The Hay Merchant is opening within the next two weeks, if not sooner, and on Super Bowl Sunday at 2 p.m., new hires sat around the tall bar tables for their first day of training. Kevin Floyd, co-owner and the project's creator, stood comfortably behind the bar, which takes up the entire back wall of the room, and began the process of entrancing the captive audience with his knowledge of craft beer. The staff at The Hay Merchant will undoubtedly be some of the most educated beer nerds in the city.
While Floyd was immersed in a training session, Bobby Heugel, Floyd's co-conspirator, proudly showed off the finished interior, which incorporates details that nod to Houston's heritage and honor the structure's history. A feeling of warmth pervades with the help of some custom-made wooden table tops, the combinations of old brick, metal, industrial materials and vintage Houstonian relics.
Right in front of the massive bar that is the centerpiece of the space are the high topped bar tables. Behind this section are three comfy, tan, tall booths that are sure to be a premium spot once the doors open. Also scattered throughout are those wooden table tops, as well as a patio with a perfect little square view of the downtown skyline.
In addition to the seating areas, are dart boards off to the side, in the area of The Hay Merchant reminiscent of the structure when it was played host to a gas station. The bricks along this wall are weathered and strong, telling their own story of the comings and goings of Houston past.
Additional details that set a sparkle in Heugel and Floyd's eyes were a wall made of bricks from the 1840's, dug up from the property where the Dynamo stadium is now being constructed, proudly displaying their maker's moniker, "Coffeyville"; the 80 individual tap handles, all one-of-a-kind, made from found objects like an iron sculpted fleur de lis and an antique can of Colt 45; the giant cave of a cooler, with lines running around like the server room in an office building (except probably more organized and efficient) - of which individual lines will be manually cleansed each time a keg is changed; the firkins, stored at the proper angle and temperature inside the cooler, of which five at one time will always be on cask—one of the most prolific cask programs in the entire nation; the menu board above the tap wall, constructed to give the feel of a market and easily interchangeable; and the custom-built drainage system underneath the taps, made from a structural I-beam.
Aside from the physical details, The Hay Merchant's website is fully functioning, goes live sometime next week and will be constantly refreshed with the current beers on tap. Also on the site are details for The Mud Turtle Program (TABC approval pending) that was named after the term used to describe Houstonians in the days when streets turned into mud pits after the rain. The incentive program pairs the amount of beers tasted with an educational aspect, each level's reward gradually increasing in value. The "grand" reward is a trip to Belgium, but along the way you must taste at least 5,000 beers, become Cicerone certified and beat owner Kevin Floyd in a taste test.
As far as the impending opening, which depends partly on the weather—as the large parking lot's construction progress goes faster with less rain—a bit on the city and some on the staff training, all Kevin Floyd can think about is what's to come.
"It's a good thing my wife likes beer so much, because she'll be drinking a lot of it if she wants to see me. I'll be at Hay Merchant every day for a while."