21 Aug 2014
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New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin

Dean Biersch talks about changes being made to former Southern Pacific Smokehouse building at Vintage Oaks Shopping Center and why he's excited about opening in Novato.

New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin New Hopmonk Tavern Hopes to Revive Live Music Scene in Northern Marin

Dean Biersch carefully steps over the new douglas fir flooring that's being installed inside his soon-to-be-open Novato restaurant and wipes the dust off a stool seat right next to the stage. He plops down and talks about how in a few months the lights of Hopmonk Tavern will shine down on top-flight musicians as they entertain patrons sipping libations from a long list of quality fine ales.

It was exactly two months ago when Biersch announced he was taking over the spot previously occupied by the at Novato's . First reported in the , the news was followed by eager to share their excitement and offer suggestions.

"That Patch story blew my mind because we got great information with all the communication on there about how the local people felt about it," said Biersch, a Sonoma resident and former co-owner of the Gordon Biersch craft brewing empire. "It was great stuff for us to read up and think about. A lot of those suggestions were really good ones."

Biersch, who owns Hopmonk Taverns in Sebastopol and Sonoma, then talked about an upgrade sounds system that should make musicians and music fans happy when the place opens sometime in November. The acoustics of the room were strong already, but the sound engineers will enjoy a new digital board and other ancillary equipment that goes with creating a standout audio experience, he said.

And big exterior upgrades: a marquee that will tell passersby who will be playing that night and a door added to the west side of the restaurant for entry directly into in the music hall.

"It will be very intimate and fun," he said. "Think about when people get older and they might not be as willing to drive a long way to see a show or they don't go out quite as much. Here they will be able to be close to some great artists. There is a massive amount of musical talent here and we're super excited about bringing them into the mix."

On the other side of the building, the front entry will be moved closer to the outdoor biergarten area where another small stage, a fire pit, a couple of small fountains and seating for diners will be situated among the trees — vintage oaks, of course.

"I grew up in Chico, and what really sold me on this place was the oaks trees," Biersch said. "I like those very much. This will be a great spot for a little bluegrass music on the weekends when we won't be bothering anybody nearby. I think it's going to be a very special atmosphere."

Inside, the former entry way will have an expanded beer bar — upwards of 14 to 16 taps, refrigerators for bottled beers, wall-mounted TV screens and seating where the greeters' station used to be located. The dining room area will have a sliding wall for quick access to the biergarten and some new booths; a few booths from the Smokehouse will remain. More changes could take place down the line, such as a larger patio area.

"We thought the site needed to be put in step with what we do, which means we're adding a little more craftiness to it," Biersch said. "It was a little shiny before. We're going to have a little bit of fun with this space."

Vintage Oaks management has been receptive and cooperative to all the changes, he said, paving the way for the same vibe that exists at the Sebastopol and Sonoma locations. The combination of good food, good beer and good music should work well, Biersch said.

Why will Novato work for Hopmonk? Biersch tells the story of creating a Gordon Biersch restaurant in Honolulu and hiring local people, respecting the local culture and being laid back about competition. There's no way a cookie-cutter approach would have been successful, he said. 

"Novato is not Sebastopol, it's not Sonoma, it's not Santa Rosa — it's totally different," he said. "We don't get worked up about the local competition because we just do our own thing and try to add something unique and fresh to the scene."

Asked if he'd put Novato's own  beer on tap, he said, "Oh, absolutely."

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