If you spend enough time with your ass planted on the same bar stools in this town, chances are you’ve started to get to know the bartenders on the other side of the pine. And at Austin’s craft beer bars, their jobs go far beyond slinging pints and swiping credit cards. They proliferate our palates, advocate for the artisanal, and have become some of the keepers of our collective craft culture.
That’s why we like to keep tabs on the people who close out our… umm… tabs. And the last couple of months have certainly seen some shuffle ups at some of Austin’s newest craft beer institutions. One such departure came a few weeks ago when William Bearden left his post as the bar manager of Hi Hat Public House to take a position in the Hops & Grain taproom.
For Bearden, that decision was not an easy one.
“My decision to leave Hi Hat was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Bearden said. “Steve & Rena [Hi Hat’s owners] are such amazing people to not only work for, but work with.”
Bearden got his start in the beverage world working at a winery for four years. But he started spending more and more time off the clock homebrewing and developing an appreciation for craft beer. After stints managing Fion and Cru Wine Bar prior to Hi Hat, Bearden’s love for the grain started to overshadow his passion for the grape. Which leads us to his new position at Hops & Grain, one that Bearden has not shied away from calling a dream job.
“Since I have been into craft beer I have wanted to work for a brewery,” Bearden said. “Once I realized I could work for a brewery based upon ideals that I hold true to myself, I realized the jump needed to be made.”
The ideals Bearden is describing center around Hops & Grain’s mission of sustainability, a term that encompasses the brewery’s commitment to the environment, the community and the culture of craft beer.
And the Hops & Grain environment has certainly been welcoming to Bearden.
“It is great to walk into work and smell grains and other wonderful nuances that go into craft beer every day,” he said. “I truly feel at home at Hops and Grain, there is nonstop learning everyday.”
And while Bearden may be hanging his hat a half mile away at Hops & Grain these days, he certainly doesn’t anticipate Hi Hat losing its own dedication to that same community.
That’s because filling Bearden’s shoes is an equally passionate craft beer advocate, one that has managed to become a pretty ubiquitous fixture in the Austin beer community over the years, without ever having formally worked in it–until now.
That guy is Habeab Kurdi. He started at Hi Hat yesterday, and he certainly has Bearden’s blessing.
“He has the passion and dedication to not only run Hi Hat, but keep the community feel going,” Bearden said.
For Kurdi, the new position meant leaving an 11 year career in journalism, a decision that could have only come out of a thirst for something fresh, and an opportunity truly worth taking.
“I felt like it was a really unique and exciting opportunity to not only be a part of something that is growing, but [something that’s] also representative of the beer community and the East Side,” Kurdi said.”It’s an extension of a lot of things that I’m passionate about.”
It’s safe to say Kurdi can speak to that community, considering he’s been a Hi Hat regular since shortly after they opened their doors last December.
“Even in the short time it’s been around I think it’s already become an embodiment of Austin’s craft beer scene,” Kurdi said.
While Kurdi will no doubt have some new ideas for Hi Hat, right now he’s most excited about getting to earn a living working with two of the things he loves most–beer and people, and that all plays into his vision for the bar.
” [I want it to be] somewhere that people want to go and unite, and be together,” he said. “Whether it’s getting up for brunch on the weekend, or coming home from work on a weekday or just stopping by to see some happy faces.”
Hi Hat is not the only craft beer bar in Austin to undergo some recent staffing changes. Craft Pride and former Beer Guru Chris Booth parted ways recently, and Adan De La Torre left his position as GM/ beer buyer at Chicago House to return to his roots at the Alamo Drafthouse.
De La Torre worked in the Drafthouse kitchen from around 2005 to 2011 before his love for beer (more specifically–cask beer) took him over to Baker Street Pub for a stint, followed by Chicago House which opened on Trinity St. in January of 2013. Now, he will be returning to the Drafthouse to work as the bar manager of 400 Rabbits, the tequila focused cocktail bar (which also happens to have a good beer selection) housed in the theater’s Slaughter Lane location.
While the environment may be a familiar one, it doesn’t mean De La Torre is taking the new position lightly.
“It’s like a riding a bike, a really big fucking bike,” he said.
While it’s a little sad to see some of our favorite bars lose the bar managers who were integral in their establishment, the blow is certainly cushioned by the fact that they are continuing to do great things in the Austin beer community. It’s also exciting when their successors share the same ideals, passion and commitment that made these guys so successful to begin with.
Basically, this just means we’ve all got a lot more drinking to do.