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NYC’s First-Ever Vinyl Record Craft Beer Bar Survives Pandemic and Readies for Expansion

Who would have thought a business that combined craft beers and vinyl records would be a winning concept? It’s been working for NYC-based Chris Maestro, who opened BierWax in late 2017 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. And now, having survived the pandemic, he is opening a second location in the borough of Queens. 

BierWax was on a business boom just before the pandemic. The business was turning a profit right before the pandemic, making about half a million dollars a year, The Gothamist reported.

BierWax
Photo from BierWax Instagram page

The 45-year-old former city public school teacher combined two of his passions: craft beer and vinyl records. And BierWax puts both in play. There are 5,000 records stacked on shelves behind the bar, and the taps are filled with a finely curated selection of local craft beer.

What’s on tap

BierWax is New York City’s premier vinyl record craft beer bar — possibly the only one of its kind. Music and beer aficionados can enjoy two pursuits at this Black-owned establishment. It also serves up wine, cider, mead, cocktails, and liquor pours.

Among the craft beers BierWax serves up are “A Beer Named Duck,” a pale ale from New England; “Double Dry Hopped All Green Everything”; and “Jib and Jigger,” a lager from a New York brewery.

BierWax also features a DJ booth and offers educational reading materials on beer, hip-hop, and record collecting.

From Education To Entrepreneur

“There are also a few books that represent my old life as a history teacher. As a former educator, I wanted to allow our customers to use the small library as a ‘resource center’ to learn a little bit while they sip on beer,” Maestro told Finurah.

Maestro left behind a career in education to become an entrepreneur.

“I was a public school teacher in NYC for many years. I was a history and music teacher. I also directed an after-school program that had a DJ and dance program in the Bronx. My last position before opening BierWax was as the director of an adolescent pregnancy program at an all-girls middle to high school in downtown Brooklyn. I supervised a talented team of social workers, sex educators, tutors, and financial literacy educators,” he shared.

While the work was fulfilling, Maestro had an entrepreneurial itch and a dream of following his dual passions — music and beer connoisseur.

“During my summers, I’d travel. On a few of these trips, the early seeds of BierWax, at least the idea, started to germinate,” he recalled. “In Hong Kong over 15 years ago, I tried a beer that totally changed my palate and perception of what beer could taste like. It was a beer called Samichlaus, a very strong doppelbock from Austria. The beer, at the time, was considered the strongest beer in the world.”

That trip set him on his path to formulating the idea of BierWax.

“When I returned to NYC, I was on a quest to find that particular beer or anything else that tasted like it. A couple of years later, while I was in Amsterdam, I visited a hip-hop bar called Café de Duivel. They had a live DJ that was spinning actual vinyl records,” said Maestro. “At the time, digital DJing was the norm. I also was blown away by the appreciation the mostly European crowd had for more underground hip-hop. I thought to myself, why doesn’t something like this exist in NYC, the birthplace of hip-hop?”

A few more years passed, and during that time Maestro became a true beer connosieur.

“I fell deeply in love with craft beer, going to festivals and visiting breweries around the country. I even started a blog to write about my beer adventures. Throughout all of this time, I had been collecting records and DJing. I started collecting records in my late teens, and the obsession never subsided,” he said. “Around 10 years ago, I realized that I wanted to find a way to combine these two passions of mine: craft beer and vinyl records/hip-hop. Four years ago, we signed the lease for our Brooklyn location. We opened for business in December 2017.”

The Business of BierWax

Now Maestro’s two passions unite at BierWax.

“The two things meet organically at BierWax. It’s a curation of both things at our bar: Analog sounds and incredible craft beer. I could go on at length about the similarities of ‘digging for records,’ finding that rare record, and searching for hard-to-find beer. Vinyl lovers and craft beer enthusiasts both have a similar mindset,” noted Maestro.

Maestro used to sell the vinyl records at BierWax, but now he’s limited sales to just one particular record — his own. “We used to sell a limited amount of vinyl in our online shop and in person, and now we only have one record for sale, a record that I produced in 2011,” he said.

Pandemic Pivot and PPP

It was a struggle to survive the shutdown, but Maestro is now gearing up for a second location. This one will be in Queens and is set to open before the end of the year.

Maestro had to be creative and flexible in keeping his business open during the pandemic.

“It was pivot after pivot,” he explains, adding that federal financial support was a major help. “I used both rounds of PPP, EIDL, and any other grant I could get,” he said.

Following the shutdown in March 2020, Maestro told The Gothamist, “We were losing about $20,000 a month.” He laid off almost all his staff members and limped along, selling beer to-go. He received PPP aid in two different rounds, which he said totaled nearly $50,000.

Also, New York City’s “Open Streets” policy, where restaurants could serve food outside, was a help. “This proved to be the major thing that saved us. We were still heading towards financial ruin. … A year ago, I was bracing myself for possible closure,” he said. “Once Open Streets started in August 2020, things turned around very quickly. We basically are able to have a beer garden on the street in front of our bar every weekend. It truly is amazing and was a lifesaver.”

Back on Track

“This summer … started our DJ program again. We have also had numerous requests for private parties and special events. I’m just excited to be in a much better place in comparison to exactly one year ago,” said Maestro, who is also hosting a podcast called “The Beer & Wax Society.”

“Before the opportunity to open a second location was a reality, I foolishly thought I’d have the time to start a podcast focusing on this dual passion of mine — beer and records. Since it was launched in the middle of the pandemic, I had guests contribute from the comfort of their homes. Each episode, during the early part of the season, focused on a brewery, dissected a ‘break’ or sample, and also highlighted a boom-bap artist. I’m winding down the season, so the format has changed slightly,” he said.

For now, he’s focused on getting BierWax back on track and opening the new location. And he seems to be loving it all.

“When we host a well-known and respected DJ, I see the absolute joy on people’s faces. That is golden! The feedback I received from countless customers about the vibe and ambience I created marrying these two passions. It makes all of the hard work and sacrifices worth it,” Maestro said.

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