craft breweries.
"Beer Geeks was the first craft beer bar in Northwest Indiana. Jason brought an experience to our community that had not been seen before," said Tony Qualls of Gnosis Brewing and Manic Meadery. "The club music scene also proved invaluable to blues and rock musicians alike. I was lucky enough to spin vinyl every Wednesday for a couple years and I will forever cherish that opportunity. Although this transition is bittersweet, I’m excited to see what the next chapter has in store at this prolific establishment."
People have told Owens they met their wife or husband for a first date there. They've told him it was what first introduced them to craft beer or mead, or complimented him on being non-smoking long before it became more common.
Beer Geeks offered popular food items like Bang Bang Shrimp Tacos and replica In-and-Out Burgers.
"People have good memories," Owens said. "It was a new and unique spot for when you're ready to move past the beer-and-shot place with the same stuff on the television and the same beers on tap and the same music playing. It was an alternative for people. So many people came in and said they can't believe this is in Northwest Indiana."
Beer Geeks opened at just the right time to ride the wave of craft brewing's ascent, Owens said.
"We spent two years looking for a location but it turned out if we had opened even a year earlier we might not have made it," he said. "We opened in 2010 at the perfect right time when craft brewing was starting to take off. Aberdeen in Valparaiso and Brickworks in Hobart both opened up and didn't make it because they were too new. Now almost every brewery that opens makes it. We hit just the right sweet spot."
Owens said he wanted to thank Beer Geeks customers for more than 12 years of fun, but said the concept was never intended to have a shelf life beyond 5 to 10 years before he moved on to something new.
"It's a little bittersweet because it's my baby but the comfort zone is where dreams go to die," he said. "I'm not comfortable treading water anymore. I need to get my creative juices flowing."
Since Beer Geeks first opened, craft brewing went from being an obscure alternative to a widely accepted staple for more discerning beer drinkers.
"When we started 3 Floyds was the only thing around here," he said. "Now craft brewing has become extremely mainstream. Chain restaurants have 30 taps with IPAs, stouts, ciders and sours. It's gone mainstream. That trend has passed. Beer Geeks served its purpose to introduce the Region to craft beer. Now we want to introduce the next thing."
Over the course of its tenure in a Highland strip mall, craft beer has gained significant traction in society and now is a staple at bars across Northwest Indiana and the nation.
"We opened around the birth of craft beer in this area. When you're chasing something, that's the thrill," he said. "All these beers you had to chase around and seek out are now on pallets and shelves in Meijer and Costco. They're commonplace and that takes away the fun of the chase. Beer Geeks served its purpose."
It was more than just a craft beer bar, introducing signature cocktails in 2015.
"We still got pigeonholed as a craft beer bar, that that was all Beer Geeks does when that simply wasn't the case," he said. "It's finally time to put that in the rearview mirror and move forward with a newer concept. You don't want to get complacent or stagnant."
Owens had been considering the new B-Side concept for the past three years but it had been delayed by the pandemic. It will be a bar and lounge with live music and DJs spinning vinyl records – hence the B-Side name.
"It's very urban, more of something you would find in the city," Owens said. "It's not a cookie-cutter beer-and-shot place. It will have craft cocktails, signature cocktails and food. You'll just have to wait to find out what's on the menu."
It will continue to have 20 craft beers on tap at any given time but will no longer be craft beer-centric. It will offer a wide array of spirits from all over the globe as well as signature cocktails served in special glasses like an elephant.
"We'll definitely have more of a city feel," he said. "It will be similar, low-key, very urban and dark. We took down all the murals. It's more clubby, slick and sleek and very smooth. It will have a lounge vibe."
The bar removed a lot of the tables but will still sit around 70 people. It's adding a lounge area with couches and games in the corner.
"It's like a dive bar but with purpose," he said. "A lot of new places pop up with $5 million in investment and look great but what's coming out of them sucks and is mediocre. I'd rather have ambiance, vibe and a quality product."
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B-Side Bar Lounge added a new stage with new lighting and sound equipment. Bands previously just played in a corner of Beer Greeks as they did with Tuesday Bluesday for years. It's hosted a variety of acts like Evil Waves and the Thomas Ian Nichols Band.
"We had amazing talent come through here, traveling musicians that went on to play bigger venues and theaters. We had Grammy nominees like Eric Gales, just amazing talent coming through," he said. "In the early end of our tenure, we mainly hasd Chicago blues but brought in artists who traveled all over the world. We'd snatch them when they'd come through town."
The new concept is keeping the carpeting and low ceiling to ensure the acoustics remain good.
"Our live acts always sounded great but the stage will have better visuals with more lighting," he said. "It will have a nicer presentation."
The bar will host a variety of genres, including alternative rock, jam bands, hip hop and classic rock.
It will continue to do events like what Beer Geeks did with Rick and Morty Night, Quinten Tarantino Night, Dr. Dre Day and other themed parties. The only specific event that will carry over is the band Fresh Hops playing a jam night every Wednesday.
B-Side Bar Lounge aims to do a soft opening on Feb. 1 in which it will be functionally up and running but it won't be fully opened with everything envisioned until later.
"When you're opening a business, you have to wait on a lot of people," he said. "It's like getting caught out with a train here in Northwest Indiana. It's always slowing you down on the way to the destination."
The ambiance will have a nostalgic feel but won't evoke any particular period. He likened it to the pop culture murals that long adorned Beer Geeks walls with figures like Super Mario, Superman, the Toxic Avenger, Bart Simpson, The Road Warriors from the then-World Wrestling Federation and Doc Brown from "Back to the Future."
"When you come in, it might be something different for everyone," he said. "Some saw it as 1980s-themed but others saw the 1990s or 1970s. We had a lot of genres and people latch onto whatever they gravitate to."
Longtime customers who enjoyed Beer Geeks likely will like the new concept, he said.
"If you like Beer Geeks, this is really taking it to another level," he said. "The renovations are noticeable. We're going to keep innovating. It's going to be new and fun and cutting edge. People have asked if we can bring back Wu-Tang Wednesday and some of those things. We might carry it over in some cases but will try to do something new and fresh. Otherwise, why change the bar's name and do something new? If I learned anything, it's that you have to reintroduce yourself every few years. One of the first T-shirts we ever sold quoted Heraclitus staying 'change is the only constant.' Beer Geeks was a change from the normal, It's time for the next change."
B-Side Bar Lounge is now hiring.
For more information, call 219-513-9795, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find the business on Facebook or Instagram.
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