EDITOR’S NOTE: Aaron Burgin contributed to this report.
ENCINITAS — Soulful Motown music competes with conversation and laughter as families and friends drink craft beer and enjoy plant-based cuisine.
This was the scene at last weekend’s grand opening of Modern Times Far West Lounge in Encinitas.
But behind the vintage-style ceramic cats and macramé hanging plants is a more recent story of how the stylish brewery and restaurant came to exist.
In summer 2017, Modern Times submitted a proposal to open a tasting room in downtown Encinitas. The Coast News reported that the city Planning Commission approved the project in a 3-2 vote in July 2017, but not without debate.
The proposal was contested by the Encinitas Citizens Committee, a group of residents who advocate for less alcohol-serving establishments in downtown.
In the face of these appeals, Modern Times pulled the proposal in fall 2017. They later found a compromise, submitting a revised plan for a restaurant that would also serve beer.
“We totally understood what was behind the concerns that were brought forward, and wanted to do our best to work with the city to address them, rather than bailing out,” Reed said.
The Encinitas Citizens Committee pushed for an arrangement between the city and Modern Times, requiring the restaurant to share its food and alcohol sales numbers.
If the beer sales outweigh the food sales, committee representative Shirley Finch said in an emailed statement that the group would urge the city to investigate.
“ECC will insist that the city of Encinitas investigate Modern Times to determine if there was misrepresentation on the part of Modern Times management,” Finch wrote. “If there was, or if Modern Times is not able to operate as a restaurant, ECC will actively seek to have the approval of Modern Times revoked.”
While Modern Times experienced heavy backlash from the Encinitas Citizens Committee, they also had many residents support their plans, according to Reed.
“A bunch of amazing Encinitas residents were kind enough to come to City Council meetings, write letters on our behalf, and help us clear the requisite hurdles to make this whole thing possible,” Reed said.
Even with the pushback, Modern Times was eager to pursue the North County location, which Reed explains had been an idea for years. In addition to the now three San Diego locations, Modern Times also has shops in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon.
The Far West Lounge is now their only San Diego location to serve food, with an entirely plant-based menu.
“It actually ended up being a great turn of events, as we’re now able to offer our San Diego friends some of the same outrageously tasty cuisine available at our Downtown Los Angeles restaurant,” Reed said.
Retro clocks, TV dinners made of wool and wooden tennis rackets adorn old-school mustard wallpaper patterned with geometric shapes. In an email, Modern Times Communications Manager Dan Reed, described the vibe as “mid-century maximalist.”
Downtown Encinitas, which is already home to several restaurants serving craft brews, seemed like a fitting place for Modern Times to set up its quirky, mid-century shop.
Housed in a beautiful classic building on Highway 101, Reed said the team wanted to preserve the original architecture, which added to the nostalgic vibe.
“It pretty much knocked it out of the park for the aforementioned needs and aesthetic,” Reed said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments about the playful nostalgia of the setting, which is definitely the vibe we wanted to foster.”
The Far West Lounge has over 30 taps of beer, nitro cold brew, a full kitchen and a mini-mart with Modern Times merchandise. Open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Reed said the team is looking forward to becoming an active part of the Encinitas restaurant scene.
“We feel right at home here,” Reed said. “There’s definitely a common appreciation for world-class beer, boundary-pushing cuisine, and great art, as well as an abundance of chill vibes, all of which we are giant fans of.”