Area 23 – Concord’s Hidden Gem

It might be tough to find, but Area 23 Craft Beers and Cider in Concord is worth the search

Kirk McNeil wanted to open a brewery off the beaten path and set away from big-time bars that seem to care more about HD TVs and less about customers.

His aim was to create a brewpub where people could taste an array of fantastic beer and food. McNeil also thought the Concord area was in need for a neighborhood-like brewpub.

That’s exactly what McNeil delivered with Area 23 Craft Beers and Ciders.

Area 23 is tucked away in Unit H of the Smokestack Center at 254 N. State Street and is almost impossible to find if you are not searching directly for it. The brewpub is set in the back of the 1880s-built Smokestack Center, making it difficult to spot for people driving by.

This might seem like an odd choice given restaurants and bars typically rely – at least in part – on traffic and visibility, but McNeil will be the first to tell you that his creation is tricky to find. And that’s how he wants it.

“I think that if we were on the main strip, we’d disappoint a lot of people because they’d stop in expecting to get Bud Light and chicken fingers, and we don’t have Bud Light and chicken fingers,” says McNeil. “So it’s almost better that they have to find us because when they find us, we know that they were looking for something a little bit different.”

Area 23, which opened its doors back in June 2015, pours nine rotating taps featuring many of New England’s finest craft beers and ciders. The pub is also working to get its licensing to brew and sell its own beer at the location as well. McNeil said business partner Kevin Bloom will control the brewing operations, but he did not mention a specific timetable as to when that process will begin.

In the meantime, the pub will continue selling craft beers, ciders and wines before it adds its own creations into the mix. Draft choices are never the same at Area 23 and give people new options to pick from every week.

Of the revolving options, Area 23 gives its customers what they want. No matter the time, McNeil says the brewpub’s tap selection always has a delicious choice for cider, stout, lighter beer, an amber or pale ale, a dark beer and an IPA as well as mead.

While stressing the importance of beer variety, McNeil, a Derry native originally from the Carolinas, moved to New Hampshire back in 2007 after living in Michigan for a little over a decade, says a diverse location like Area 23 was a rarity as he searched for the perfect spot to start his business. 

“There didn’t seem to be a lot of places like this where the menu and beer changes all the time,” McNeil says. “It’s wonderful to see who’s making great stuff out there and we want to share all of that with our customers.”

One company McNeil says is making “great stuff” is Downeast Cider House in Boston. Area 23 features the cider consistently as McNeil says Downeast sells exceptionally well. The pub carries Champlain Orchards cider from Shoreham, Vt., as well.

He adds that Switchback Ale by Switchback Brewing Co. in Burlington, Vt., is another consistent crowd pleaser.  

Alcohol prices are reasonable – beer is $4 and each cider costs $5, while a glass of wine is set at $6. 

Area 23 is one of few pubs that carries mead on draft. You can find Londonderry’s own Moonlight Meadery’s delicious Smolder mead, a honey wine infused with a sweet raspberry flavor along with a hint of chipotle smokiness. Providing an extra tap to serve mead is one of the many things Area 23 does to stand out from the average, everyday bar.

To go along with a unique drink menu, McNeil also brings an old school, pub-like approach to Area 23’s food options.

They cook up what McNeil calls “pub food” daily. The pub makes a variety of food such as a rib appetizer ($7), steak chili ($5), ham and cheese grinder ($8), salsa and cheese empanada ($6) and the pretzel basket ($6).

The pretzel basket is simple yet tasty. It is solely five salty, soft pretzels served with your choice of honey or spicy mustard.

While each food item is nicely priced, Area 23’s Bacon Bowl stood out to me as the most interesting and mouth-watering choice on the menu. The meal is exactly what it sounds like: cider-cured bacon in a bowl. Area 23-goers are crazy for it.

Coupled with great beer and food, Area 23 has plenty going on in terms of events. It hosts a darts tournament every Thursday night, a weekly Open Mic Night and a Trivia Night that McNeil says has become known as “the toughest in the area.”

Emily Weber, a bartender at Area 23, says Open Mic Night provides a comfortable environment for people to express themselves via singing, poem reading or just by flat out talking about whatever they wish over the loud speaker. Weber says Area 23 is a welcoming environment where employees encourage customers to sit back and be themselves.

“We always want to make sure people feel comfortable,” Weber said. “A lot of places just give you a list of beers, but we like to engage people in a more personal experience and let people try samples to see what they like.

“It’s a lost art in terms of customer service these days. You don’t have to decide right away. Take your time and relax.”

So if you are looking for a bar that blends a neighborhood-feel with great beer and food, then Area 23 is a perfect spot to check out. Just be sure to use your GPS to find it.

 

Categories: Restaurant Reviews