The former Thalassa space in downtown Berkeley is not going to sit empty for long. The popular pool hall shut down last fall after losing its lease on the building, moved up the hill to Telegraph and Durant, and re-opened as Berkeley Public.
Now the enormous former pool hall, which is located at 2367 Shattuck Ave. between Channing and Durant, is being reconfigured as a craft beer garden and live music venue, says Alex Popov, who is spearheading the effort. Popov is a familiar name in the Berkeley food and drink scene; he founded Smart Alec’s in 1996 and Pappy’s Grill in 2012, and is running Liquid Entertainment, the company in charge of the music venue project.
The entirety of the venue, whose name has not been finalized, is huge — 12,000 square feet in total — and will be able to host special food and drink events in addition to concerts. Popov says that they will make use of the two large store-front entrances, one on Shattuck and one on Durant, which allow the venue to have a separate entrance for both the music and restaurant areas.
In other words, Popov wants the new venue to be flexible, a la The Independent or The Chapel in San Francisco. The venue is being designed by local firm Abueg Morris, and the renovation will include a full bar, a full-service restaurant and a large, 24 by 14 foot stage, on which Popov hopes to host everything from small bands to EDM DJs. Likewise, he wants the restaurant and bar menus to suit whichever beers come their way.
“We want to be very approachable,” he said. “A lot of beer bars can be snobbish or make people uncomfortable. We want guests to be able to learn about and enjoy beer in a comfortable and affordable atmosphere.” Part of this atmosphere will include an outdoor beer garden-like space.
Popov and his partners, Stephanie Popov and Chris and Greg Hoff, made good use of this month’s SF Beer Week event: “We were able to attend the opening gala and talk to a lot of different brewers,” he said. “They are all very excited about getting into our space.” The food menu will be based around the beer selections, and will be focused on affordability. There are no other plans in place as far as culinary style or cuisine. “It is very open-ended,” said Popov.
The prospective beer list will likely be California- and West Coast-heavy, but Popov doesn’t intend to exclude other regions. His main focus will be to highlight quality beers from lesser-known brewers. “We need more opportunities for smaller brewers to get distribution in Berkeley,” he said.
The new venue will contribute to the continuing development of downtown Berkeley as an evening destination geared to a younger crowd. In November 2014, Lisa Holt and David Shapiro, the owners of BUILD Pizzeria, opened nightclub and live music venue Berkeley Underground in the basement space of the restaurant at 2284 Shattuck Ave. It also is only the latest of many new spots to focus on craft beer, also part of a renaissance in beer-drinking in the East Bay.
Popov says that the decision to end Thalassa’s lease was “purely a business decision.” He says that the new plans promise a much higher return on the real estate investment and a “more valuable utility of the space” than a pool hall. In addition to music, food, and beer, Popov predicts that they may also hold events such as comedy shows and book readings (partnered with Pegasus Books next door).
Also unlike Thalassa, the new venue will carry a Type 47 liquor license and will be open to all ages. However, Popov expects the crowd to skew a bit older than at his Telegraph Avenue businesses. “At Pappy’s, we cater towards college students. Many have their first drink at Pappy’s,” he said. “At our new space, we’ll have more interesting drink options.”
Construction has begun on the new space, and Popov hopes to open by the end of the year. But even if it takes longer than expected, he isn’t worried. “We’re not afraid to take our time and get the space right,” he said. “We’ve toured all kinds of venues to learn what works and what doesn’t. We want to make sure we understand how to best utilize the space and how make it the nicest space for music in the East Bay.”
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