by Robyn Siderski
Tom Wilder wants you to know that Young Veterans Brewing Company’s new Oceanfront hotspot isn’t just another brewery. It’s a restaurant and concert venue.
The Bunker Brewpub & Cadence Hall is the realization of everything Young Veterans planned to do in its original taproom, but were prohibited by a Navy restrictive-use easement near Naval Air Station Oceana.
When the reality of the situation on Horse Pasture Road set in, Wilder, Young Veterans’ co-owner and president, and his business partner Neil McCanon, looked for a satellite location away from strict Navy rules.
They turned to the Oceanfront, which at the time only had Back Bay Brewing Company. Since then Smartmouth Brewing Company has opened its second taproom there, Home Republic opened its brewpub, and Richmond’s Isley Brewing has announced its Beach plan.
Wilder and McCanon, both Army veterans, met Chris Holyfield, who wanted to open a restaurant. It was something the pair hadn’t considered before. For five years they’d worked to make a name for themselves with beers like Pineapple Grenade hefeweizen and Jet Noise IPA. But now they wanted something to help them stand out from the crowd of breweries popping up around Hampton Roads.
“This market is becoming more and more saturated as we go forward,” Wilder said. “One of the best ways for us to establish roots in the area is to provide people with food and create a brewpub instead of a warehouse.”
The goal was to give guests everything all in one place: food, beer, and music.
The Bunker, at the corner of Pacific Avenue and 21st Street, features two distinct spaces totaling about 8,000 square feet. One side is a restaurant that serves what Wilder calls “upscale southern coastal cuisine.” The other side feels more like a taproom with a stage, bar, and open space.
When you walk into the restaurant, you’re greeted by a long bar on one side, and open, airy windows on the other. Servers take your order at a few dozen tables. There are families, couples on dates and groups of friends scattered about. Keep walking and you’ll pass a dividing wall into Cadence Hall. It’s more laid-back, and there’s more space to move around and dance or rock out.
At the heart of both spaces is the beer produced by Young Veterans, all of which is made at the production brewery. Wilder said he hopes to begin brewing on the 3-barrel system at the Oceanfront in early 2019.
The focus for the pilot system will be wild fermented beer, Wilder said – a switch from the light American beers, ales, lagers, kolsch, hefeweizens, and ambers brewed in Young Veterans’ taproom. You’ll also find at least five IPAs, multiple sours, and even a barrel-aged stout.
Behind the restaurant bar are 30 taps with 20 different beers. More are in Cadence Hall. And it’s not just Young Veterans’ beer on tap. It’s a full bar.
The menu, put together by Holyfield and Chef John Ferguson, has dishes like Low Country Shrimp and Grits, four different kinds of coastal tacos, and pan-seared crab cakes. Being so close to the ocean, seafood was a must, but they wanted to put a southern twist on everything.
No food trucks here.
Nearly every Friday and Saturday night there’s a band on stage in Cadence Hall, and the guys behind the venue want to keep it local. Wilder, who has a band, wants to make a space for other groups to perform original music. He’s avoiding cover bands.
Music has always been part of his and McCanon’s hearts. They figured if they can open up a place and put in a stage, it will have everything they ever wanted, plus food.
And though The Bunker missed its deadline for opening in the summer and attracting the tourist crowd, McCanon says it has given the locals some extra time to soak it in first.