There’s beer; and then there’s beer. There’s the six pack you grab after work. The case of cheap stuff you buy for a Sunday barbecue. And then there’s the lovingly chosen selection of brews that Gene Beck serves at his new Bangor establishment, Nocturnem Drafthaus, located at 56 Main St. The business, which serves triple duty as a bar, cafe and event center, was unveiled on April 16 to a packed opening night crowd.
Beck, a beer connoisseur with a decades-long career in the food service industry, has had the dream of opening a beer-centric business for as long as he can remember. Earlier this year, that dream became a reality, after he went in with Bangor caterer Ann Marie Orr on a business that would combine his love of the brew with her event-planning savvy.
“In a way, this culminates what I’ve done in my career in food and beverage and the restaurant industry in general,” said Beck. “I just love good beer, and have always wanted a place where you could go out and get really, really good stuff on tap in a cool setting.”
Nocturnem began changing from dream to reality in January. Beck, a Brewer native, had worked for Swett’s Hogan Road Deli for 15 years, where he personally cultivated their impressive selection of microbrews and imported beers, which Swett’s still has. He decided over the winter that 2011 was the year that he’d go for it. He knew he couldn’t do it alone, however, so he called up his friend Orr, who’s known in Bangor as an event planner, caterer and creator of the mysteriously delicious marinade Ann Marie’s Secret Sauce, which is available in stores all over the state.
“Gene called me up one day and said, ‘So hey, what are you doing right now?’” said Orr. “Once he told me the idea, I was pretty much game on for it. He didn’t really want to do the restaurant thing so much, and I didn’t really want to do the bar thing, so together it fit perfectly. And we busted our butts to get this thing done.”
Weeks of renovation of the two-room space followed, with Beck removing the old bar and kitchen area and replacing it with a dark-stained wooden bar and smaller kitchen, freeing up much more space for tables and chairs. The boldly colored decor compliments the brick walls and tile floors, giving a space that has held three separate businesses over the past four years a brand-new look and feel. It’s elegant but comfortable, and if the crowds of the past few weeks are any indication, it’s rapidly becoming the spot for post-work socializing.
“All the stars aligned for us,” said Beck. “The space was available, and we had the vision for it. This space needs a vibe, and we’ve got the vibe. Downtown Bangor is really ripe for the picking, in terms of renovating old spaces and bringing in new businesses. People are ready for new things. I’m really thrilled to be a part of it.”
Beck and his staff will pour brews and offer a simply prepared, limited menu of artisan breads, meats, cheeses, sandwiches and salads, made from locally sourced ingredients and changing on a weekly basis. Orr will host events in her cheerful, tastefully designed dining room, which she has dubbed The Meeting Haus. Her space is adjacent to the bar, and it also will serve as spillover space for the bar on busy weekend nights. Those interested in hosting a reception, party, meeting or other event in the space, which can seat 70 with tables or 100 for cocktails, can contact Orr at 947-5885. Special, larger events also can utilize the entire space, as well as the back terrace of the building, facing Broad Street.
As for the beer, you’d do well to check in with Beck and company each week to see what’s new on tap. Nocturnem has 15 taps, which Beck will change regularly depending on what’s available and what he and his customers are in the mood for.
“The whole idea is to keep it interesting and try new things,” said Beck. “There’s so much great stuff out there, and I just want to showcase as much of it as I can.”
A warning to the uninitiated: many of the beers on tap have a very high alcohol content, and most are served in special glasses, instead of the pint glass standard at the majority of bars. Prices range from $5 to $10 for each beer. Eight dollars for an 8- or 12-ounce beer might seem high, but it’s meant for the taste and the experience, and once you’ve tucked away two world-class brews with a 9 percent ABV, you realize just what the fuss is all about.
Right now, beer fans can try a wide array of styles and flavors. Maine beers are represented by breweries such as Allagash, with their Confluence Ale, an aged, dry-hopped beer that’s malty and spicy. Geary’s Oatmeal Stout, Rising Tide’s toasty, amber-colored Ishmael brew, and the Frye’s Leap IPA and Full Throttle Double IPA from Sebago Brewing are also on tap.
Then there’s the German and Belgian beers, such as Reissdorf Kolsch, a German beer that’s light, citrusy and bubbly, and the sweet, mild wheat beer Schneider Weisse, also from Germany. Belgium is represented by the Straffe Hendrik Brugse Tripel, a dark, lively tripel, and Gouden Carolous Grand Cru, a strong dark ale that packs a wallop. There’s also the St. Louis Framboise Lambic, a Belgian fruit beer.
The rest of the list is rounded out by great American microbrewies, such as Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale, Dogfish’s eternally popular 90 Minute IPA, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch IPA, Pennsylvania-based Weyerbacher’s Heresy, a deliciously evil Russian imperial stout, and the limited edition Ommegang Adoration, a dark, spicy strong ale brewed in New York. But don’t assume that the aforementioned beers will be there when you stop in; the selection will change at least once a week.
If you’re nervous about trying the tap beers, fear not. Beck has a huge cooler filled with many more bottled beers from around the world, and there’s a small but thoughtful selection of wine and liquor, for those who don’t like beer or are gluten-free, but still want to visit Nocturnem.
“I left my old job to live the dream,” said Beck. “So far, it’s been a very fair trade.”