When Sean O’Byrne opened Great Waters Brewing Company in 1997, the brewpub scene in Minnesota was “pretty slim.” Now, there are more than 150 craft breweries in the state. But there will be one less after this weekend, when the downtown St. Paul standby closes its doors. (426 Saint Peter St., St. Paul, 651-224-2739, greatwatersbc.com)
“We were one of the first breweries around, and now there’s almost one on every corner, like a Starbucks,” O’Byrne said.
Minnesota Wild games, theater at the Ordway and concerts at the newly renovated Palace Theatre have been a boon to the brewery, restaurant and bar in the historic Hamm Building. But it’s not enough, O’Byrne said.
“It’s great for a destination, but everyday, casual customers who want to stop in for a beer – now there’s one in their neighborhood,” he said. And when the theater is dark and the games are away, and “there’s no one out on the streets because it’s so darn cold, you still have to pay the bills on those days.” Those bills include upgrades to 22-year-old restaurant and brewing equipment that O’Byrne wasn’t prepared to make.
Great Waters bore witness to major changes in the Twin Cities craft brewing world.
“At the time we opened up, you could not sell growlers,” O’Byrne said “The state Legislature didn’t even know what growlers were.”
O’Byrne lobbied for seven years for a change in the law to get approval to sell his beer to-go. Meanwhile, the Twin Cities were ripening for taproom boom. But because Great Waters also serves wine and liquor, it legally can’t sell its beer off-premises like competing local breweries can.
O’Byrne isn’t sure what he will do next. But the address is slated to undergo major renovations and turn into a “totally different concept” in the next three months, he said.
For now, merchandise is flying off the shelves and reservations are filling up for a busy last week. Great Waters officially closes on Sunday, Nov. 18.