Good neighborhood bars can take years to cement their place in a community. Freely Taproom & Kitchen
has only been open a few months, but it's cementing its place in south Tempe on the corner of East Warner Road and South McClintock Drive.
The taproom opened in August, and has been gaining steam over the past few months, quickly becoming one of south Tempe's favorite local hangouts. Owner Paul Gillingwater spent years working at O.H.S.O. Brewery, so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about beer and hospitality — which explains the taproom's ambitious timeline and welcoming atmosphere.
Freely Taproom & Kitchen has 30 beers on tap and 20 wines available by the glass, and Gillingwater is constantly on the lookout for new additions. His focus for sourcing beer is to serve brews that other taprooms don't have. For example, he serves Hop Deposits IPA from Smeltertown Brewery
in Clarkdale. It's actually hard to find in the Valley because Smeltertown doesn't distribute — but Gillingwater was able to get a few kegs, and now patrons can get a taste of Clarkdale without fighting I-10 traffic.
"It's the beauty of the taproom," Gillingwater says. "That's why I love going to taprooms; it's because you can just sit there, hang out, and drink cool beer."
The beer list isn't tied down to Arizona — patrons can expect to find a range of suds, some that came from as far away as Iowa, Connecticut, and even New York. The taproom has a little something for everyone, and a constantly rotating menu to keep regulars guessing.
The wine list shouldn't be underestimated, either. Most taprooms have a good wine selection, but limited options. Freely Taproom & Kitchen has 20 by-the-glass wines available, which is more than many restaurants, Gillingwater says. Glasses range from $9 to $14, with bottles starting at $30.
On Tuesday nights, the taproom hosts a special where patrons can get a flatbread and a pitcher of beer for $20, or swap the pitcher for a bottle of wine for $5 more.
On Tuesdays, Freely Taproom & Kitchen has a special that includes either a pitcher of beer and a flatbread for $20, or a bottle of wine and flatbread for $25.
Freely Taproom & Kitchen
Despite being a taproom, there is a scratch kitchen. The main attraction is their flatbreads which include elote, prosciutto, Formaggi, and pep cups. Now, food isn't typically a feature of a taproom. However, the flatbread at Freely Taproom & Kitchen deserves some time in the spotlight. Specifically, the pep cups – the dough is crispy on the bottom, edges are glazed in garlic oil and dressed with a spicy red sauce, and topped with melty cheese and tiny pepperonis cooked until they look like cups.
If flatbread doesn't strike the right chord, there are plenty of other choices, including hummus, a charcuterie board, and a meatball sub.
The taproom experience is key to the casual environment — despite having a full-service kitchen. Freely Taproom & Kitchen is strictly counter-service, and all food orders are placed at the bar registers. However, don't be surprised if a bartender follows up with you at your table for the next round, or to clear off empty plates.
"We're all bartenders," says Gillingwater. "It was tough to find a food runner, and it wasn't working out, so I hired more bartenders and figured that they were already running around. They can answer questions, so they can provide a more elevated service as well."
Gillingwater says the taproom isn't stopping here. Right now, they're working on building out a 6,000-square-foot patio that will, of course, be dog friendly. And once they have that, they'll get to work on expanding their menu (and hours) to accommodate the brunch crowd.
Freely Taproom & Kitchen
1730 East Warner Road, Suite 11, Tempe
Open Tuesday 2-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Monday.