"Running a restaurant is like raising a child, you learn a lot those first few years," Molly Gunn told Creative Loafing shortly before her establishment, The Porter Beer Bar, celebrated its fourth anniversary in early September. "You can't be everything to everyone. In fact, we can't even please all the beer geeks. But we have learned to buy beer we like to drink, sell food we like to make, and treat people the way we want to be treated. The right customers will find you, if you stay true to your vision." She and her husband, Porter chef Nick Rutherford, have done precisely that during The Porter's first few, creating a craft-beer destination right in the heart of Little Five Points in the process.
After considering a second location on Atlanta's Westside, fate—not to mention the financial problems of their would-be landlord—pointed them toward focusing on and improving their original location instead. Things have since turned out for the best. "When we rolled out our 300 bottle vintage list we realized that there was a choice: we could open a second location or strive to make The Porter one of the best beer bars in the world, we opted for the latter," Gunn recalls. Four more years, four more years!
Describe your first beer experience.
Growing up, my mother was the beer drinker of the family. My father was in a fraternity in college so he associated beer with the smell of vomit and therefore was a wine drinker. So I grew up thinking beer was a female drink. My mom drank Honey Brown, so my first beer was sweet with a hint of bitterness. I instantly loved it, but it wasn't until I went to college in Philadelphia and discovered Monk's Cafe that my beer world was really opened up. For years it was all about Belgian beers.
The Porter is Atlanta's first bar to offer Fernet on tap. What was the thinking there?
We had a few regulars who loved Fernet, and Nick had just put two of our signature cocktails on draft (Lemon-Gingerade and Rosemary Grapefruit Margarita) so we thought, "Why not? It'll be fun." And it is.
What is your favorite beer style, and why? An ideal pairing for that style?
Right now, our favorite style is those new sessionable but high-hop flavor pale ales like Terrapin Easy Rider and Port Summer Pale. This style is perfect for a day outside in the sun, ideally kayaking or swimming and perfect with summer picnic food like the old Southern classic: tomato sandwiches.
What happened to the second location you were pursuing a couple years back?
We were looking at the Goat Farm on the Westside. They were considering upgrading the space so a few select businesses could rent space, but unfortunately it didn't make financial sense for them, and we couldn't find anywhere else that spoke to us in the same way. But it's for the best, we live two blocks away from The Porter, so I'm not sure we would have loved driving across town every day.
What do you hope for the future of Atlanta's craft-beer community?
I'm looking forward to the emergence of a crowded local beer scene in Atlanta. I hope that one day we can rival Asheville and San Diego as great beer towns. I think many folks would agree that further relaxation in Georgia alcohol laws would also be a boost to the beer scene. Everything from the complex and long process of label approval to the still limiting ABV laws stand in our way of becoming a true beer destination.