On Saturday (June 9), the three historically Black university (HBCU) graduates behind Harlem’s first totally Black-owned craft beer establishment opened the doors of Harlem Hops to the world. In a June 11 interview with The Undefeated, they discussed their hope that the bar will set a new precedent for the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
“We want Harlem Hops to be ‘Cheers’ for a lot of people in the neighborhood,” said Kim Harris, who co-owns the bar with Stacey Lee and Kevin Bradford. “We want it to be the safe haven where you can just come and learn about something different.”
Harlem Hops began when Harris, a Harlem native and graduate of Clark Atlanta University (CAU), and Hampton University alumnus Bradford connected over similar plans to open craft beer bars. They struggled to find their favorite beers in Harlem:
“I thought, there’s something missing here,” Harris said. “And that’s when it came to me that we should do a beer bar in Harlem. That’s was one of the reasons I thought about it.”
“I like good beer, and I couldn’t really find good beer above 125th. To tell you the truth, even above 110th,” Bradford said. “I had to travel to Brooklyn. I had to travel these far distances to get beer I liked. I think back in 2011 or 2012, New York was not really the beer center of the East Coast. Now, New York is pretty much on the map for craft beer. I live in Harlem and I wanted to open a bar in my neighborhood, but the zoning was residential. I could not have a commercial space in my property.”
Harris and Bradford met through restaurant consultant Jason Wallace, and the business took off from there. Bradford handles the beer while the Harris focuses on the business aspects. They brought in CAU grad Stacey Lee, and the trio built Harlem Hops into an establishment that specializes in small-batch beer and spirits.
The bar also highlights some of the other Black brewers fighting for recognition in the predominantly White male microbrewing industry:
“There’s not a lot out there, but there are people of color that are very knowledgeable about beer that just haven’t had the opportunity or the funding to push their products,” Bradford said. “Luckily, we have two African Americans here in Harlem that we’ll have on tap for the opening day: Harlem Brewing Company’s Celeste Beatty and Julian Riley’s Harlem Blue.”
“There are brewers of color all over the country and it takes time to get your distribution and things of that nature,” Harris said. “So, as they get their distribution into the New York area, then that’s when we’ll be featuring them as well. We’ve been in contact with a lot of brewers and building our own network.”
Harris also noted that they plan to give back to the community they call home, both financially and culturally:
“We want to be prominent figures in the neighborhood,” Harris said. “For the little kids walking back and forth down the street, letting them see people like themselves in businesses, letting them know we went to HBCUs and in the future, we will be offering scholarships to them so that they can attend HBCUs as well.”