“Long overdue craft beer spot for West Columbia,” Phill Blair says, summing up his new venture, WECO Bottle & Biergarten, as workers inside the building saw away at concrete. “I’ve wanted this building for years. Been driving by it and walking by it. The day I saw the available sign up is the day we said, ‘We’ll take it,’ basically.”
Inside the former home of K9 Coature (and before that, Conundrum Music Hall) on Meeting Street will be a taproom and bottle shop. Outside, accessible through soon-to-be-installed double doors, will be a large covered seating space, a second bar with more taps, a stage for music and entertainment, and hookups for three or more food trucks to serve simultaneously. Though renovations are definitely ongoing, if all goes to plan, WECO will open by mid-November.
“Very much like [Charlotte’s] Salud or Craft and Draft,” explains Blair, who also co-owns the popular Main Street dive bar The Whig. “Same concept only with a big outdoor seating area, kind of a gathering spot. There was the food truck court two blocks up that didn’t succeed. I think we’ll have all the things that they didn’t have to succeed. Like toilets and electricity and seating and shade.”
Indeed, while many might be waiting to hail the new spot as The Whig of the West, Blair emphasizes that this won’t be the case.
“It’ll be different in every way imaginable,” he says. “It’s retail. It’s going to be family-friendly, daytime, weekend stuff. Just kind of the total opposite of what we do over there. As we’re all getting older, it’s a different kind of thing to run a late-night bar versus a beer and wine shop. This is more my speed these days.”
WECO will have a crowler machine to allow patrons to take home draft beers. Package offerings, priced by the individual bottle/can to encourage mixing and matching, will largely be stored cold, with an on-premise fee added to drink them at the bar. Blair enthuses that the new spot will have the kind of wide, adventurous, beyond-typical selection of beer — and wine — that currently requires West Columbians to head across the river or out toward Harbison or Lexington.
“There’s nowhere to buy wine over here. Bi-Lo is the wine store, and that’s unfortunate for people who live over here,” Blair offers. “We won’t stock anything they stock. I think it’s a fairly big drive from where we’re at now to get stuff that’s above the grocery store-level craft beer.”
The new spot’s name is meant to embody its locality-boosting intentions.
“The sign two blocks up, the WECO Billiards sign, we really love that sign,” Blair explains. “Our original idea was, ‘Maybe we can get that sign and just kind of slide it down the block a little bit and restore it to the way it used to look.’ We just like that branding for the area. The WECO brand. We’re hoping people will kind of adopt it. The city’s social media, a lot of people use it as a hashtag. It just made sense to use it for us.
“We wanted to be very much part of West Columbia. People that live over here who’ve been waiting for stuff to develop and happen, that’s why we want to use the city branding, not name it some arbitrary funky name.”