As we’ve been reminded by Alterra’s recent Colectivo transformation, Palomino’s change in ownership (and everything else, really) and Pizza Man’s revival within shouting distance of its charred former haunts, alterations of any magnitude have a recognizable impact on most restaurants, bars and cafes. While I can’t personally confirm it, Stonefly Brewery (735 E. Center St.) seems to fall into that classification after the Riverwest brewpub replaced Onapa Brewing Company in 2006. I’d never been to Onapa during its lengthy run, but I’ve heard more than a few nostalgic rehashings of great shows (The National played there in 2004!) and unforgettable nights—albeit fuzzy ones.
The most recent tenant of the Center Street establishment has gone a bit lighter on the live music, made some changes to the interior and set itself apart from Onapa. Stonefly has stood for seven years now, serving up tasty house brews and the laid back Riverwest mentality.
I stopped by Stonefly just after happy hour in the middle of the week. Aside from the bartender and a small cast of servers and kitchen staffers, my girlfriend and I spotted only a pair of patrons at the bar. As the guys sipped their drinks, chatted at watched a late-August Brewers and Pirates game with far too much intensity for the occasion, we took a look at Stonefly’s list of beers. Of the 10 in-house concoctions spouting from trophy figurine-topped tap handles, I first settled on a pint of Pierce Street Porter ($4.50, 5.7% ABV). True to the crude and immature personality I fell in love with, my girlfriend went for the suggestive Mustache Ride Pale Ale ($4.50, 6% ABV), and we took our leave to enjoy our drinks outside in the dwindling days of patio drinking season.
We had no trouble finding a table in Stonefly’s vacant gated side-yard patio. As we people watched, I took my first sip. The bold porter accurately fits its “malty” description perfectly. I also detected scant chocolate undertones. I’ll definitely have it again.
I cleansed my palate with sips of Mustache Ride, Stonefly’s “most popular beer” (I wonder why!). Gazing around the outdoor patio, I took note of a rowboat converted into an outdoor planter and, glancing in a window, I saw the vat responsible for the very beer I was sipping.
As the sun dipped, we ventured inside for another beer. Temporarily distracted by the Sterling Sharpe “Sharpe Dressed Man” Packers poster leaning against the back of the bar, I eventually settled on an Ol’ sealaway Scotch Ale ($4.50, 5% ABV). If one of Stonefly’s 10 beers aren’t your thing, they currently have Gumballhead on tap, and select few bottles of rum, vodka, whiskey and tequila for mixers.
I took my Ol’ sealaway to a bar-adjacent table—happy to see a few more patrons by this point—and took my first slug of the murky libation. Recently, I’ve grown quite fond of the supremely bitter, (usually) high-alcohol kiss of Scotch Ale. Though still satisfying, this rendition was a tamer, less polarizing jaunt on the Scotch Ale spectrum.
While I continued with my ale, my girlfriend and I had a quiet conversation in the spacious-but-comfortable watering hole. When not talking or bearing witness to the on-going Brewers loss unfolding on the bar-side television, I couldn’t help but take notice of a gigantic mousetrap hanging vertically on the northern interior wall. On the opposite side of the restaurant, there was a soapbox racecar parked above the entrance. Most square feet of the wall not covered in local artwork or kitsch featured stickers, posters of shows past and marker graffiti.
Of course, I eventually took note of the stage, vacant and silent. I imagine how The National looked on the small, four-foot high performance area in the days of Onopa. But those days are over. Stonefly is a cozy, character-encrusted business with a recommended fish fry and good homemade beer. And that’s enough for me.