Santa Ana-based Native Son is set to open a new restaurant, brewery, and beer bar this weekend in Downtown LA. The OC-based outfit will take over the former Modern Times Dankness Dojo space, which was one of the most iconic beer destinations in LA County before shutting down in February.
This is Native Son’s third location – after opening a rooftop space in Santa Ana in 2013, they opened a beer and cocktail bar in Rancho Cucamonga three years ago. Their tap lists and beer sourcing can go toe to toe with any bar in the area, but this is a step in a new direction for them, albeit a natural one – it’s their first foray into actual brewing. They take command of the massive ten-barrel brewing system Modern Times left behind.
Modern Times’ downfall was well-documented; they closed five of their eight locations this year, including the DTLA and Anaheim locations. But in Downtown, the San Diego County-based brewery abandoned some seriously good bones, and Native Son owner Jon Sanchez saw a perfect opportunity for his growing brand.
“I emailed [Modern Times CEO Jennifer Briggs] within an hour of them announcing it,” Sanchez said. “Basically saying, ‘I know I sound like a vulture, but what’s going on with these places you’re closing down?’”
Sanchez said the team convened early this year for two days of company meetings, to look back on the past nine years of Native Son, and ahead into the future.
“I told everyone: ‘We need to be ready,’” Sanchez said. “And we need to have our eyes open. and ears open to be like, ‘Are there any possibilities out there that we could not build from scratch, but buy someplace [that’s already set to open]?’”
“Literally a month and a half maybe after that meeting, Modern Times announced they’re closing,” Sanchez said. Two days later, before Modern Times had even liquidated its beer cans, Sanchez was in the space to scope it out, and by May, after renegotiating the building’s lease, he had the keys.
Next up was assembling a team to open the new location. Brandon Goodwin, from their OC location, will be the LA General Manager, and Alexa Romero is the Beer Operations Manager.
Romero brings deep experience in beer buying, and great relationships from across the brewing industry in LA, OC, and beyond. Her guiding ethos, she says, is supporting local breweries, and education – both for customers, and the staff.
“Obviously, we’re small,” Romero said. “We’re just getting started. I’m all about supporting the small local breweries around here… We’re here to educate the customer just as much as we’re trying to educate ourselves to grow in this community and this industry.”
JP Boudwin, who was head brewer at Modern Times DTLA, was a natural fit to (re-)take over his brew space, and started at Native Son early last month. His brew team has not yet begun brewing in their own space, but they are starting soon.
“We actually have a ton of [brewing] capacity,” Sanchez told me. “With these fermenters, we could do 4000 barrels a year, which is a lot for a brewpub. So it’s exciting for us that we have the other locations already… If this was a first-time location for someone, it would be way overbuilt. But I think we’re going to be able to use the capacity.”
They have already visited other local breweries for collabs that will get top billing at their opening. First up was Mumford Brewing, just down the street in DTLA, and Hawthorne’s Common Space Brewing. They also worked with Study Break, an LA-based seltzer company, on a collab, and will debut other beers the Native Son OC team brewed with Radiant (Anaheim) and Pizza Port (San Diego County) soon.
The space will look familiar to anyone who visited the former Dankness Dojo. The giant Lite-Brite installations are still in, and the back bar still maintains 33 taps. This time, though, there won’t be just beer brewed in-house; Romero is sourcing some of the best beer from across the country. The opening taplist includes fresh beer from Highland Park Brewery (Chinatown), There Does Not Exist (San Luis Obispo), Untitled Art (Wisconsin), Cellador (North Hills), Bottle Logic (Anaheim), and Abnormal Beer Co. (San Diego).
Some other major things have also changed. First, the mini mart at the front of the space has been converted to a bar for natural wine and fortified wine cocktails and spritzes – at least until they get a full liquor license. In the meantime, though, Sanchez says the bar will still be crafty. “There will be like orange peels, and there will be fancy ice, but it will be using Vermouths and fortified wines and amaro that we can get our hands on with our current license.”
The cocktail program is essential to expanding and educating consumers’ palates, he added. “It’s helped us actually kind of grow our palate to learn and get used to different flavor profiles, and bitterness, in different ways.”
The all-vegan menu is also gone (though they’ll maintain some vegan options), and they’ve expanded the menu, taking advantage of the giant kitchen in the back to also include a very serious brunch service.
Also new to the space: TVs. The success of LA’s sports teams in recent years, and renewed local enthusiasm, was a major motivating factor in the decision to bring in some screens. “Our bars are by no means sports bars, but we have a tasteful amount of TVs for people to hang, right?” Sanchez said. “Because in our ethos, we love teaching people about craft beer, entertaining people, and being a place where people can hang out [and watch the games].”
He added that he’s looking forward to watching the World Cup at the bar, when matches commence later this month and into early December.
But for now, opening is the first thing on the team’s minds: “Excited is an understatement,” Romero told me. “I’m excited to see what we’re going to do with this place, especially coming from Modern Times, and everything that they did here. [That was] sick, so we have a good bottom line of, ‘what’s happening?’ Now, we just take off with it.”
Sanchez summed up his thoughts on the past six months pretty simply: “We’re just plugging along, keeping our heads down, and maintaining our love for beer.”
Native Son LA will open this Friday, November 4.