Photos © Brian Stechschulte

“This is one of the larger projects to happen in this area and the brewing community. I invite everyone to come see it.” – Chris Lawrence

If all goes as planned, Southern Pacific Brewing will open its doors in the Mission District at 620 Treat Ave in mid to late January. Planning and build out has been in the works for two years. San Francisco native and beer industry veteran Chris Lawrence is working with his business partner Anthony LaVia to put the final touches on the new space, while waiting for the last permit to be approved.

Once that’s behind them, patrons will arrive and be greeted by an outdoor patio and a lofty two-level interior bathed in natural light and framed in steel, chain link fence and wood. Architect Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture took on the project, who is well known for transforming old industrial spaces. Former projects include Four Barrel Coffee and Flora Grubb Gardens.

The space feels cool and hardened like you might expect, but a few soft touches breath life into the bar, which is backed by reclaimed Redwood. Lawrence, who also served as the general contractor, acquired the antiquated wood from a 130-year-old barn on his parent’s property in Mendocino that was falling over. Only the barn door seems to have remained intact, which is pinned to the wall next to a restroom entrance. The bar top, tables and chairs were also fashioned from reclaimed Douglas fir.

Along with some vintage light bulbs and forest green tile work, that’s the extent of the decor as it stands now except for one final touch that’s yet to be installed. Two holes were cut out of the concrete slab so large trees could be planted that will rise toward the skylights and give the space a beer garden touch. Capacity should clock in around one hundred for guests who want to sit and eat, while there is plenty of standing room.

Lawrence cut his teeth doing local and national sales at Speakeasy Ales & Lagers and then did a stint with Matagrano, a regional wholesaler. He recruited another Speakeasy alum, Andy French, to crank out brew from their 15-barrel system, which was pulled out of a warehouse where it had been sitting since Potrero Brewing Company closed in March of 2002. French will also be working on a 4-barrel system to craft experimental batches. Brewing capacity is set at 2,000 barrels per year.

Southern Pacific actually holds two alcohol licenses that make it a brewpub and production brewery. One license, a type 75, allows them to function as a brewpub and serve wine and liquor in addition to beer. The other license, a type 23, is for retail production.

According to Lawrence, “Technically we’re two different breweries on the same premise.” This may seem odd, but it’s not terribly unusual. For customers it means they can enjoy the beer on-site and find it at another bar in town.

The brewery has already made a few batches and the style sensibility will be decidedly West Coast. Right now you can expect a Pale Ale, IPA, a White Beer and a Porter along with three other beers, which is all their seven serving tanks will allow. “If there’s a demand we’ll make more,” said Lawrence, whose also going to let French play with barrel aging down the road. The winery next door, A.P. Vin, may even provide the barrels.

Aside from Southern Pacific’s beer, they’ll also offer a fully stocked bar, wine, guest taps and food will be prepared by Chef Tyler Morrish. He’s worked at Osteria Coppa and with Rich Higgins on his Brewmaster Dinner Series at Social Kitchen & Brewery. Lawrence described the menu as “pub fare” and it will include burgers, sandwiches, small pizzas, and salads. “We want to keep it casual and be here for everyone, whether they’re looking for a neighborhood bar or want the brewpub experience.”

So far some of the neighbors have welcomed Southern Pacific with open arms. Even the Principal of a nearby school wrote them a supportive letter, who appreciated how the new business would benefit the neighborhood. Lawrence said “It’s unique, there’s no other business like it in this area.”

The breweries name actually stems from industrial history of the Mission District. The Southern Pacific Railroad carved right through the heart of the neighborhood within a block of the brewery and down Harrison.  “The imagery and the industrial feel of what San Francisco was at the time spoke to us,” according to Lawrence. Beer names may even pay homage to the past. The railroad company had a passenger line called the Cascade Limited. Sounds perfect right?

Southern Pacific Train at Harrison & 21st, 1905. Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

It’s been awhile since the city has welcomed a newly built brewery of this size and ambition. With demand for craft beer continuing to increase, up 16% in 2011, I expect a thirsty audience will descend on Southern Pacific.