By Pete Newell
The Bold Mariner Brewing Company’s new location in Norfolk’s Ocean View neighborhood represents not only an unspoiled beachhead for the business, but the culmination of a dream some five years in the making.
Owner Mike Stacks caught the craft beer bug more than 20 years ago when the Michigan native and third-generation homebrewer stepped foot in Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. A 22-year veteran of the Navy, Stacks started by volunteering at early Hampton Roads breweries like O’Connors and Young Veterans.
When he decided to open his own place in 2014, Stacks would drive out to Ocean View and stare at the then-vacant Bank of the Commonwealth Building on the main drag. It seemed perfect. Not only because Ocean View is miles from any other brewery, but because the building itself fit his needs.
“Not only did I want to open a brewery in it, I wanted to live in it,” Stacks says.
Unfortunately, it was earmarked for another business, so he moved on, eventually opening in Lamberts Point in 2015. But when Stacks started searching for a second location in 2017, his thoughts turned again to Ocean View, where he was shocked to find a still-empty Commonwealth Bank.
He eventually decided against expanding, opting instead to transfer the entire 10-barrel brewhouse to the bank location. If the crowds at the new place are any indication, it was a good move.
The ambience is a departure from the original brewery, which had a warehouse vibe. Stacks and his team converted the former bank into a warm and inviting spot for locals and tourists alike. It has the feel of a beach house, with wrap around porches and a spacious area upstairs for private events. One of the few reminders of its former life, the vault, now serves as a walk-in cooler.
The tasting room features guest taps, as well as Bold Mariner beers. There is also wine and cider for the non-beer drinkers.
A dedicated kitchen offers small items – salads, sandwiches, pretzels and charcuterie – but the real highlight is Bar-Q, a Texas-inspired smokehouse that has become legendary in Hampton Roads for its pop-ups. While the intent is to eventually serve tantalizing smoked meats full-time, Bar-Q (pronounced “Bark”) is currently only available Friday to Sunday at the brewery.
“Food cooked over an open flame is a lot like beer,” said Bar-Q founder Jayme Campbell. “It brings people together.”
Stacks says the plan is to brew flagship beers first, including its popular Frogman Lager. But the brewing team acknowledges they now serve a different customer base.
“We have to listen to what the people in our tasting room want,” says John O’Reilly, head brewer. “Right now, they are asking for a wide variety of styles, which was not the case at the old brewery.”