A curved steel structure hangs from the ceiling of the two-story hall occupied by Brouwer’s Café. Inspired by a programmatic need for ample seating, this suspended mezzanine animates the large volume of the old workshop building. The dramatic gesture is echoed in a steel-clad oculus that brings natural light to the mezzanine and a seventy-foot beer bar below. The geometric forms and unadorned materials recall an old-world beer hall, giving the space a rough-hewn elegance that complements the hundreds of craft brews served on the premises. -BjarkoSerra Architects
As a child, growing up in the Bay Area (during the waning of San Francisco's "Sound" ), Matthew Vandenberghe was raised by a family that immigrated from Belgium (a generation prior). While his grandfather grew up Flemish, Matthew's father grew up in California and his mother in Louisiana. Shortly after marriage, Matthew's father would start a career in construction, which has matured into a successful property management business. But his father never forgot about his Flemish roots, as it related to a complex drink, as evidenced by his love of wine.
Leading up to the 80's, the quantity of breweries in the United States was less than 50. Back in those days, the closest thing to "craft beer" was Fritz Maytag's Anchor Brewing, in San Francisco. Unfortunately for Matthew's father, as someone who had experienced complex (some might say inspiring) beers from Belgium, he found comfort in bottles of wine. This comfort would later germinate into the collecting of bottles upon bottles, to rest in his cellar. Looking back, Matthew would admit that he wasn't interested in wine, save for the occasional bottle of White, purloined from this father's nest.
Matthew would eventually get his taste of "legal" ale, at the age of 17, when he would escape with cousins (in Belgium) to visit a nearby pub. Over time he started taking notes of the beers he was trying. Over time he developed an understanding for beers that he would later purchase as a business owner.
After graduating high school, Matthew moved away from his birthplace of Oakland (California) and took up English studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Like many would-be students, Matthew preferred the solitude of a nearby coffee shop, over a dorm bed or library table. If pressed he might admit that time in the cafes of Eugene, sipping on coffee, inspired his 2nd business venture.
Eventually Matthew, migrated from Eugene to Seattle, with the idea of working in a brewery. Having started homebrewing, Matthew applied for a job with Liberty Malting, in the Market. After being denied an opportunity to work near Pike Brewing, he submitted an application to work in the tasting room of Martime Pacific. It was here that he would meet Matt Bonney and collaborate on the 1st business, Bottleworks.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Matt Bonney was first turned onto beer, because there was plenty of it. Between the occasional can of Leinenkugel, or Milwaukee's Best, Matt found an appreciation for imported beers, like Guinness Stout. As it turned out, he was the only one in his roommates who appreciated 'dark beers', given the lack of initiative his fellow housemates took (when confronted with a bottle of Guinness).
After high school Matt moved out to Humboldt County (California), to accept an opportunity at Lost Coast as a keg washer. Earning a decent wage, Matt was energized by working in a brewery. When compared to previous jobs (e.g. restaurant manager, cook, etc.) the work felt more aligned with his interests. Save for a short stint as an ill-fated package loader at a doll factory back in Wisconsin, which temporarily interrupted his brewery career, Matt worked at Lost Coast for over 2 years. During those 2 years, Matt was continually promoted, eventually receiving the role of Assistant Brewer. Unfortunately his time as Assistant Brewer was short-lived, due to his wife moving to Seattle in 1997.
Shortly after arriving in Seattle, during a discussion at Redhook Brewery's "Trolleyman Pub", Matt pondered the next brewery job. Some might say it was fateful to be sitting across the street from what would later be Brouwer's Cafe.
A week later, Matt took a role at a brewery in Ballard called Maritime Pacific Brewing. Owned by George and Jane Hancock, Matt was employed as a keg washer. A short time later he was promoted to Assistant Brewer. Early on, Matt worked under head brewer Joe Curilla. Midway through his time at the brewery, Joe resigned to work in Sunnywide at Snipe's Mountain Brewing, and Chris Hemminger assumed the responsibility of head brewer. During this time Bonney was promoted repeatedly and performed various responsibilities, before assuming a pseudo-Operations Manager role. Prior to the conclusion of his work at Maritime Pacific, Matt met Matthew Vandenberghe, who, as a prior homebrewer, was looking to engage in brewing.
