Last call: Gun Hill Brewery shutters its doors in the Bronx

Gun Hill Brewery served its last drink on May 18.
Gun Hill Brewery served its last drink on May 18, marking the end of a decade-long run in the Bronx.
Photo Jason Cohen

Gun Hill Brewery has been an institution in the Bronx for a decade. People fell in love with the atmosphere — and beer — and the brewery was a place where strangers became friends. On May 18, it served its last drink.

Located at 3207 Laconia Ave., the brewery was the brainchild of owners Kieran Farrel and Dave Lopez. The brewery, which also has a taproom, has become a destination for New Yorkers and tourists, Farrel told the Bronx Times.

Gun Hill Brewery served its last drink on May 18, marking the end of a decade-long run in the Bronx.Photo Jason Cohen

However, with rising costs from inflation and never recovering from COVID-19, Farrel said they came to the tough decision last month that closing was the only option.

This now leaves the Bronx Brewery at East 136th Street as the only brewery in the borough.

“The last thing we wanted to do was close this location,” Farrel said. “We’re proud of what we accomplished here. So many people have thanked me for bringing this here. We did something special here and as a community, they supported it.”

Farrel, 50, a Woodlawn native, met Lopez, 38, 20 years ago when they played baseball in an adult league at Roberto Clemente Park. They bonded over beer and America’s past time and quickly became friends.

One of their teammates, Dan Heavens, brewed beer at home and the trio began discussing the idea of opening a brewery. Farrel and Lopez decided they were fully invested in launching a company, while Heavens was not on board.

At the time Farrel worked in information technology and was constantly on the road. He enjoyed his job, but deep down, always wanted to start a business.

“We had roots in the Bronx and the Bronx needed something like this,” Farrel said.

Gun Hill Brewery served its last drink on May 18, marking the end of a decade-long run in the Bronx.Photo Jason Cohen

So, he and Lopez got investors, created a business plan and the rest is history. Lopez worked on Wall Street and did the marketing and social media for the brewery and Farrel ran the day-to-day operations. They hired a brewer and had to learn how to run the business on the fly.

According to Farrel, the toughest part about starting Gun Hill Brewery was dealing with all the red tape from the city, permits and utility companies. But once the doors opened, the outpouring from the community was unlike anything they expected, he said.

“It was a big surprise because we were grinding to make this happen,” Farrel said. “I rolled up my sleeves and made sure that I learned everything. I wasn’t just looking to drink beer.”

Learning about different types of beer and the ins and outs of brewing was the challenge, Farrel said. Moreover, the first brewer they hired was very old school and did not want to make the trendy hip beers people like. So, he was replaced, and things have been smooth sailing since.

While they were successful, Farrel spent nearly every day of the week there.

“It’s a lot more work than what I thought,” he said. “You’re not making that much money and you’re working twice as hard.”

Prior to the pandemic, Gun Hill Brewery sold beer to supermarkets and bars throughout the five boroughs, Westchester County, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Connecticut. Word spread through social media about the new brewery in the Bronx and people began flocking there.

Farrel said many Bronxites didn’t understand the brewery had a bar because unlike trendy breweries in Brooklyn, the Boogie Down never had one. But once people saw the warm friendly atmosphere it offered it became a second home for many New Yorkers, he said.

“We were surprised at how well the taproom did because it was an industrial neighborhood,” he said.

Gun Hill Brewery served its last drink on May 18, marking the end of a decade-long run in the Bronx.Photo Jason Cohen

The brewery has won awards for its beers and became known nationwide. Its trendiest beer, “Void of Light,” has been recognized multiple times. In 2016, the cast of the hit Broadway show “Hamilton,” even teamed up with the brewery to make a beer called “Rise up Rye.”

The brewery briefly had two other locations in Mott Haven and Port Morris, but have both since closed. But what really hurt them was the pandemic. While they survived because they were allowed to deliver beer to customers and supermarkets, things have just never been the same, Farrel said.

“Everyone was quarantined, and we set up an online system to order beer,” Farrel said.

Farrel, who lives upstate, opened Vosburgh Brewing near his home in 2015, hoping both locations would be able to thrive into the future. However, according to Farrel, business has been down 50 percent since COVID-19 and closing was unfortunately inevitable. They reached out to investors and did their best to remain open, but it simply wasn’t feasible. Farrel hopes to find a new space in the Bronx for a taproom, but for now will distribute out of Vosburgh.

On May 18, they held a final party for the brewery and the place was packed. This reminded Farrel of how much the Bronx loved them.

Among the people at the going away party was Shawn Whayte of Gun Hill. Whayte, 37, has been coming to the brewery for about eight years and loved interacting with Bronxites and off duty cops and FDNY and of course, the delicious beer. He heard the rumor about the impending closure, but hoped it was not true.

“All of us came here as strangers and became family over the years,” Whayte said. “It’s a disappointment. Gun Hill Brewery brought the community together.”