Cuisine Entertainment

August 31, 2023

Brew culture barely existed in south Charlotte. OpenTap fills the void with food trucks, fitness clubs, live music — and, of course, beer. 

by Cathy Martin

Scott and Brooke Thorne have long enjoyed Charlotte’s craft-beer scene. But in south Charlotte, where the couple live, there are few breweries or taprooms to grab a pint after work or working out. 

SouthPark has Legion Brewing and Suffolk Punch, and downtown Matthews has a burgeoning beer culture. “But really everything in between is just kind of a beer desert,” Scott Thorne says. “We just always accepted that and kind of complained about it here and there.” So one evening, on a nearly 40-minute drive home from a Food Truck Friday event near uptown, the couple decided to do something about it.

In March, they debuted OpenTap, a 7,500-square-foot self-pour taproom with 64 rotating taps just off Carmel Road. The owners, who have an 8-year-old son, Benjamin, describe the family-friendly venue as a “modern log cabin” with a fenced patio and front yard. “Kids can flow in and out, but they’re enclosed and they’re safe,” Scott says.

Left: The community tables were crafted by Carolina Urban Lumber, a local business that repurposes fallen trees into custom furniture and lumber. Middle: Supporting North Carolina brewers is a key focus at OpenTap. “I’m so proud to be from North Carolina,” says Scott Thorne, who grew up in the mountains west of Asheville. “It’s one of the best states in the country, especially for beer.” Right: OpenTap founders Scott and Brooke Thorne and their son, Benjamin

North Carolina beers are the main focus, but there’s also wine, seltzer, cider, kombucha and soda. Here’s how it works: Guests receive a wristband upon arrival that tracks how much they pour, and they’re charged by the ounce. (Only adults receive wristbands to enable the taps, so children can’t access the hard stuff or overdo it on sugary soda.) Scott, who previously worked in operations and at digital-media company Red Ventures, says the system eliminates a major pain point for customers: having to wait for busy bartenders and servers to pour and deliver drinks.

OpenTap has a rotating food-truck schedule that’s booked every night, plus Saturday and Sunday afternoons. A built-in port allows the trucks to back right up to the covered patio, plug in (eliminating the need for noisy generators) and serve guests, rain or shine.

The port is just one of OpenTap’s distinct design features. Others include a “treehouse” mezzanine and a cross-laminated timber roof: Layers of Austrian spruce are arranged crosswise and glued together for a durable and sustainable alternative to heavier materials that’s also aesthetically pleasing. Community tables are made from reclaimed lumber from fallen trees in Charlotte.

While developing the concept for OpenTap, the Thornes interviewed several architects, but none of their ideas sparked excitement. They began thinking about the local places they loved visiting — Haberdish, Mac’s Speed Shop, Suffolk Punch Brewing — and Cluck Design was behind all of them.

“They’re amazing, and they’re just really cool people,” Brooke says of the local architecture firm tapped to lead the design for OpenTap. “They’re brilliant and super creative, but they’re also really kind — and they’re really kind to each other.”

The modern log cabin theme was inspired by the couple’s love of the outdoors. “When you’re in nature, and you’ve just done something active — when you have a beer afterwards, that’s a fantastic feeling,” Scott says. “And when you walk in here, you feel like, ‘I could be in somebody’s vacation house.’”

In that spirit, OpenTap hosts a run club Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., and yoga classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Yoga sometimes takes place in the outdoor garden, which seats about 50 and has a putting green and sports court. The Thornes recently inked a partnership with The North Face to sponsor the clubs, and they hope to add rock-climbing and mountain-biking groups.

The clubs are just one way OpenTap is working to ingrain itself as a community hub. There’s live music on Saturdays and trivia on Wednesdays, pop-up markets, and other themed events.

“We just built our perfect craft beer experience — what resonates with us,” Scott says. When asked about expansion plans, however, he brushes off the idea. “No, I don’t think like that,” he says. “This is for our community, and we think this is important. Every day we try to get a little bit better … and show people a good time.”  SP

OpenTap is located at 5010 Carmel Center Dr. The taproom is kid-friendly, but dogs aren’t allowed. “Not all kids are dog-friendly, and not all dogs are kid-friendly,” says Scott, so the owners decided they needed to choose one or the other.

In addition to live music Saturdays and trivia Wednesdays, OpenTap has a full slate of events in September, including:

A pop-up vendor market Sept. 2, 13 and 30

Sycamore Candy Camper Tap Takeover Sept. 9, with eight Sycamore beers, a photo booth, cornhole and live music

An Oktoberfest celebration Sept. 23, with live music from the Steubenville Tootlers (a German oompah band), German beers and contests

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