Stepping into Torch & Crown‘s now-complete 9,000-square-foot, multi-level SoHo space defies expectation. In a neighborhood known for pricey retail and residential nooks, one might not expect to find Manhattan’s only production brewery—let alone one so spacious and bright. And yet, from the heated outdoor seating to the taproom and restaurant to the underground expanse equipped with state-of-the-art machinery and custom subterranean fermenters, it’s evident that the team behind Torch & Crown intends to revive Manhattan’s rich brewing history in a way that everyone will enjoy. It’s not just the brand’s beer that’s sure to please, it’s also their comfort food menu and New York-only back bar—which includes a Negroni on tap made only from liquids produced in the state.
“It took us so long to find the space,” CEO and co-founder John Dantzler tells us, in a continuation of a conversation we began in June, long before doors opened. Dantzler and childhood friend Joe Correia (Torch & Crown’s head brewer and co-founder) saw over 250 spaces along the way.
“Every step to get off the ground was met with adversity from every direction. Brewery economics are tricky,” Dantzler continues. Though the brewing history of Manhattan is rich (dating back to the 1800s) and there were several brew pubs on the island from the early ’80s to 1995, then everything shifted to the other boroughs.
A lot of factors came together for the epic SoHo space. “Breweries have to be located in designated manufacturing zones,” Dantzler explains. “All of the outer boroughs are mixed-use, so you can brew there. In Manhattan, there are only pockets. That decreased the areas we could look—and we knew we wanted to be in Lower Manhattan because it’s where we grew up. While searching for a space, we ended up in most basements in Lower Manhattan. We’ve seen some weird stuff.”
Not only was the search for a space problematic, so were laws (which vary state to state). “In 2014, New York went from being one of the worst to one of the best for brewing. We acted quickly once laws were changed. By quickly, we mean within a decade,” Dantzler jokes. Altogether, their childhood dream turned into a decade of work that brought them to opening day, in the midst of a pandemic. They’ve been nimble, safe and were fortunate to have so much outdoor space.
“Our model is to serve the full experience for our visitors,” Dantzler says. “It’s taking the small community brewery model and putting it right into the most energetic, densely populated community. Our ambition here was to start and end in New York. We are trying to position ourselves as Manhattan’s brewery. It’s for a reason. It’s so hard to do. We want to serve and be inspired by everyone in this community.”
Of course, at the heart of that concept is the beer. “I keep coming back to the inspiration the overarching craft brewing community has given as to what beer can be,” Correia says of his mission with their portfolio. “I love to try to look at these more obscure concepts and refine them down to their simplest parts. I’ve made pastry stouts, big barrel-aged beers, super-robust double IPAs. But sometimes you get a pour of those beers and four ounces is about as much as you want. Our goal is to make things more accessible. Beer is supposed to be a social drink.” Their cream ale is a prime example. It’s simply delicious—and one of their top three sellers. Further, it’s the only style with origins unique to New York.
“Whatever our brewers want to make, that’s what we make,” Dantzler says. And now that they are serving their own liquid at their own restaurant, they can explore even more. “We have a lot more breath. We can see what people do dig and why. This gives us confidence—and creative freedom.” Correia adds.
Operating Partner Christian Pappanicholas, of The Cannibal Beer & Butcher fame, says the dining concept “wasn’t about building something hyper-esoteric. The food and beverage program was built with the mindset to appeal to everyone.” He adds, “What’s in the glass is the most important role but we’ve got all these supporting actors in the conversation.” One of the most appealing happens to be their Mushroom Cheese “NO STEAK,” a meat-free Philly cheese steak variant.
“We’ve been working on this for the better part of a decade. It’s finally come to fruition. It’s been a long journey and along the way we did not know how it would take shape. It’s here now,” Dantzler concludes. From the airy ground-floor space with a Deutsche-fabricated, three-vessel brewing system on view to the successful menu of brews (ranging from easy to exciting), it’s successfully Manhattan’s only brewery.
Images courtesy of Torch & Crown Brewing Company