How to open a beer bar/shop in Brooklyn:
1. Have a good job.
2. Quit that good job.
3. Drink as much beer as possible.
4. Know a good landlord.
At least, that was the formula for Dan Lamonaca, owner of the brand new Beer Karma, a beer shop and bar located on the corner of Union Ave. and Conselyea St. in Williamsburg. Beer Karma is unusual not only in its goal to show great beer to a mixed crowd of beer geeks and athletes – it also happens to be in a building owned by Lamonaca’s grandmother, Molly, who lives upstairs.
The building has history, having been in the family as far back as the 1950s, Lamonaca said. The floors are decked out with 80-year-old tile that has served as a solid foundation for several businesses over the decades, including a pharmacy owned by Lamonaca’s great-grandfather, a card and candy shop helmed by his grandfather for a short time and most recently, an architecture firm that moved out last March. Lucky for Lamonaca, this happened around the same time he had been seriously considering opening his own beer shop.
Lamonaca left the finance world in 2015, having spent six years at JP Morgan and another year and a half at a small content marketing firm in Manhattan. But like many who leave lucrative careers for beer, he couldn’t shake the notion that there was something missing.
“Finance was always something I was always interested in and wanted to learn more [about], but it was never something I was passionate about,” said Lamonaca. “I wanted to do something on my own and beer is always something I was drawn to.”
Lamonaca’s beer career, like many of ours, began with “drinking too much crappy beer in college,” then progressed to exploring more interesting options. By his early twenties, he was buying “everything that was new and different” in the grocery stores and Duane Reades around the city.
Somewhere between a solo trip to Belgium in 2013, organizing beer tastings for coworkers and family friends, and taking a part time gig at a bottle shop in the Upper East Side, Lamonaca discovered that “there’s really great beer out there,” and he wanted to show it to people.
At Beer Karma, Lamonaca has already proven his beer buying chops with draft options from local breweries like Other Half, KCBC and Interboro. But in addition to playing host to a curated selection of high quality beers for beer drinkers, he hopes to open others’ eyes to new beer styles as well.
If you’re a Bud Light or Blue Moon drinker, for example, there’s no judgement here, but he’ll point you toward something you might enjoy on draft, like the currently offered Bronx Banner (a light and easy golden ale) or KCBC Beggars Gold (a Belgian-style farmhouse ale from our friends Kings County Brewers Collective in Bushwick). In the case of the latter example, Lamonaca said, “people are crushing it, it’s actually almost kicked.”
Something refreshing about Beer Karma—other than the beer selection— is that while beer is a clear focus, this bar is not just for beer nerds. “There are people that are going to want to nerd out and talk about yeast and alpha acids, and that’s great, but most consumers don’t need to know that,” Lamonaca said.
Signs of this also include a recent party he hosted for his “Crossfit friends,” his plans to start a Beer Karma running club, and a TV hanging above the bar poised to air “whatever the sports d’jour is.”
“There aren’t a lot of craft beer spots that have TVs,” said Lamonaca, who sees sports as a way to encourage patrons to hang out. “I don’t want to have games on all the time—it’s not a sports bar—but the Final Four was on last night and I had a bunch of friends in here. It’s another excuse to sit down and hang out a little longer.”
He also mentioned the possibility of baseball-centric events, like a Mets tickets raffle, where each pour of a Queens-brewed beer would get you a raffle ticket. (Also, fun fact: at the New York Blood Center, now through June 31, donating a pint of blood gets you a pair of Mets tickets, Lamonaca said.)
As one might expect from a place with Italian-American heritage, some sustenance will be available at Beer Karma, too: the bar will be partnering with Bagelsmith to offer simple sandwiches like wraps and Italian heros, and some food on the house may be in the cards, too. Sunday bagels could be a regular freebie, and “If it’s a Saturday night and there’s a lot of people, we’ll order a pizza,” Lamonaca said.“With craft beers, you’ve gotta eat something.”
Other offerings include natural and organic wines available to drink on premise, growlers to go, and a curated cooler selection of coveted beers and ciders.
In general, Beer Karma will likely evolve to have a few happy hours or specials, but “it’s not meant to be a rowdy place,” he said, noting that his grandmother upstairs means no loud music or crazy parties. “If people are loud or irresponsible or not respectful of the building, I’ll hear about it right away.”
Beer Karma, 470 Union Ave., Williamsburg. Open Sun.-Wed. 1pm-9pm; Thurs.-Sat.1pm-11pm