Many Gainesville natives will tell you that they never would have imagined seeing multiple tap rooms and even a distillery within walking distance of the downtown square.
But the city has transitioned over the last few decades from an area known for its quiet, conservative demeanor to one that is now accepting of, and even excited for, these businesses.
Zack Thompson, councilman on the Gainesville City Council and founder of Tap It Gainesville Growlers, credits this change largely to a growth in the city’s population.
“We have experienced a lot of growth in the past eight years alone, I want to say we’ve grown by more than twenty percent,” said Thompson. “With that growth comes new opportunities, new needs, new wants from our citizens.”
Thompson said that a significant number of those moving into the city are from a younger generation, many of them healthcare professionals starting out Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Thompson said that as the hospital system moves forward with its residency program and the city continues with some of its development projects, it is highly likely that more young people will move to Gainesville…and more breweries, distilleries and bars will come with them.
“What they’re looking for is not necessarily what citizens back 20 years ago were looking for in Gainesville,” said Thompson. “The free market is kind of dictating how we evolve as a city.”
In August of 2017, the Gainesville City Council voted to establish a downtown dining district, an area of the downtown square where customers can consume open container alcohol off-premises of a restaurant or business.
The district has attracted tap rooms like Tap It Gainesville Growlers to the downtown square. Under new owner Jim Tortorelli, Tap It is in the process of relocating from Thompson Bridge Road to a remodeled building on Maple Street.
“They’ve gone through a lot of changes where they could allow outdoor consumption and you could walk around with a beer in your hand,” said Austin Underwood, manager at Tap It. “I think that’s a really great plus to the square now, I really like where it’s going and where we’re at now.”
Once Tap It officially opens, it will be one of two tap rooms, the other being Downtown Drafts on Bradford Street, that are a part of the city’s downtown dining district. Cork It Wine and Charcuterie on Main Street offers wine by the glass and bottle, while other downtown restaurants like Atlas Pizza, Avocados Restaurant and ChopBLOCK Food & Spirits offer food and alcohol.
Keith Speed, owner of the recently opened Remedy Distillery in Midtown, said that the City of Gainesville government was very receptive to his idea of bringing a distillery to the area.
“I think because prior to me coming to the city, two years ago another individual was trying to get a distillery started and that didn’t work out,” said Speed. “It got [the city] open to thinking about the idea of allowing a distillery here.”
Johnny Johnson, Speed’s partner at Remedy, said that a change in values among community members has played a large role in allowing businesses like theirs to succeed in Gainesville.
“It used to be that even the Methodists and Presbyterians were Baptists at heart, in that they didn’t drink in public and they didn’t dance where you could see them,” said Johnson. “But that’s changed over time, people are much more receptive to it and people are not as, for the most part, judgmental about alcohol.”
Remedy Distillery is outside of the City of Gainesville’s downtown dining district, but Thompson said expanding this area into Midtown could be a possibility.
“There have been some citizens who have reached out and they want to expand that downtown dining district to include Midtown and Greenway,” said Thompson. “I would assume that we would start looking at that area and the possibilities of having another district to allow an open container.”
In the near future, Thompson said that officials with the City of Gainesville are starting to look at opportunities for development on the side streets surrounding the downtown square. He said Tap It choosing to relocate to Maple Street works as a catalyst for this expansion.
“It kind of refocused our staff and council to look at not just what’s on the face of the square, but what’s behind the square…I think Tap It poses a good opportunity for us to kind of look at that Maple Street area,” said Thompson.
Underwood said that Tap It staff are excited to be among the first businesses in this expansion.
“At first, we were still hesitant to do it but now that we found the location, did the renovation, it’s a great spot and people are really going to enjoy coming here,” said Underwood. “I think once people start seeing that, word starts getting out, people are gonna say, ‘oh yeah, that is a great idea,’…I think we’re headed in the right direction.”