Pacific Box and Crate is an adult playground. There are the Workshop stalls, now offering everything from tacos to Italian to sushi. There is Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co., a counter-order restaurant that equally serves families, dogs, and beer nerds. There’s turf used for Barre Code and yoga and HIIT classes. And then there’s Merrow’s Garden Bar, popping up right in the middle of it all every weekend.
“I’m trying not to step on too many people’s toes,” says wine pro and Merrow’s Garden Bar owner Kevin Regan. Most of the indoor stalls sell alcohol, and EOBC obviously has most any drink you could want. But Merrow’s is a little bit different, and certainly one of a kind in a city ruled by food-driven pop-ups.
For starters, being a wine/beer/cider pro is not Regan’s first job, or his first love. By day, he’s a guide for Coastal Expeditions, leading kayak tours and wilderness workshops. “My first passion is wilderness,” says Regan, who has even worked as a Master Wilderness Guide for an addiction treatment center in the mountains. But Regan has also always been drawn to what comes out of the earth, too, the fruits and hops and wheat. Regan says his introduction to wine was when he and his wife moved to New Zealand right after getting married. With an education degree from The University of Hawaii at Manoa, Regan got a job at a cellar doing tastings.
“That turned into a whole harvest, winter pruning, helping make wine — it turned into a little bit of everything there.” When they moved back to the States, Regan got a job at “one of the better wine shops in the country” up North, and from there went on to get formal certifications and training, all the while continuing his wilderness pursuits.
It wasn’t until a family trip to Charlotte, walking inside the 7th Street Public Market, that Regan realized he could channel his love of wine (and cider and beer) into a side gig. “7th Street, it’s all indoors, and there are some more permanent stalls. I saw a woman there who had a wine bar — I thought ‘I could do that at Worskhop.’ I emailed the powers that be and they said ‘let’s chat.'”
Merrow’s Wine Bar (merrow is a mermaid in Irish folklore, a nod to Regan’s wife and to our coastal city) first set up shop in early spring. “We started with wine by the glass, then started doing some beer, and I’ve always been into cider, so we added that.” Regan has curated more ciders than anywhere I’ve seen, with seven bottles on the list from Spain, Vermont, and France. We sip the Isategi Sagardo Basque when I stop by.
“It’s funky, earthy, musty,” says Regan, and as an inveterate non-cider drinker, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I like the funky pour. Regan stores his bottles and supplies in half a fridge and on one dry storage shelf at Workshop and says that, logistically, working under the umbrella of Workshop makes it easy with insurance, and allows him to order from any distributor. Realistically, the pop-up bar has good nights and empty nights.
Regan says they started off slow, but once summer hit “I was busy by default.” His customers range from Friday night families — “we started with three or four families who would ride bikes with their kids and meet others families, it turned into 10 or 15 groups” — to out of towners looking to check out this nifty food court concept. The Night Bazaars, running the third Saturday of every month, are when Regan has the most business, “I’ll have a steady line for three hours.”
With a full-time job and toddler at home, Regan says for now, he will continue popping up at Workshop for those three weekend nights, “we’ve talked about going to other markets, but my goal is simplicity.” His goal, too, is to connect his love of the earth with his love of what it produces. “People say ‘how do those two mesh?’ It makes a lot of sense for me. With wine specifically, you have this soil and mineral and clay … and these million year old oyster beds and ancient sea beds, and I love the outdoors, and it somehow intertwines for me. It’s fun to be able to taste the differences and people ask ‘why am I tasting this minerality?’ and they can say ‘this tastes different to me than what I’ve had before.'”
Merrow’s Garden Bar is open at Pacific Box and Crate every Thurs. and Fri. from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.