Meet me at South Street: A facelift for an old Charlottesville favorite

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Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

If anybody around here understands how locals prefer to drink their beer, it’s Mandi and Taylor Smack. The proprietors of Afton’s wildly popular Blue Mountain Brewery, the Smacks bought South Street Brewery in July and hired Wolf Ackerman to help them put their stamp on it before reopening it in November. And though lots of people in town have fond memories of South Street the way it used to be—including the Smacks themselves, who worked there in the early 2000s—the new space is hard not to like.

“I wanted to clean it, lighten it, open it up,” said Mandi Smack. “It was real closed-feeling.” With seating mostly in the form of tall-backed booths, and lots of half-walls carving up the room, the brewery was a bit like a rabbit warren.

“Lightening it meant making it brighter and not as heavy,” said Fred Wolf, who oversaw changes in layout, materials and lighting. At the same time, the design team knew there were existing elements that really worked, like the ceiling with its exposed joists that speak to the long history of the building.

A starting point was the need for seating that, while not actually outdoors, could connect diners to the street. “We don’t have the patio seating, so we need to make people feel like they can get the outdoor experience,” said Smack. A front wall full of windows that can make openings higher than eye level does the trick. “It’s a pretty conventional window, but supersized,” said Wolf. “You feel like you have café seating.”

Placing tables along this wall meant reconceiving the brewery’s entrance, which in the old days required patrons to make a series of turns and then go up a ramp toward the bar. “By definition because everybody was using that space, nobody could use it,” said Wolf. “Now it feels more like a destination or termination in the restaurant.”

The entrance, meanwhile, is more transparent and direct, leading customers toward a new welded-steel host stand and lots of table seating. A handful of booths still run along the east wall, but they’re fresh and modern, separated by painted wooden “frames” that imply privacy without shutting out nearby diners.

A new logo was designed by Smack and Watermark, then applied as a “supergraphic” to the wall of booths in a cool palette of grays and blues. Concrete flooring and chairs that are knockoffs of a classic Jean Prouvé design bring in the modern, while the existing fireplace, left unchanged, honors the old.

The renovation shortened the bar a bit—don’t worry, drinkers, there’s actually more seating there now—and replaced the copper bartop with wood. We’re guessing, though, that the prime seats will turn out to be the ones along the front wall. “There’s a connectivity between the business and the life of the street,” said Wolf. “That space that’s the street tends to dovetail with the semi-private space—hearing the chatter, the glasses, the plates.”

Said Smack, “It’s the best billboard there is.”