Through good times and bad, Newport’s Balboa Peninsula has always attracted the curious. From the Balboa Pavilion and the Fun Zone to the Rendezvous Ballroom and Lido Marina Village with its Art Deco movie theater, the long, low sand spit has offered a wide variety of pleasures over the last century.
A recent renaissance has brought new restaurants, bars and hotels. Via Lido and other neighborhoods have been attractively revitalized.
One of the visionaries has been Mario Marovic. His Lounge Group has created several successful and forward-looking concepts in Newport, such as Dory Deli, Stag Bar + Kitchen and Malarky’s Irish Pub. They own popular properties in other parts of Orange County as well.
Marovic and partner Andrew Gabriel are about to place another big bet on the Peninsula. They’re opening the Helmsman Ale House in a few weeks. It will occupy the former site of Newport Beach Brewing Co., a popular watering hole for more than 20 years. Dylan Mobley, who held positions at Stone Brewing Co., Angel City Brewing and Bottle Logic Brewing, will be the brew master.
Hatch Design Group, a local firm that has reimagined many O.C. restaurants, is renovating the 4,200-square-foot property. A 15-barrel brew house will provide about a dozen small-batch beers at a time, with a capacity of up to 14 different brews, if need be.
“It was an opportunity that fell in our lap,” Gabriel said. “In April of last year we acquired the Newport Beach Brewing Co. from the previous owner. We worked with him for a while, operating it until the end of the year before starting a remodel. We wanted to take our time figuring out what to replace it with.”
The Peninsula is brimming with freshly completed projects and ambitious new ones in the process of being born. But its vitality is a fairly recent phenomenon. A decade ago, the place was a bit wilted around the edges, with few new businesses or fine-dining choices.
“I think the Peninsula has really changed for the better in the last few years,” Marovic said. “For a long time it was in decline; it got a little tired and neglected. When we started investing in the Peninsula a few years ago, people thought we were crazy. Now, the Peninsula has become a very popular destination. A lot of my friends tell me they like going here now for dinner or drinks.”
The Helmsman isn’t going to be just another industrial-looking craft brewery dominated by tanks and other hardware. Anyone familiar with Marovic’s restaurants knows he has a flair for unorthodox design and interesting details.
“Andrew and I really enjoy the process of designing a building,” Marovic said. “Every single item and artifact in the Helmsman was hand-selected by me or Andrew. For example, I went to New York for a family vacation three years ago and found these great nautical lights.”
The Helmsman will be large, with a capacity of 220. It will contain two bars, a dining room and a covered and heated patio. The beers will be a mixture of house signature styles, guest labels and seasonal brews. Growlers and 32-ounce cans will be available for takeaway.
The menu will feature American-style pub fare with an emphasis on quality, Marovic said.
“We’ll be unique among craft breweries because we’ll be both a bar and a restaurant,” Gabriel said. “We’ll have a full liquor and cocktail menu as well as our take on classic American bar food. Most breweries in Orange County don’t have a food or cocktail program. Some rely totally on food trucks. We decided at the beginning that we wanted to be a culinary destination as well as a brewery.”
An opening date is still up in the air, but the Helmsman should be up and running well before Labor Day.
“We plan to open in early to mid-August,” Marovic said. “Construction will be finished soon, but we want to have a solid month of working out the kinks. It will take the brewer a few weeks to brew the first batches of beer, and we have to train the employees.”
Once it’s open, Marovic and Gabriel intend to promote The Helmsman as a year-round destination. Unlike many places in the area, they didn’t want it to be a largely seasonal business.
“The population density of Newport is changing, and people’s attitudes toward the peninsula are changing too,” Marovic said. “Summer is always busiest around here, but we’ve found people will come year round it they like a place enough. And we think we’ve created that kind of business.”
Paul Hodgins writes about wine, beer, spirits cocktails and bars for TimesOC. He has been covering the subject for more than a decade, and he has published two books on California wine. Follow him on Instagram @goodlibationsoc.