7:06 p.m. Tune Inn Bar and Grill on Capitol Hill
VanHoozer drops off a small swag bag, though his sales manager has wondered why he bothers. He gestures at a haggard man in a Marines baseball cap at the bar. “This is the real PBR,” he says.
Float a theory that PBR has become a quiet arts patron in D.C. and VanHoozer demures. “I wish I could be Beer-a Claus, but I’m not,” he says.
In fact, much of his work sounds distinctly non-hip. “The bulk of my job is dealing with accounts,” he says. “My job is to know those people.” An account is any venue—bar, restaurant, theater—that sells PBR. There are about 150 in the D.C. area, and VanHoozer targets 40 of them. One-hundred eighty stores in the area sell PBR.
“The other stuff is brand-building.” That’d be helping arts happenings and putting on bar events and barbecues and the like. When VanHoozer spots a bar-goer sipping on a PBR, it means buying him another one in gratitude.
Even on that front, there are a lot of non-sexy logistics to work. In the spring, PBR’s marketing operation in Colorado had to cancel an event after alcohol regulators took issue with its advertisement of “free PBR.” Clarke blames a failure to understand to wide-ranging, parochial alcohol rules. So part of VanHoozer’s job here involves helping clients avoid such pitfalls.
Patrick Kigongo, a prolific local indie rocker, was drinking at Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg Road NE earlier this year when VanHoozer put down some PBRs on his table. When Kingongo and two friends started planning an all-day festival called Done&Done, a more experienced planner said talk to VanHoozer: “This is a guy who’s very down for helping out with events.” VanHoozer arranged for a cheap buy of cans, which the festival sold, and he helped the organizers navigate Alcohol Beverage Control regulations.
The new attention to liquor-law concerns also means VanHoozer’s obliged to move more slowly. Seek PBR sponsorship now, and you need to talk to VanHoozer early. There’s a Google form (an innovation from earlier in the year that helps with the stricter rules). And he’ll no longer show up and shower you with beer. Instead, he’ll hand you a check to buy your PBR, or reimburse you after the fact. That means fewer house shows, for starters. When working with VanHoozer became harder, some of his beneficiaries decided they would no longer bother.
But VanHoozer’s role in the Artisphere roll-out was evidence that PBR can still hook the cool kids. The “Burst!” party was the first time Brightest Young Things worked with PBR. “We actually have a working relationship with Flying Dog,” Legetic says, “and we’ve kind of tried to be more local-centric.” The Frederick-based Flying Dog brewery has been making a bigger marketing push in D.C. in recent months, and even edged VanHoozer out of a special at one bar during the H Street Festival. Not this time.
On the other hand, PBR still isn’t always able to keep up when an establishment’s clientele gets older and richer. Take Comet Ping Pong, a spot increasingly known for an impressive selection of draughts. A year ago Comet was among the top five vendors of PBR in D.C.; now it’s barely in the top 25. A manager there Friday night attributed the drop to a change in the artisan-pizza place’s customers. They’re grayer now.
Clarke’s not worried in that department. “People who drink craft beer drink PBR—we’re happy with that.” As for the bigger worry of brand backlash: “I don’t think we’re close to the point.”
Kigongo says he could’ve put on Done&Done without any corporate involvement. “It comes with its pitfalls,” he says. “You’ve associated yourself with a logo, with a name, and some people have a difficult time grasping that.
“Ultimately they’re a corporation and the goal of any company is to make money and expand its influence,” he says. “But there’s much less of stigma about having the involvement of a large corporation—it’s different times. The debate has changed. It’s about supporting yourself as an artist. If you do this stuff, you have more money for equipment and for recording, because it’s not coming from anywhere else.”
Pabst, at least, is quirky, Kigongo says, and unassertive. It’s like the Pavement of beers.