Brewpub aims to be centerpiece of Bridgeport

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Brewport — which, as its name suggests, is a new brewpub in Bridgeport — will offer patrons a portal into the past when it opens in August. Utilizing a wide range of historic materials — from the wood being repurposed as its central bar to antique tin beer signs in the restrooms, to the large mural on its exterior extolling the “historically accurate” offerings inside — the saloon aims to become an important part of the town’s bustling waterfront.

“We’re definitely bringing back a feeling of Bridgeport’s past,” said brewmaster Jeff Browning, who claims to have the largest collection of beer memorabilia in the state. “And that includes reflecting the history of the building itself.”

Located at 225 S Frontage Road in what once was a newspaper distribution warehouse, Brewport is also using steel bars from a time “in the ’60s and ’70s when it was mob-run — they’d have the bars inside the building for extra security” as part of its wide-open design. Patrons will be able to view the Fermenators up close and watch its cook staff whip up pizzas in its open kitchen area. Various elements custom-designed by local craftsmen will be visible throughout, including the centerpiece bar, which includes old gears and other industrial elements within its copper-plate surface.

As a collector, Browning has access to thousands of beer recipes dating back to the early 20th century and plans to regularly draw from them to create historically accurate brews. Brewport will serve a steady rotation of eight house beers — both from the past and from Browning’s own recipes — and an additional 16 beers from other craft brewers; anyone looking for a Bud or Miller Lite will have to look elsewhere.

Indeed, Brewport is adamantly not designed to be a typical boozehound’s paradise. While there’s a 75-year-old pool table and various board games, there will be no TVs. Beer will be served in 12-ounce glasses — “not those huge bowls that some places use,” Browning says, “where the whole idea is to get drunk as quickly as possible. This is meant to be a place where you can meet, enjoy and savor your drink, not get wasted.”

While cocktails will also be served, shots will not and no smoking will be allowed, not just within the bar but anywhere on the premises. “Having to walk through huge clouds of smoke on your way into a place — it’s terrible,” he said.

Bankrolling the roughly 12,000-square-foot space — which will include separate party/meeting rooms and a large area for entertainment and movies — are John and Bruce Barrett, owners of West Haven billboard company Barrett Outdoor Communications Inc., who bought the building in the early 2000s.

“We wanted to do something different with it,” Bruce Barrett said. “It was my brother’s idea to talk to Jeff, who we’ve known since we were in Cub Scouts.”

Initially paling at the Brewport concept — “The restaurant business is the worst one to get into,” Bennett recalled thinking — they eventually agreed to take a careful approach, bringing in a team from Milford-based Top Line Consultants who will remain on site to help train its 70-plus employees over its first few months of operations.

Browning said the location of the brewpub, which will seat roughly 300 patrons, was too good to pass up, given its proximity to the University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College, Webster Bank Arena and The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, along with easy access from Route 8. Thousands of cars reportedly pass Brewport’s location each day.

Browning emphasized that his staff is designed to reflect the city’s diversity, with hires ranging from “the Congo to someone who grew up a block and a half from here.” In the 114-space parking lot, two attendants will be on hand to greet guests, he added, providing “everything from an umbrella to a jump-start.”

Still under construction, Brewport is on schedule for a soft opening in August, followed by a grand opening in September, Browning said.

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