When I first proposed we do a story asking “Can beer save Akron?” the idea was just a playful riff on the craft beer boom that’s as evident here as it is regionally and nationally. But then it seemed like, if not saving Akron, beer could actually be redefining Akron.
Start with our two award-winning, nationally-lauded microbreweries, Thirsty Dog and Hoppin’ Frog. Then when R. Shea opens to the public, joining Trailhead, Aqueduct, Nauti Vine and MADCAP, we’ll have five nanobreweries in greater Akron. The Brick Oven Brewpub in Ellet is the first of three, the other two—one in a loft development by the Towpath near Mustill Store and another coming to Highland Square with the promise of pizza made with beer yeast—opening within the next year. Then there’s SAAZ and the mighty homebrew scene, aided by the awesome Grape and Granary. Some of our excellent restaurants, like Crave and Nuevo, do beer tastings and beer dinners or have proprietary brews. In Thirsty Dog, we have a brewer who’ll host a Crafty Mart pop-up and then sponsor the inaugural Rubber City Race Series. (Those medals are like whoa.) Not to mention the Brew at the Zoo, Blues & Brews Festival, the Civic’s Akron Craft Beer Festival, the CVSR’s Ales on Rails, the Rubber City Beer Fest and the Ballpark Festival of Beers. And when there’s nothing “special” going on, we have amazing joints like Portage Lakes Brewing Company, Craft Beer Bar, Jilly’s, 69 Taps, Primo’s, Cashmere Cricket and the Lockview, among a ton of others who go all-out for local beer lovers.
But that’s just thinking about the sheer number of outlets for our collective beer yen. Consider what good craft beer facilitates and multiply that by the above. Typically, you drink craft beer for the experience. It’s about being social, and the more social we are, the better connected we become. That’s where this gets interesting. (Note: These connections aren’t exclusive to beer. It could be yoga or theatre or heartbreaking faith in Cleveland sports.) I thought about this a lot in Detroit, thanks to the Knight Foundation.
In lieu of a proper dinner, I drank beer with strangers at Garden Bowl, the oldest bowling alley in the nation. There were about 15 of us, all in town for the Knight Cities Challenge “winners’ summit,” which gathered up about 130
“civic innovators” from all over the country. I shared a lane with a near-future Akronite named Roger Riddle (follow him on Twitter @OccupyYouriPod), and three other KCC winners. One uses branding as a strategy to revitalize Detroit’s neighborhoods. Two others are launching the Miami Science Barge, a large, floating, educational science experiment. The folks in the next two lanes were likewise big thinkers, big doers. Bowling was our excuse to get together but beer helped us connect and learn.
What I learned: Unbox Akron is really doable. While other folks try to increase voter turnout in Philly with wayfinding art to its 850 polling locations and others convert an 8-story building into a mixed-use maker space and others renovate 300 childhood playgrounds, we just want to have some fun putting stuff in a box and mailing it to people. Of course, I left the Motor City with more than perspective. In fact, as much as I loved learning from Theaster Gates, Joanna Frank, Fred Dust, Jake Barton, Kate Catherall, Charles Landry and Robert Hammond, nothing was better than connecting to other “winners.” Now, I know smart, passionate, creative people in St. Paul, Miami, San Jose, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Detroit and of course, Macon. I can call on and learn from them as we get closer to turning the Devil Strip into an agent of change, not just an arts and culture rag.
That is, there’s a big picture here and the Knight Cities Challenge summit reminded me of that. And you know what, so did the Danstravaganza, which brought it all home for me. At Tangier, it was about the community of Dan Van Auken’s family and friends. The second night, it was about the community attracted to those friends and family. Again, I feel lucky that y’all let me live here.
I don’t want to build an audience for the magazine. I want to help build a tribe of tribes for the good of the city. If you think about the Devil Strip and Unbox Akron in that light—as tools, not the end goal—then maybe this makes sense. The question I want to answer each issue is “How can we connect more people this time?” And soon, “What can we accomplish with them?”
So, my theory isn’t that Akron will become a better place to live because we have great beer, but that connection will and our great beer gives us an edge that beer-poor cities don’t have. We have more opportunities to unite. As such, I can’t wait to tell you more about the Happy Hour Salons we’ll start hosting soon. In the meantime, Akron, I raise my pint to you.
[su_box title=”About the author” box_color=”#f2ece6″]
After working as a journalist for much of the last decade, Chris Horne launched The Devil Strip, an arts and culture magazine dedicated to celebrating and exploring what makes Akron so unique. He’s also an inaugural winner of the Knight Foundation’s Cities Challenge, one of 32 projects awarded around the country from a pool of 7,000 applicants. That project, Unbox Akron, is a monthly, box-based subscription service for people who love Akron. It will include locally-made products, event tickets, member-only functions, guides to our city’s hidden gems, limited edition merchandise and music. In general, he’s a lucky dude who married way out of his league and has an amazing four-year-old daughter who he’s excited to help raise here.