Over the next few months, Matt Bonney and Matthew Vandenberghe became friends, both in and out of the brewery. This interest was mostly out of a mutual appreciation for beer, with Bonney showing support for breweries in the West Coast and Vandenberghe championing imported beers. Through this exchange of ideas Matt Bonney learned to enjoy Belgian beers (like Westmalle Triple, Orval, and Chimay), while Vandenberghe learned more about India Pale Ales. Towards the end of 1998 Matthew decided he wanted to open a bottleshop, given one didn't exist in the area. Shortly afterwards, Matt Bonney would join his friend, his first employee and manager, in opening Bottleworks in Wallingford.
Looking back, Bonney and Vandenberghe recall visiting places like Pike Street Market, to learn more about what beer drinkers wanted. But they remember the most striking thing about running a beer store, was the bewilderment from brewery representatives whenever Bonney or Vandenberghe declined an offer to 'stock the shelf'. In fact, the preference was to unpack the beer themselves.
Shortly into Bottleworks' opening, Matthew enlisted in some Business and Economics classes at nearby University of Washington. But unlike those he sat side-by-side with, he only took a few 101 courses, to help him better promote Bottleworks.
In 2003, between trips to Belgium and a fateful visit to San Francisco's Toronado, Matthew determined that Seattle needed a unique place where beer was the attraction. Given this would be Matthew's 2nd business, he wanted to find a location that would allow him autonomy from the floor to the ceiling. As he described it once, 'anyone can purchase a building and assume maintenance. I wanted a place that I could design, literally from the ground up'. With the assistance of a realtor he settled on an old brush factory, strangely enough across from Redhook's old brewery and Bjarko-Serra's offices.
From the beginning, Brouwer's Cafe was designed to fulfill Matthew Vandenberghe's vision, of a place where people can relax and enjoy beer. Taking cues from Belgium, San Francisco's Toronado, and even college, Matthew focused on every detail. In fact he made it a point of getting both the skylight installed and the cold room finished, before starting in on developing the upstairs. He even recognized a necessity to support people's other vices, which is why he promoted the upstairs as a smoking section, complete with a cigar room.
Recognizing the menu needed something more than cheeseburgers and french fries, Matthew suggested Vandenberghe hire Craig Danter as its 1st chef. Shortly afterwards Daysha Amster assumed the role of head chef (who was instrumental in organizing the kitchen and the menu), followed by Eric Draper (2007-2010), and Chef Bobby. Today the menu remains as unique as the day it was created.
With Matt Bonney's prior brewing experience, the draft system was designed with the intent to support individual regulators. Unlike traditional pubs, Brouwer's Cafe had a large complement of regulators that allowed each beer to be poured with a specific amount of carbonation. Coupled with the fact that each keg change resulted in the amputation of the draft line from the keg to the tap, and you had some of the cleanest tasting beer. As Matt Bonney put it, he would 'take the "Pepsi Challenge" with any other bar' based on truest representation of that brewery's beer.
In April of 2005, Brouwer's Cafe opened to mixed reviews but remained undeterred in their mission to make beer "sexy again". During that time, the management (along with its owner Matthew Vandenberghe) have made changes in how they promote beer. It began with the Pacific Northwest's 1st Barleywine festival and continues today with events like Sour Fest, Hopfest, as well as numerous Brewers' Nights.
Taking further reflection Brouwer's Cafe has not only promoted beer paired with great food; but has also inspired countless employees to grow beyond Brouwer's Cafe. Some have gone on to careers working for breweries, others have continued their college education, and others have moved onto owning their own businesses. In fact, Matt Bonney has since left Brouwer's Cafe to start his first business, as a co-owner of Toronado (located in Seattle).
Through it all, Brouwer's Cafe made it a point of never forgetting where they came from, by continuing to inspire locals and tourists to rethink beer's position at the dinner table.
Northwest Beer Guide