After more than 23 years in business, the Bear Brew Pub, a staple of downtown Orono and the preferred after-class hangout for a generation of University of Maine students, will close its doors at the end of May.
A few weeks after that a new pub — The Common Loon Public House, owned by three Orono residents — is set to open in the same location in mid-June.
The Bear Brew opened in 1995, after original owner Milos Blagojevic spent two years renovating a long-empty Main Street building into a cozy neighborhood brewpub. In addition to a small array of beer brewed on site, the Bear Brew offered pub food such as burgers, ribs, wings, hot cheese dips and, most popularly, brick oven pizza. It catered to students, faculty and Orono residents alike.
The Bear Brew and the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Bangor, which also opened in 1995, were the first craft breweries in the Bangor area. Black Bear Brewing Co. owner Tim Gallon was one of the Bear Brew’s first brewers, and he continued to brew beer for the pub until 2004, when he founded Black Bear.
Blagojevic sold the Bear Brew in 2002 to Matt Haskell — current owner of the Blaze restaurants in Bangor and Bar Harbor — who operated it until 2010, adding in the upstairs nightclub, Soma 36, and a third-floor billiards room. The Bear Brew was always a student hangout, but the addition of the nightclub cemented its status as a student bar.
Haskell sold the pub in 2010 to Jim Bence, who will retain ownership until just after the Bear Brew officially closes on May 28, when Travis Baker, Ryan Laracy and Cory Gardner will assume ownership.
Baker, known in the Bangor area as the writer of Maine-set plays “One Blue Tarp” and “Hair Frenzy,” both of which were staged at the Penobscot Theatre Company, saw the Bear Brew advertised for sale in the Bangor Daily News in March. He’d never considered owning a bar, but the opportunity struck him as a good one, he said.
“I’ve been substitute teaching and, before that, adjuncting at colleges for years, but that’s not something you can really do forever,” said Baker. “This seemed like a pretty fun change of pace.”
Baker partnered up with Gardner and Laracy, both of whom have worked at Woodman’s Bar & Grill in Orono and in other restaurants and bars for years, and hatched the plan for The Common Loon.
The three plan to transform the former college bar into an English-style pub, offering craft beer and classic pub food such as fish and chips, British pies and poutine, as well as an English-style breakfast on the weekend.
They’ll also offer the chance to watch internationally popular sports such as Premier League English football, Major League Soccer, rugby and cricket.
“We’ve got a Liverpool football supporters club going in Orono, and beyond that, there is a big community of international students and professors and doctors who want to root for their countries,” said Baker. “I think it’ll be good to make this space into more of a community kind of place, that’s a little more inclusive outside of the late-night college crowd.”
In a nod to his roots in public education, Baker said there will be a weekly public school employee appreciation night at his new bar. The upstairs nightclub will not be open at first, but they plan to renovate that space and eventually offer live music, comedy and other community arts events.
The Bear Brew’s last day open will be Sunday, May 27, according to a post on the Bear Brew Facebook page. Baker said he, Laracy and Gardner plan to spend a few weeks doing some minor renovations, and will be open as The Common Loon on Thursday, June 14, for the first game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
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