The brewery had been an iconic meeting place for both beer lovers and community members. It had a special spot in the early history of craft brewing and was said to be the progenitor of the nation’s first commercially produced pumpkin beer. One of its tap handles is even stored at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“It’s a tragedy, and we’re losing a symbol of Hayward. It’s hard to imagine how it will be replaced,” the then-president of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce said at the time.
Well, folks need to imagine no longer, because as of August,Buffalo Bill’s Brewery is suddenly back open. And new owner Alejandro Gamarra, who runs several Mexican restaurants in Hayward, plans to keep it pretty much the same as before – though he does have plans for spicing up its lineup of beers.
“I’ve been doing business in Hayward since 1993 out of a taco truck,” says Gamarra, who now operates four Metro Taqueros, The Mexican Restaurant & Bar and Caso de Toro. “The reason I share that is I know Hayward extremely well, being here for so long. And I knew Buffalo Bill’s as all of us do – as a gathering place, the place where you brew local beers, the first brewpub in America and a place that carries the identity of the city in my point of view.”
Alejandro Gamarra is the new owner of Buffalo Bill’s in Hayward, a historic brewpub that shuttered last year. (Photo courtesy of Emily Smiley/Alejandro Gamarra)
Like many breweries and taprooms, Buffalo Bill’s took a mighty hit from COVID. “We gave it our best shot, but in the end if I did not close and sell the real estate, I would have had to declare bankruptcy and lose my home,” then-owner Geoff Harries told Patch.
“He put it up for sale, and we were all stunned when he did so,” says Gamarra. “I kept my eye on it and said that unless a big name like Fieldwork or Drake’s or another brewery steps in, I’m going to make a bid to reopen it as Buffalo Bill’s, because it was so important to the city.”
Gamarra has managed to lure back the former brewmaster, Mike Manty, as well as former chef Hector Ortiz. “I did it mafia style. I made them offers they couldn’t refuse, right?” Gamarra jokes.
The food menu is staying pretty much the same, for now: “People come in with an emotional expectation. They want to have those same flavors – they want the burger with a pretzel bun, that pizza with a special dough we make here, and those things are extremely important to make people realize, Buffalo Bill’s is back.”
The brewery will continue to make the beers that made it famous, like Tasmanian Devil ale and Ricochet Red. But it will also experiment with new styles, otherwise “we’re stuck in the past,” says Gamarra.
“There’s so much going on in the craft-beer industry that’s fun and exciting. And the new generations are looking for different styles. This place has never carried a hazy IPA, for instance. How do you not carry a hazy IPA nowadays – how do you not brew that in-house?”
Gamarra hopes to take one cue from his line of other restaurants and brew some Mexican-themed beer. “Mexican-style lagers, through the evolution and consolidation of brands – Modelo Especial and Pacifico and even Negra Modelo for that matter – those types of beers have a market. And I think within the lagers you can also implement tamarindo, jamaica, some of those flavors that are culturally diverse.”
“I want to start playing around with other brewmasters, bringing them to visit and make their own beer,” he says. “I’ve had a few come to me saying, ‘I’d like to work in here and do something.’ I go, ‘We’ll give you the chance – we can do a new style of beer, see what you got, and if we find it to be interesting, we’ll put it in the rotating barrel.’”
To any beer historians who’ve been frantically waving their hands in the air for the last few minutes, while Buffalo Bill’s does bill itself as “America’s First Brewpub” that honorific is in contention. It was indeed one of five brewpubs that became first in the nation and got that title when Gov. Jerry Brown signed an assembly bill in 1982. But as Bay Area News Group beer columnist Jay R. Brooks has said, Buffalo Bill’s was clearly “one of the earliest” and “helped put the Bay Area on the map.”