What sets Craft Beer at 1210 Auburn Way North apart from like establishments hits you upside the head just beyond the doors.
Brightly lit, clean, no shadowy corners, attractive bar — tables and chairs spread over a floor flanked by a dozen plus coolers freighted with a gobsmacking variety of craft beers and ciders.
One thousand varieties of bottled craft beer, to be precise, each complementing the 41 beers on tap, each sip a fresh revelation.
Take a whole lotta glasses – and time – to sample ’em all.
Owner Eugene Lee, who has owned two I-Vape stores in Auburn since 2012, wanted to set apart the brew establishment he’d long dreamed of opening from other bars he’d visited in the area.
“The bar experience I had in Auburn was not that great. It was always dark, that’s why I wanted to make this place bright. I wanted you to have the kind of place you could send your girlfriend, ‘Hey, honey, if you want a pint, go to Craft, have fun,’ instead of worrying about where she is going to be,” Lee said.
“I ride bikes,” Lee added. “I’ve gone to biker bars, and I don’t want to feel that vibe, which is sometimes hostile. And you see people who’ve been drinking beer for hours.”
Think of Craft Beer, Lee said, as the anti-that.
And, well, not really a bar, Lee corrects, more of a beer cafe. Like a Starbucks. Only, instead of slurping coffee, you guzzle a pint of beer, at a max two or three, and go your way.
“We buy our beers from distributors, or self-distributing brewers who are licensed to sell to retailers,” Lee said.
As always, there are 15 to 25 kegs as backup, so if something is sold out, management can replace it with a similar beer. That dark, chocolatey porter you fancy? No problem. The hoppy ale? Got it.
On the left as you enter you’ll also see a wide selection of electronic cigarettes, the variety of flavors inspiring the I-Vape store owner to have as many flavors of beer as he could manage.
Lee came to the United States from South Korea with his parents when he was 17. He graduated from Washington High School in Tacoma and from the University of Washington in 1998 with a degree in economics. He got into the tobacco wholesale business after college and since then has always owned a business. He lives near the boundary of Auburn and Federal Way.
His business models for Craft Beer are two: a popular beer cafe on Capitol Hill, and another beer cafe in his native South Korea, which he visits once or twice a year.
“The idea to even dream about doing this came to me when craft beer started booming 10 years ago. I didn’t have the resources at the time, but I’ve built up resources doing the vape stores, so I decided to give it a shot and see what happens,” Lee said. “And we could not be happier with how it’s working out.”
Lee points to a board.
“…We feature the new ones that come in, so customers who waltz in can just come to here and then see the new ones every week. As for the coolers, we divide them by the region. The first four cooler doors have beers from Washington, Oregon has two doors, then California, then three doors of cider and domestics as well,” Lee said.
Not to mention hard-to-find beers, from Death by Coconut and Creme Bruleé to a palette-vivifying milky stout.
The store employs five people, Lee said, and he is first to recognize that it’s a collaborative effort.
“I don’t really consider that I hired them, it’s more like a team works here. I always call myself the delivery man – I’m trying to do the backend work instead of staying out front,” Lee said.
Craft Beer opened March 1, but recently celebrated its grand opening. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekends, which begin for this establishment every Thursday.