Downtown Vancouver’s growing bar scene quietly welcomed another newcomer a few weeks ago: WhichCraft, a business that aims to create a novel bar concept that highlights arts and craft projects as much as craft beer.
Owner Morgan Press describes the bar at 605 Main St. as a social space for individuals and groups of friends — age 21 and up — to tap into their artistic side and build meaningful creations.
The bar features open floor space in the center with six-seat tables lining the wall opposite a small bar counter. At first glance it looks a lot like any other bar, albeit with slightly more industrial floors and larger tables.
But as visitors make their way farther back, they’ll find a shelf stacked floor-to-ceiling with arts and craft supplies and tools. That’s where most guests will start out: picking a craft for the evening and gathering the necessary supplies at their table.
The bar offers a selection of 10 craft projects for customers including candles, concrete coasters, small planter pots, nail-and-string art and terrariums – with materials and tools supplied, and staff guidance available.
The idea is that at the end of their visit, guests will have a completed craft project they can take with them.
WhichCraft’s walls are decorated with paintings and craft projects. Even the bathroom ceiling tiles have been decorated with custom prints. Press says she hopes to grow the collection with submissions from customers and turn the bar into a location for local artists to display their work.
The bar features a rotating tap selection of local craft beers and ciders, along with wine and kombucha. There’s a separate counter and cash register for customers who want to quickly get started on a craft project without waiting in the beer line.
WhichCraft doesn’t serve food, but Press says customers are welcome to bring their own. There is a single TV on the wall above the bar. Press says guests are likely to see it playing episodes of “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross.
The bar’s storage room contains a few extra drinks and glasses, but it’s mostly home to dozens of shelves of extra tools and materials – bags of concrete mixer, hot plates to melt candle wax and bags with full craft project kits that customers can buy.
Press, 27, says the concept grew out of her own experiences with the Vancouver and Portland bar scenes. She moved to the region from New York a few years ago and says she was surprised by the central stage that bars and craft beer occupy in Pacific Northwest culture.
“I quickly realized that I actually didn’t know what to do with myself at a bar,” she says.
Press describes herself as a light drinker, so she started bringing personal arts and craft projects with her to work or when going out with friends. The habit became her inspiration for a specialty bar that would cater to craft projects.
Press was an art and psychology major in college. But she’d ended up working as an insurance fraud investigator and had become certain it wasn’t what she wanted to do long-term. So she decided to take the plunge and try to make her craft bar idea a reality.
“I always wanted to have art be a part of my life,” she says. “Sitting in a cubicle all day was not for me. I had the idea (for a craft bar) in my head for so long.”
She settled on downtown Vancouver for the bar’s location due to its arts culture and growing bar scene, but she struggled to find the right address. She says she stumbled on the future WhichCraft storefront earlier this year – previously home to printing shop zoomNet Postal+, which closed last summer – and quickly decided that the space had the perfect size and location.
The buildout — mostly a do-it-yourself project from Press, her family and a few friends — took about four months and cost about $75,000. Press had no prior bartending experience, so she assumed the drink menu would be the most complicated part of the process. But she says that ended up being easy compared to designing the novel concept of a craft bar space and securing supplies.
“We had to think really long and hard about the layout,” she says. “The beer and wine side of it was so much simpler than the actual art side, which I wasn’t expecting.”
She had to refine the craft menu, building each craft multiple times to make sure that it could be made from readily available supplies and built in a single evening without too much difficulty.
Press serves as the manager for the bar, which seats 60 people, and runs the business along with an assistant manager and three other employees. All of them except for Press have bartending experience. But she says the more important criteria for staff was an artistic background.
“We got really lucky,” she says.
WhichCraft had a soft launch in the last week of June. Press says the response has been excellent so far, with customers eager to embrace the concept. Almost immediately, people began asking if they could bring their own projects with them as well, something Press says hadn’t even occurred to her.
“I thought that was fantastic,” she says. “Anything that inspires creativity for people.”
People should reserve tables online, Press says. That helps balance the number of times each project is being crafted in a given day, making sure supplies last. But walk-in customers are also welcome.
Press says she plans to start offering classes, workshops and other crafting events. Some nearby businesses including Love Portion Magickal Perfumerie have approached her about partnering to use the bar space for workshops that go beyond the bar’s usual crafting menu.