Next month, when the Simple Twist empire opens its next location, it won’t go far to do it – about the width of Market Street in downtown Smithfield.
Owners Nathan and Colleen Roby will open the Simple Twist Bottle and Tap Room across the street from their 2-year-old restaurant of nearly the same name. And while it’s just a small step for the Robys, the bar marks a new eastern edge of the Triangle’s love affair with craft beer and brings Smithfield its first bottle shop.
Bottle shops blanket Raleigh and Durham, and in Johnston County, they can be found in fast-growing Clayton and Cleveland but not in Smithfield. The shops splice bars with retail stores and typically rival breweries in enthusiasm for beer but with a wider selection. Simple Twist owner Nathan Roby sees a place for that on Market Street.
“It’s something we’ve really wanted to do for a while; thought it was the perfect spot to do a bottle shop,” Roby said. “The craft beer trend hasn’t really come into existence in Smithfield; there’s not a whole lot going on for people looking for a good place to consume good beer or learn about beer.”
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It’s not hard to find a beer in Smithfield or Johnston County, but it depends on what you’re looking for. The county is still getting acquainted with its new-found “wet” status, as voters razed the last hurdle to unrestricted alcohol sales last fall, and Johnston has no shortage of bars.
But Roby said his focus will be on North Carolina offerings and on introducing Smithfield to what else craft beer means around the country.
“In the bottle shop, I thought we had a good opportunity to expand folks’ horizons,” Roby said.
This will be the fourth establishment under the Simple Twist name, but it won’t have the food menus of the restaurants in Smithfield, Clayton and the Cleveland community, other than some small bites, Roby said.
The bottle shop is opening in the former Smithfield Herald space, after the newspaper moved upstairs last fall. Roby plans to start with eight draft beer taps and is toying with the idea of filling off-site growlers.
Johnston County might be big enough for several Simple Twists, but having two across the street from one another sounds like a Starbucks joke in Manhattan. Roby says the two spots will build up each other.
“On Friday and Saturday nights when we’re packed, I don’t have anywhere for people to wait,” Roby said. “Our thought process is they’re going to work together.”
Roby expects to open by Mother’s Day, and most of the hard work has already been done. A 30-foot polished wood bar runs the depth of the space, and several coolers, though now empty, hum with anticipation. Light floods in through the large front windows, brightening the place more like a soda shop than a bar. Thanks largely to the craft beer scene, Roby said drinking is different these days, something brought out into the light and shaken some of its yesteryear stigma.
“The craft beer scene has made drinking more socially acceptable,” Roby said. “Craft beer drinkers tend to be more responsible; they know the ABV of what they’re drinking, and they’re not there to knock back 15 beers and go crazy. If you’re hanging out at a brewery, people are there as families. There’s been a shift in the drinking culture as a whole.”
Craft beer has a firm grip on Clayton, with a number of downtown bars opening in the past year; the town is also home Deep River Brewing Co. on Main Street, and another brewery, Double Barley, is just down the road in Wilson’s Mills. Smithfield is no stranger to craft beer, but there’s no place banking on it quite like Roby’s new venture. But he thinks the craft beer drinkers are here, and if not, he’s ready to make an introduction.
“I think the market is there; we’re just looking to make it more available and not so difficult to obtain,” Roby said. “People are excited about beer; it’s just natural.”
Drew Jackson; 919-603-4943; @jdrewjackson