After serving up a variety of handmade draft cocktails and high-gravity craft beers for the past six years, the Barley taproom in downtown Chattanooga will close at the end of the month.
Barley owner Cameron Hamner said he is closing the bar Sept. 30 when the lease for the storefront at 235 E. M.L King Blvd. ends.
"Our lease was up for renewal, and since business has not returned to pre-COVID levels, we chose not to renew and will close on 9/30," Hamner said in an emailed statement.
Barley originally opened in the summer of 2017 as a beer-only establishment, and Hamner said the next year "we added handmade draft cocktails and expanded that segment further from there." With its variety of craft beers and drinks, and lounge and bar seating both inside and outdoors, Barley attracted both downtown workers and students from the nearby University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.
When it opened, Barley co-owners Hamner and Brad D. Lee said the bar was modeled on Loosa Brews, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based tap room that opened in 2014 and is owned by Lee.
Barley occupies a cluster of three old storefronts that had been vacant on M.L. King Boulevard for more than five years when Barley first opened. Barley is among more than a dozen downtown area breweries, taprooms and specialty bars that have opened in Chattanooga in the past decade.
But with more downtown businesses shifting to remote or hybrid work, the number of office workers coming downtown every day has declined from pre-pandemic levels, and Hamner said business was not yet back to its 2019 levels.
The closing of Barley comes just four months after another downtown bar. The Honest Pint also closed just a block to the north on Patten Parkway where the Irish pub operated for 17 years.
The Honest Pint never rebounded to its pre-pandemic volumes, even after the redevelopment of Patten Parkway, said Matt Lewis, who has owned and developed several downtown restaurants.
"Since COVID, it's been pretty hard to reestablish the business that we had before," Lewis said in May when he closed the Honest Pint.
Nationwide, overall beer sales declined last year by 3% to about $100 billion, according to data from the Brewers Association. Beer sales are not expected to be much better this year, according to an analysis by Beer Association Chief Economist Bart Watson and reported by the industry trade publication BevNet magazine.