The bunker-like space on the ground floor of a condo building on Tennyson Street wasn't very lucky for former tenants. Tastes Wine Bar lasted five years in the spot, but fizzled along with then-owner Daniel Kuhlman's short-lived Wild Catch on East 17th Avenue, while the art bar that took its place barely registered on the neighborhood's radar. Now new owners with a modernized concept have moved into the space, quietly opening Berkeley Untapped on July 11 with a carefully chosen list of craft beers, small-batch whiskeys and wines by the bottle or glass.
Owners Rachael and Jay Bombalicki say the turnaround was quick; they took possession and had the place up and running in two weeks. Jay Bombalicki credits the fast opening to a turnkey lease and a ton of hard work from friends and family, including wooden tasting boards made by Rachael's step-dad. Since the building's HOA prohibits a fully vented kitchen in the retail space, the Bombalickis concentrated instead on updating the bar and seating area, adding a multi-tap beer-dispensing set-up with an industrial look that they found on Etsy, a new wooden bar top salvaged from an antique truck bed, and a few other reclaimed wood flourishes.
This is the pair's first foray into the food and beverage industry, but Jay seems comfortable behind the bar, talking knowledgeably about the beers and whiskeys on the menu. They moved here three years ago from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with plans to continue their careers -- his as a firefighter and hers as a physical therapist. But an arm injury and ensuing infection almost cost Jay his life -- and definitely derailed his career plans. He still works part-time as a paramedic, but once he recovered from multiple surgeries to remove the infection and repair the damage to his joint, he turned his attention to opening a bar.
Rachael still works during the day and is involved in fundraising efforts for charitable organizations (her focus during her post-graduate studies). This spills over into one of the bar's themes: a percentage of each purchase goes toward one of three charitable organizations. When you buy a drink, you receive a token that you can drop in a box labeled with an organization's name. Brochures are also available in case you're not familiar with a specific charity's goals. The Bombalickis love the neighborhood and its history; the bar's logo even features an image of one of the trolleys that were once part of Berkeley's charm. And they're thrilled to add their bar's low-key but warm and friendly presence to the growing scene along Tennyson, an area that Rachael says was once known at "the town north of Denver." Since the bar has no real kitchen space (small meat and cheese plates are currently being offered), she says they're inviting guests to bring in food from local restaurants to help build community spirit.
Jay and his bartender are keeping the beer taps rotating, looking for new and interesting beers from Colorado and across the U.S. One tap, though, will always be reserved for one of their favorites: Black Shirt Brewing. They have also been working with Small Batch Liquors up the street to showcase regional whiskeys at the liquor store and at Berkeley Untapped.
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This Friday, in fact, they're bringing in Charlie Garrison of Garrison Brothers Bourbon from Texas. After a tasting from 4 to 7 p.m at Small Batch, Garrison will head to Berkeley Untapped to share his knowledge until 9:30 p.m.