With its burnt sienna walls and blissed-out attitude, the Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery seemed like an anomaly when it opened 12 years ago as a hookah bar that brewed beer in an obscure strip mall in upscale Boca Raton.
The place where Oakland Park’s Funky Buddha Brewery cut its teeth as a nanobrewery, and where legions of craft-beer drinkers first flocked to guzzle its beloved “dessert” beers, has been sold to upstart Robot Brewing Company.
The decision to sell Funky Buddha’s original home did not come easily to co-owner Ryan Sentz, who last August also sold his Oakland Park brewery to Corona beer giant Constellation Brands Inc. In a Thursday afternoon Facebook post, Sentz admitted that selling the lounge after selling its big sibling last summer felt “incredibly difficult.”
“It was hard. It was my baby, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to it,” Sentz, 41, told SouthFlorida.com on Friday. He refused to offer the lounge to Constellation Brands because, among other sentimental reasons, he didn’t want the bar “to become a line item in a transaction.”
“Because I was so busy with the production brewery in Oakland Park, it was hard to keep up the same level of enthusiasm for the lounge,” says Sentz, adding that he’s been busier than ever since selling the brewery. “I needed someone with the same enthusiasm.”
He found kinship with Robot Brewing Company founders Allen Steen and Natalia Vallejos, though Sentz says he’ll keep a minority stake in the lounge to help the couple with the transition. The lounge’s name has also changed to Robot Brewing Company.
Steen, an avid homebrewer and longtime regular (his best friend is the brother-in-law of K.C. Sentz, Ryan’s brother), will continue using the lounge’s one-barrel nanobrewery to create experimental beers while keeping its vibe intact, Sentz says. That means local bands and standup comedy — staples of the original lounge — will stick around, as will the lounge’s current employees, he says.
Steen, 35, says Sentz had been mulling the decision to sell the lounge to him since September, but talks started turning serious during last year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
“It’s pretty much every homebrewer’s dream to open a brewery, so when you take over a lounge with a special place in your heart, you jump at it,” says Steen, who lives part-time in Fort Myers and South Florida. “People are very passionate about that place, and I don’t want to change much. It’s got such a welcoming vibe.”
For the next week, the bar will stay open and serve drinks on its homebrewing side while the lounge undergoes minor upgrades, including new paint and decorations. Following that will be two months of renovations, with a grand-opening event with Funky Buddha Brewery in mid-August, Steen says.
Robot Brewing plans to continue the Buddha’s reputation for wild experimentation. In the works are Belgian-style farmhouse ales and saisons, including Android 3000, a black saison infused with black pepper and coriander; and It Burns When I Peach, a saison blended with Georgia peaches and New Mexico green chilies.
Which means the lounge will stay as funky and blissed-out as it always was, Sentz adds .
“I’m confident [Allen will] do great things, because he fell in love with the Buddha like I did,” Sentz says.
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