The low-key crooning and strumming drifted out the open windows behind the makeshift stage, causing passersby to pause mid-stride and look inside. A couple wandered in; the new corner space downtown is well lit and open enough that it’s easy to size up from across the street.
That hasn’t always been so. For months, people have been peering through the uncovered windows of the former Idiot Box on the corner of South Elm and McGee streets in downtown Greensboro, trying to ascertain what the new space across from Natty Greene’s would look like. A couple weekends ago, the doors swung open, ahead of Little Brother Brewing’s formal launch.
And it seems like the taproom has been full ever since.
When I first walked in on a Friday night, a crush of people stood at the white countertop bar, lazed on a couch and packed a line of skinny high tables along the southern windows. Say what you want about the number of breweries in the city or region; it’s clear that people are still eager to explore new brewpubs.
A friend reported Little Brother being similarly slammed the following Friday, but when I returned on a Thursday, as the two-man band performed at the front by the door, Little Brother felt full without forcing you to bump into people as you made your way to a seat.
Audible but not overbearing, the music allowed for easy conversation and aided the high energy of the bar. Televisions tuned to college basketball and football — neither in-state games, though — remained silent. Much of the energy comes from the crowd, many of whom are in their forties or older and all of whom appear ready to unwind.
The brewery can feel lively or almost boisterous, in part because Little Brother’s small size lends itself to being more like a crowded house party than a craft beer bar. Other breweries reach that peak during a special event; I’ve seen Joymongers rowdier during UNC’s successful March Madness run earlier this year, while Natty’s was quieter during a Panthers’ playoff win during the epic 2015 season. Not that Little Brother is rowdy or fratty — though there is a pronounced preppy element — it’s more jovial-in-confined-quarters than anything else.
This corner used to be dark. Despite the activity in the Idiot Box comedy club, you couldn’t see inside. With a downtown largely lacking in sidewalk dining and open-air venues, Little Brother is a welcome addition making excellent use of its space. Flinging open the windows likely also helps with the heat that might otherwise build up in the relatively small space, which isn’t walled off from the 4-barrel brew system itself.
Of the eight beers on tap, Little Brother collaborated on three (with Preyer, Trophy and Wooden Robot) and brewed one on its own. Those four all sit right around 6 percent alcohol, but that’s where the similarities end.
Try any of these four, picking based on the type of beer you typically gravitate towards — there’s a dunkelweisse, a saison, an amber sour and a stout. Jim’s Lunch, the stout made exclusively by Little Brother, may be the best, followed by the dunkelweisse made alongside Preyer in part because the style isn’t as common locally. Sour fans will love the Harmonious Funk, brewed in collaboration with Charlotte’s Wooden Robot.
The Simon Saison doesn’t stand out from the pack, but Little Brother has an IPA on the way.
Half pours are 8 ounces (elsewhere it’s generally 6) and flights are just $7, so it’s easy to explore the breadth of its offerings, at least in the brewery’s early stages.
With its other taps, Little Brother features Pig Pounder, Gibb’s Hundred and another Preyer (as well as a Bhramani Brewing beer from Asheville), which makes sense; Natty Greene’s is directly across the street, and Joymongers doesn’t distribute, so the taproom shows as much local love as reasonably possible.
There’s wine too, if you’re into that sort of thing, curated by Rioja. No liquor, though. And Little Brother’s location and size forces it into a unique situation when it comes to food. Without space for a kitchen or parking for a food truck, the brewery imports food from Jerusalem Market up the street. But I’ve yet to see anyone eating there, because the kitchen closes at 8:30 p.m., making post-dinner snacks out of the question. There are several bar food options open late nearby, of course, but that may end up being a losing proposition for the brewpub unless they talk an adjacent hot dog vendor into moving up the block.
But, like the bar as a whole, it’s impressive what Little Brother is already pulling off with such close quarters. An extensive food menu compared to most breweries, including customized items. Collaborations with breweries in three different cities, and already bragging a great winter beer of its own. A fully renovated, high-ceilinged and open space, right in the heart of the city.
Even with Natty Greene’s shifting its focus to Revolution Mill and Gibb’s Hundred announcing its move to State Street, Little Brother is already showing not only that Greensboro can handle and support yet another brewery, but also that most the action is still downtown. As long as they keep putting out good beer, the people will come.
Visit Little Brother Brewing Tuesday-Sunday at 348 S. Elm St. (GSO) or at littlebrotherbrew.com.