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Another round for everyone: Laurel Street neighbors Refuge, Ale Arsenal create beer-drinking mecca in San Carlos
July 19, 2013, 05:00 AM By Erin Hurley Daily Journal

JD Crayne/Daily Journal Ale Arsenal on Laurel Street in San Carlos is the new kid on the 900 block, next to mainstay Refuge.

JD Crayne/Daily Journal Refuge opened in 2008 and focuses on Belgian beer and its food, including the popular Reuben, with pastrami, sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on toasted rye bread.

Last summer, Laurel Street in San Carlos welcomed a new bar, Ale Arsenal, to its 900 block. The bar offers 24 rotating beers on tap from international and local breweries.

Passersby might notice, however, that this venue opened up just a few steps down Laurel Street from Refuge restaurant, which has a strong focus on Belgian beer.

But close proximity doesn’t appear to affect how the two venues operate successfully.

“We did hope it would be symbiotic, and we weren’t trying to steal their thunder,” Ale Arsenal co-owner Lauren Bozicevic said. “And I don’t think it has worked out to their disadvantage.”

Refuge opened in March 2008 under chef/owner Matt Levin. The 41-year-old gained experience in a number of upscale restaurants (even in Paris for a time) before moving north from Long Beach in 2004 and working at San Mateo’s Viognier. But Levin had even bigger ideas, and the spot at 963 Laurel St. was the right spot to make it happen. 

“I’ve always wanted to have my own place,” Levin said.

When Refuge opened, there wasn’t such a strong focus on Belgian beer. But it became clear to Levin what the customers wanted, and now the restaurant has 18 Belgian beers on rotating taps and even more in bottles.

“I remain flexible, and I saw way more interest in the Belgian (beer),” Levin said.

At the time, Refuge was one of only a handful of places in the Bay Area that served Belgian beer, Levin said, but since then the trend has caught on. The restaurant still does serve a number of wines, as well as what Levin calls “the best pastrami in the United States.”

So when Ale Arsenal opened last June, Levin wasn’t worried about his restaurant. In fact, he said he was concerned for the new venue. Levin doesn’t really pay much attention to how the two businesses operate side by side — he said he focuses on running his restaurant and making it continually better.

“I wish them the best,” he said. “Things happen like they happen ... if we’re supposed to be here 25 more years then that’s the way it is. If Ale Arsenal’s supposed to take over the street, I’m fine with that too.”

Behold the arsenal

For Ale Arsenal owners Lauren and Kyle Bozicevic, the placement of their business wasn’t planned. The brother and sister duo grew up in Redwood City, and Kyle, 27, said they had talked about having their own bar for years. His passion is brewing (he worked at Devil’s Canyon for three years) and Lauren, 30, had spent time tending bar after college.

“We kind of were just doing that for practice and eventually wanted to do something on our own,” Lauren said.

When they found the available spot at 971 Laurel St., Kyle said it was a nice location and wouldn’t need many changes. They were a new business, Lauren Bozicevic said, and didn’t want to be too similar to Refuge and “step on their feet too much.”

“We’re thrilled to be next to them,” Kyle Bozicevic said. “We loved the Refuge far before we started this ... we’ve been pretty regularly going there.”

Similarly to Refuge, Ale Arsenal started out with a more extensive wine list, but the Bozicevics found that the beer was more popular with customers. Now Ale Arsenal offers one house red and wine white, one sake drink and at least one cider along with the large selection of beer.

While Ale Arsenal doesn’t offer food, Kyle Bozicevic said that difference helps make their proximity to Refuge work out.

“If you’re going to go to San Carlos for a good beer, you’re going to go to one of these two places, and a lot of times both,” Kyle Bozicevic said. “Sometimes people grab a couple beers here waiting for Refuge to open, then they go eat dinner there. Other times people eat dinner there and they’re closing about nine, and they feel like another drink and they’ll come here.”

Similar, but different

Both venues are different enough that it works well, Kyle Bozicevic said — Refuge is more focused on Belgian beers and has a food menu, while Ale Arsenal offers more local craft beers. Refuge is more family-friendly, Lauren Bozicevic said, while Ale Arsenal is a 21-and-up venue. Levin voiced a similar opinion, saying that Ale Arsenal has “a different crowd” than Refuge.

The owners of both venues support the idea of more places focusing on beer coming to the Laurel Street area. Levin said he hopes the street becomes known as a “beer mecca.” And Lauren Bozicevic compared their situation to the area of Laurel Street north of Arroyo Avenue — multiple restaurants are serving new American and Italian food, and it works for them, she said.

“Honestly I would like it if ... maybe in the future there would be other similar, yet different enough beer places around here to make it more of a community for that,” Lauren Bozicevic said. 



Tags: refuge, levin, arsenal, bozicevic, lauren, their,

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