Tomme Arthur has accomplished a great deal over the course of his 26-year brewing career. He is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on barrel-aging and blending, has won countless high-profile accolades for his wide-ranging array of beers, and his industry contemporaries named him the inaugural recipient of the Vanguard Brewer title at March’s San Diego Beer News Awards. But for the longest time, what the co-founder of The Lost Abbey wanted more than acclaim and awards was a special place in which to provide an ale-inspired religious experience in line with his company’s Catholic roots. It was a long time coming, but that aspiration has been hammered and welded into brick-and-mortar, stained-glass reality, and it goes by the name “The Church.”
Installed within an actual circa-1906 Mexican Presbyterian church on the corner of J and 13th Streets in downtown’s East Village, The Church is a painstakingly designed project that retains key elements of the original building while providing a first-rate craft beer experience and full-scale immersion into the world of The Lost Abbey. In addition to its historic 1,200-square-foot, two-story (ground floor and basement) centerpiece, the venue includes an après-style deck with a pass-through bar as well as a patio with picnic tables and an on-site kitchen.
The Church may have been three years in the making, but it has been a glimmer in Arthur’s eye since opening The Lost Abbey in the San Marcos industrial park brewery (which first housed Stone Brewing) back in 2006. In those days, Arthur envisioned his ultimate public venue as an Old World-inspired abbey in a remote part of North County where beer fans would journey to sample his liquid wares. Those varied creations include a wide range of styles from Belgian-style ales to barrel-aged sours and stouts, hop-laden IPAs, refreshing lagers, and even a line of hopped hard teas.
Over the past decade, Arthur and his team have extended the company’s reach with a pair of satellite tasting rooms: The Confessional in Cardiff-by-the-Sea and The Sanctuary in San Marcos’ San Elijo Hills. Replete with The Lost Abbey’s branding and dark wood motif, they have helped convey what the world-class brewing interest is all about, but the new venue takes things to a whole new level.
Beyond a veritably untouched exterior awaits an L-shaped, quartz-topped bar featuring 31 taps stocked with beer from The Lost Abbey, as well as sister brands Port Brewing, The Hop Concept, Tiny Bubbles, and Khárisma. Those taps are installed within an altar housed in a looming wooden arch featuring the company’s Celtic Cross logo in stained-glass repose, flanked by Mary Magdalene and Saint Peter. The former is positioned to the right, residing over the “saints” side of the room, while the latter is on the “sinners” side.
Ironically, seating on the sinner’s half of the room comes in the form of custom-built red oak pews featuring the aforementioned cross. Small tables line the opposite wall, while a long communal table shadowed by wrought iron chandeliers covers neutral ground. Draperies and tapestries featuring the iconic heaven-and-hell-themed paintings of local artist Sean Dominguez (which have served as bottle art for The Lost Abbey’s beers since its inception) tie the motif together beautifully.
Being such an extensive and detailed project, The Church has been unveiled in phases, starting with its indoor space and, more recently, its outdoor seating. The final piece of the puzzle will be the culinary program, which Arthur says will be marked by bold, approachable flavors and affordable prices. The plan is to offer smoked brisket and a variety of tacos and burritos (pork, carne, and pollo asado) with an array of simple appetizers, salads, and more. In addition to simply tasting good, The Lost Abbey’s team believes this type of fare will be perfect fuel for Padres fans taking in a game at adjacent Petco Park. To further fetch the Friar Faithful, they also intend to offer special edition tacos stuffed with ingredients inspired by the Padres’ opponents du jour. Think Chili Colorado for Rockies games or Cubano Tacos when Miami is in town. (Or maybe they should just fry up some marlin…Too sinful?)
Even ahead of its all-phase completion, The Church is a sight to behold. A culmination of years of unbridled dreaming, it comes across as a complete, potent extension of the elements behind an acclaimed brewing operation, and one of the most unique places in the county — or the country — to enjoy quality craft beer. Amen to that. 800.918.6816, lostabbey.com