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June 28, 2019

District BBQ brings liquid assets to Bear

PHOTO | New Haven Biz Sobocinski: Give me an H, give me another H, give me an O…

Jason Sobocinski has a theory about why Connecticut’s craft-beer industry is booming.

The reason? “Because we have the best beer,” said Sobocinski, late of Caseus and now a co-owner of the Black Hog Brewing Co.

Seems logical. But why does Connecticut have the best beer?

“The same reason we have the best pizza, and the best bagels, and the best bread,” he continues.

And why is that?

“That would be the water,” Sobocinski says. “We have great water.”

The native New Haven entrepreneur was on hand Thursday with another business partner, Jamie (The Bear) McDonald, for the official launch of the brewery and bar at Bear’s Smokehouse New Haven, the upscale barbecue joint that debuted last November at District New Haven.

While the restaurant has drawn rave reviews over its first half-year, completing the “barbecue brew house concept” required more time for licensing, permitting and what Sobocinski characterized as regulatory “minutiae.”

McDonald and his wife Cheryl co-own Bear’s Restaurant Group, which operates five eateries in the state: Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ restaurants in Hartford, Windsor and South Windsor; Hartford’s Blind Pig Pizza Co.; and Cook & the Bear in West Hartford (the latter also co-owned by Sobocinski).

McDonald on Thursday said he was happy to bring his namesake brand to New Haven from the Capitol region.

The new District location features a smokehouse with a brewery, bar and German-style open-air beer garden.

The media mob outside the entrance of Bear’s Smokehouse Thursday for the opening of its new brewery and bar.

Located on the site of a former CT Transit bus depot, District New Haven is a revitalized nine-acre technology and innovation campus straddling the city’s East Rock and Fair Haven neighborhoods. City economic-development head Michael Piscitelli noted Thursday that the site could logically have been redeveloped as a strip-center retail complex, but developer David Salinas’ vision of an innovation incubator was the “highest and best use” for the property, Piscitelli said.

Last week District welcomed another new tenant: the Holberton School, a non-profit software engineering school. It is also home to the District Innovation & Venture Center, which offers workforce-development and education programs aimed at fostering technology talent.

Now they all have an agreeable spot to repair to for beef and brew.

“One thing I’ve learned in business,” McDonald said, “was that a community should benefit from a business — just as a business benefits from its community.”

Contact Michael C. Bingham at

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