Spryfield of dreams

About a year ago, a lack of "fun places to go" in the neighbourhood drove Glen O’Keefe to open Serpent Brewing. Photo: Bruce Murray

If you build it, they will might come

Spryfield doesn’t spring to mind as a craft-beer destination. 

Serpent Brewing is tucked behind a strip mall. Businesses like Bowlarama, No Frills, and Canadian Tire surround it. Much of the area is a construction zone, plastered with signs promising new apartments “Coming Soon.”

Nestled at the end of the row, dimly lit Serpent Brewing looks moody and out-of-place. 

Serpent opened in spring 2021 after what founder Glen O’Keefe describes as a brutal few months. He expected that it would be easy enough to get the brewery up to code, as it was already a retail space attached to a strip mall, but it turned out to be a “mess of investments to make safe.” 

“The city treats us like a restaurant,” he says. “It’s either they treat us as a restaurant, or they’re looking at us as this hazardous manufacturing facility.”

But it’s not a restaurant. Serpent has a license to brew and sell beer. It’s the only brewery in Spryfield, which O’Keefe saw as a market waiting to be tapped. 

“It was really the fact that I had moved to Spryfield when I moved here from Newfoundland and understood how shitty it was to live out here and not have decent access to a fun place to go,” he says. “Once that all sort of clicked for me, it was like OK: if I don’t jump on putting a brewery in Spryfield now, someone else is going to.”

In the early days of European settlement, Spryfield was fertile farmland, becoming known for its livestock, grain, and root crops — a place where supply met demand. Today, it’s best known as a maze of roads, semi-industrial space, and Halifax’s least-unaffordable apartments. Is Serpent the beginning of a shift? Is that why the brewery feels like a speakeasy on a Friday night in January?

“Picnic table or bar barrel?” a friend asks over the swinging jazz as we make our way inside. There are tables, too, but they’re filled with hipsters straight from central casting. The options get lost in a sea of mid-30s plaid, and we settle for the bar barrel. 

Before long, we’re drink-in-hand. The brewery’s run out of cider. Despite the website’s claim, cider was a ghost left from the menu’s options of beer, wine, and potato chips. Beer connoisseurs head for Serpent’s well-crafted Belgian-style farmhouse ales. Jazz Night, and the cash entrance cover, were unmentioned on the website, begging the question: Who is the intended clientele? 

Belgian-inspired ales are the house speciality at Spryfield’s Serpent brewing. Photo: Bruce Murray

Nearing 9 p.m., the band takes a break. About a dozen seats are filled, but an emptiness hangs in the air with the sudden silence. In a word, the brewery feels early. There’s not yet an energy for it to offer, but an underlying thought that it’s a gamble. 

But there is a low-rise stage, an unfinished mural, acoustic chambers, and a roomful of people. Serpent Brewing has a genuine, natural kind of vibe (like the one that fuels a dad’s garage band). It is bring-your-own-food, after all. 

With a paid tab and a buzz, I leave and question whether Spryfield’s attitude can match the brewery’s. The same sheets of pavement that suck a place from its personality may disappear when you’re inside, but what’s the lifespan of a brewery in an industrial patch like this? Will it be long before No Frills turns into Whole Foods, or will our neighbours bowl a strike and calm the waters? 

According to O’Keefe, Spryfield is home to a community that he’s still trying to crack into and understand. Some nights, people turn around and back out the door at the sounds of music. Other nights, it’s packed. But overall, he says the events — trivia, comedy, and sports nights — are gaining the most traction. 

O’Keefe explains that he’s been looking to the community, trying to figure it out, and wants to become “the best form of whatever the community needs.” 

“People become friends in our taproom,” he says. “People fall in love in our taproom.” 

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