Riverside Market has become a well-known establishment in Fort Lauderdale since opening almost a decade ago. It has been featured in Zagat’s 10 Hottest Restaurants in Fort Lauderdale and Thrillist’s 33 Best Beer Bars in America, among others. Upon learning about Riverside’s impressive catalogue of brews, I envisioned a polished bar with a perfectly coiffed staff; however, as soon as I open the door, I see that my expectations were far from accurate.
Riverside looks like it could be your best friend’s basement- unfinished ceiling and all. The mismatched couches, armchairs, coffee tables and Florida decor look comfortable and inviting, and the relaxed atmosphere makes you feel right at home. Friends gather on couches and at tables, leisurely sipping brews and catching up. The scent of freshly baked pizza is equally as welcoming, and I can hardly wait to grab a bite.
As I continue scanning the room, I begin to see the extensive beer selection. The walls are lined with beer coolers, all teeming with a selection of craft bottles and cans of which most beer aficionados could only dream. There are light fixtures repurposed from beer bottles, and a multitude of beer stickers and signs colorfully decorate the walls.
Looking around, I notice that the customers are as diverse as the beer. There are families with young children, customers sipping on stouts and porters with their noses in laptops, as well as business meetings over sandwiches and IPAs. Several customers grab a beer from the fridge, pop off the caps using bottle openers that hang from the ceiling by string, and plop back down in their seats.
The courteous staff greets us warmly and is ready and willing to offer suggestions for lunch and our first round of beers. The strong sense of community at Riverside is evident, and I know right away that we have walked into something special. So, I did some investigating.
Julian and Lisa Siegel, owners of this Fort Lauderdale gem, were among the first advocates for craft beer. 10 years ago, during a real estate boom, they saw an opportunity to turn their craft beer bar and restaurant dream into reality. When the very idea of beer variety was in its infancy, the Siegels had plans to offer their customers an expansive selection. Thus, Riverside Market was born.
When Riverside initially opened, it boasted a selection of over 500 beers. Why such a variety? For their grand opening, the Siegels planned to run an ad touting their 250 craft beer choices. However, the ad mistakenly promised 500 craft beers instead of 250. Rather than correcting the ad, Julian and Lisa stepped up to the challenge, giving Riverside Market the most extensive assortment around.
Many wonder, of all those choices, which are the most popular. Julian says there has been a recent spike in sours, lambics, and trappist beers. In addition, with the ‘drink like a local’ movement, they’ve seen an increase in interest in their Florida offerings. There is an entire fridge dedicated to this movement, with 50-60 local choices available.
A unique twist on the normal retail exchange is Riverside’s ‘honor system,’ which allows a patron to hang out, drink, and then pay when they are ready. New customers are often skeptical of the honor system’s effectiveness, but Julian and Lisa are confident that when you put your trust in someone, they will rise to the occasion. As a result, customers feel comfortable and at ease. “People don’t come to Riverside without meeting someone,” says owner, Julian Siegel. “Everyone is an expert. Everyone offers advice. Customers become friends.”
Another point of pride at Riverside is the variety of customers it attracts. Julian explains, “We get commissioners and mayors and councilmen and state attorneys here, and we get tattooed, shaved-head skateboarders, poets, and professors.” The Siegels understand that not everyone is looking for the latest double IPA or barrel-aged stout, and keep major domestics and imports readily available as well. They also have a selection of draughts for those who prefer a slightly more traditional brew experience. Because of this, everyone truly feels that they have a place at Riverside Market.
While the owners and staff at Riverside have created an environment where beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike can feel comfortable and at home, their main concern remains the same: providing their customers with the greatest variety. Despite already showcasing an impressive library of 650+ beers, they want to guarantee that they receive the latest, greatest, and rarest special release beers. Julian explains that this wouldn’t be possible if the three-tier system and support from his distributors weren’t in place. “When I buy beer from distributors, it’s not just beer. I’m getting choice and variety. I’m getting product support. I’m getting product knowledge. I’m getting product service,” says Julian.
After our trip to Riverside Market, we can safely say one thing: they have something for everyone. With Julian and Lisa’s desire to provide the most extensive collection, the resources available from distributors, and the growing variety from micro-breweries across the country, Riverside has become the go-to spot for beers you can’t find elsewhere. Next time you feel inclined to try something new, we recommend stopping in at Riverside, asking for a suggestion from the staff, and kicking back in their one-of-a-kind atmosphere.