On Creating a Brooklyn Bar Empire

They started with Bar Great Harry (BGH) in Carroll Gardens, then followed up with Mission Dolores in Park Slope, The Owl Farm, also in Park Slope, and Glorietta Baldy in Bed-Stuy. The Wiley brothers have been crawling across Brooklyn, opening one great craft beer bar after another. BeerUnion caught up with Ben Wiley, who shared his thoughts on the growing craft beer landscape in NYC. 

From left to right, Mike, Seth and Ben Wiley

When and where did you start working in bars?

I started bartending in college in Champaign-Urbana. After that I bartended in Yokohama, Japan for a couple of years. Then in Brooklyn I worked at Abilene, 12th Street Bar and Grill, and 5 Front. All great experiences working for great, helpful people who luckily were very open and sharing in how they ran successful places.

How do you choose the neighborhoods for your bars?

My brother, Mike, and I were living in Carroll Gardens when the idea came up for a bar. There were no beer bars around at the time. Beer wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is now. Naturally we selected our own neighborhood. Also, we were pretty sure the people in this area would go for what we were planning. That was for BGH. Mission was close, too. My brother found that location on Craigslist. But we knew the area. Owl Farm was the same process. So, it’s that great combination of Mike’s willingness to put in the time and effort in constantly listening for what’s available and monitoring areas, combined with the luck of one good space actually becoming available. Opportunity knocks, but you’ve gotta be ready to answer, is what I’ve heard.

What are the biggest differences in New York’s bar landscape between when you started and now?

Beer has changed radically. When BGH started good beer wasn’t as available. There was only The Gate and The Brazen Head that were pushing it around us. Those places are great, by the way. But it was fun to really make educating customers part of what we do. Just by offering lots of samples, having ourselves and our bartenders converse with people about what they like, what tastes like what. Also, the sheer number of bars was less. I guess that’s obvious but in the last five years it’s really been an explosion of bars in Brooklyn. Customers are very savvy now about good beer, too. Which is cool for us because it allows us to push the envelope even further and bring in really esoteric stuff.

Have New York’s drinkers changed since you started? If so, how have you responded to those changes?

We try find that balance of meeting demands but also gently, kindly leading customers where we might like them to go or think they’ll enjoy going. So, you listen and serve what people will likely like, while using other lines to bring in new stuff that might open horizons for those interested. This way we think we keep everyone happy.

Where do you see New York’s craft beer scene going and where do your bars fit into it?

The last couple of years we’ve seen a new explosion – that of real breweries in New York City. That’s new and cool I think this will be bigger and bigger in the next couple of years. But I think customers will continue to learn about and enjoy good beer. Certainly I think the idea of hand-sold, artisanally made stuff will continue.

What is your next big project?

We’re pretty quiet about these type of things. But we’ve always got our eyes open and are certainly aiming to continue to build establishments that customers earnestly enjoying hanging out in.

Photo courtesy of Ben Wiley

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