How many times would you be willing to try and fail? Most people like to believe they’re resilient—whether they’ve had their resolve tested or not—but Ryan Watson can honestly say that after a hard fall, he gets up again. After eight years and four attempts to open a bar of his own, he’s finally done it with Hop Shop, his new beer-centric (though cocktail-friendly) bar in Brooklyn Heights.
Located on Columbia Street, a brief stretch of road that separates Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill from the East River waterfront, and conveniently nestled between Pok Pok NY and Pok Pok Phat Thai, Hop Shop is a true labor of love, almost entirely constructed by hand by Watson, his fiancée, Anneli Fredh*, their business partner John O’Brien, and a string of friends the two have met while working as bartenders.
“After working in New York City bars, you get this fever, especially when you see the ring at the end of the night,” says Watson. “You’re like, ‘Wow, this is what my boss makes? I should as well.’ So, why not? I tell people, the only thing I don’t have on my resume is probably owner.”
A Southerner by birth, Watson moved to New York in 2002, “sight unseen.” Living with a roommate he met online (and now one of his oldest friends), he spent his days building and designing showrooms for retailers like American Eagle. But out of boredom or that all-too-real New York desire to just make more money, Watson kept working bar jobs, most notably at Nolita dive bar, Spring Lounge. That’s where he met Fredh, a native of Norway who regularly dropped by Spring Lounge after finishing her own shifts at Toby’s Public House. Today, they are engaged and live a few blocks from their new bar.
“There’s such a great neighborhood presence around here,” says Watson of his adopted neighborhood of eight years. “Everybody’s super warm, super nice.”
It’s that overarching love for their neighborhood that inspired Watson and Fredh to design Hop Shop as the open, inviting space that neighbors are already raving over. In fact, the sleekly ramshackle bar is constructed almost entirely of items reclaimed from around the city, including tongue and groove flooring from local brownstones, a tap system from a bar in Manhattan, and stools from the recently-deceased Roseland Ballroom.
“I’m a huge hippie at heart about recycling,” says Watson of the bar’s distillery-inspired design. “We built this place and I want to keep everything aesthetically local and reclaimed.”
Still, the main bar’s dive-y aesthetic ends at Hop Shop’s sizable patio, an oasis of sunlight and open sky unimpeded by neighboring buildings or pesky neighbors. Over the next few months, Watson hopes start a small garden and install a portable bar and a smoker for barbecuing. Inside, he and Fredh will truly out-Brooklyn themselves, pickling their own veggies, making house beef jerky, and fermenting homemade beer cheese. The more do-it-yourself, the better.
But in these early days, patrons are invited to munch on free popcorn and not-so-free franks from Brooklyn Hot Dog Company (the kitchen isn’t up and running yet, at least for another month) while imbibing on one of nearly 100 bottles on the beer list, and 14 changing drafts (available for growler fill with Hop Shop’s full liquor license). The draft lineup (which is updated daily on its website) is an ode to New York, featuring brews from Finback, Sixpoint, Captain Lawrence, and Empire as well as a few kegs of Murphy’s, New Jersey’s Riverhorse, and—unabashedly—Coors Light. Despite a beer list that would satisfy even the aficionado of beer nerds, Fredh wants to steer clear of the pretentious. “I don’t want to discuss a beer for three hours,” says Fredh, touching on the “snooty” feel of other craft beer bars. “I want to taste a beer, I want to know what’s in it, and why it’s good and that’s it.”
“And [you’ve] got to realize,” adds Watson. “I have the dock workers across the street and they don’t want to spend $10 on a beer.”
If all goes well, as it did at their super-packed opening night, the duo plan on angling for rare kegs if they can get them with the draft lines constantly evolving to fit the mood, the season, and the clientele, which Watson hopes will one day include those visiting Hop Shop’s other locations.
Already, he’s negotiating the lease on a space down the block that would be perfect for a Hop Shop beer garden and hopes to have bars in Asheville, N.C.; Atlanta; and, of course, Manhattan–which is why Watson registered the hopshopnyc.com domain before the first bar’s doors even opened.
“Yeah, I get ahead of myself sometimes,” Watson admits. “But I’m serious. I have a house in the Bahamas that’s calling my name and I want to be retired on the beach with our kids and just relaxing. That’s where I’m going with that.”
But in the present, Watson and Fredh sit down at their bar as the setting sun shines directly into the bar through its west-facing, open-air window, sharing a meal of Cuban takeout with an employee and friend. The stream of sunlight gets them excited about the prospect of growing the aforementioned garden on the back patio.
“We have more than enough space back there and there’s no buildings, really, around us,” says Watson, the cogs literally turning in his mind. “You can always create shade, but you can’t always create the sun.”
The Hop Shop, 121 Columbia Street, Brooklyn Heights
Correction: This article originally misspelled Anneli Fredh’s last name; we apologize for the error.