From the moment I caught sight of the Apothecary Draft House as I was rounding Public Square in Jacksonville one evening, I was amazed. Firstly, I was impressed at the very modern, hip vibe of the fire-scorched wood that not only stretches across the inviting building front–it also wraps around ¾ of the walls inside, creating a bright, rustic, inviting atmosphere. Secondly, I was taken aback at how unrecognizable the space was. As natives to Jacksonville will remember, it was the site for almost 140 years of a building that for many of those years housed Crow Drug, Inc., a historic drugstore run by Ralph Crow that thrived on the square for many years. In 2021, Crow Drug built a new space and is now known as Crow Drug and Gifts. The owners of the Apothecary Draft House–Josh and Melissa Stearns–named it such to carry on the legacy of its rich history.
This new establishment does not echo days gone by. Rather, its modernity could rival any joint in Birmingham, or Atlanta for that matter. Nestled on Jacksonville’s historic Public Square, it stands out in a good way. Since it opened on St. Patrick’s Day of 2023, it’s been a popular hot spot for locals as well as folks that travel to Jacksonville, whether for leisure or for events connected to Jacksonville State University. I passed it weekly on Monday nights on my own way to JSU to teach, and I was constantly amazed at how many folks frequented it on the first night of the week. Their current summer schedule has more limited hours–closed Sundays and Mondays–but there are fun nightly events to entertain patrons every other day of the week.
Tuesday nights from 7-9 pm, you can sit down with friends and take part in Trivia Night, hosted by Shane Noles. The onsite manager Sophia shared that this particular event is currently their most popular. It’s not unusual for there to be as many as 15 or more teams that number from groups of 4 to 12, completely packing out the house. This activity, as well as Wednesday’s Bingo Night (also from 7-9 pm) includes prizes for the winners such as gift certificates or merch from the Apothecary, as well as gift certificates from restaurants on the square.
While the hours for their Thursday night Karaoke are technically the same, they have been flexible with allowing amateur singers to belt out their favorite tunes till 10 pm or later based on demand. And Friday and Saturday nights are reserved for live music, set against the backdrop of their indoor exposed-brick wall. The Friday night I went with friends, cover artist Tim Johnson was serenading the crowd country-style with popular tunes by Bob Seger, the Eagles, and more. The sound system had amazing crisp clarity and even carried to the outdoor front porch where we were seated.
What makes The Apothecary Draft House unique in Calhoun County is its “Pour My Beer” concept. While self-serve draft houses are gaining popularity in other regions of the U.S., there are only a handful in Alabama. The others in the state include Tower Taproom in Montgomery; Athens Alehouse and Cellar in Athens; Auburn Self Pour in Auburn; and Pour Smart Bar in Orange Beach.
When you visit The Apothecary Draft House, you’ll have your I.D. checked by the cashier, who will create a tab with your credit card, and give you a bracelet that links to your tab. After that, you basically visit two walls lined with taps offering wine and beer options, which rotate between 36 beer varieties and 6 wines. Beer lovers will find themselves bedazzled by all manner of IPAs, brown/red/golden ales, lagers, stouts, ambers, Pilsners, blondes, fruit beers, ciders, sours, and the occasional porter or mead. When you decide on what to sample (small glasses are on hand to find your favorite flavor) or fully indulge in (refrigerators to the left of the taps house chilled full-size glasses), you scan your bracelet. A screen reveals your name, your tab total so far, and how much you spent on the new purchase. Prices for beer range from $0.50-$0.56 per oz, with wines from $0.64-$0.68.
While I won’t attempt to review the beer (I’m not even close to being an expert), I’ll say that I enjoyed everything I sampled. As I’m drawn to beers with fruity vibes (as well as red wine), my choices were:
- Strawberry Kiwi Burst (Wicked Weed Brewing)
- Margarita Sour (Hi-Wire Brewing)
- Blue (SweetWater Brewing Co.)
- Purple Haze (Abita Brewing Co.)
- Katherine Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon
The Apothecary Drafthouse’s rotating menu is listed on untappd.com, a popular app that links breweries across the U.S. and allows beer lovers to locate breweries in any area, check out their offerings, rate the beer and the experience, and more. One cool feature of the app is that it links to the brewery of the particular beer that you sampled at The Apothecary. For example, Goat’s Milk, an IPA Milkshake listed at $0.57 an ounce, links to Scofflaw Brewing Company of Atlanta, GA. If you loved that beer, you could plan a future visit to that particular brewery on your next visit to Atlanta.
For folks that want to hang a while, there’s a shelf with a variety of board games. My crew and I had a blast laughing as we sipped and played Cards Against Humanity. There’s also a free pool table and indoor cornhole to keep you entertained, as well as TV monitors to view sports and other shows.
While it’s strictly a draft house, The Apothecary includes a plastic QR code on each table, which allows patrons to find local restaurants that will deliver food right to their tables. Sophia shared, “We call it the QR that knows it all.” One of the first restaurants on the square to take notice of the Apothecary was Heirloom Taco, which worked out an unofficial agreement to collaborate with them, making deliveries on foot, or selling to-go orders to folks who are welcome to bring their purchases into the Apothecary and partake. Other restaurants followed suit like Coop Deville, Jimmy Johns, Papa Johns, and even Yamato Japanese Steak House. Many of these restaurants can be located via the QR code and independent orders placed–or of course, you can take the old-fashioned route of calling the chosen restaurant yourself. You can also use the QR to place orders for in-house beverages to be served at your table by The Apothecary staff if desired.
This original draft house is fast becoming a favorite Jacksonville haunt. Perhaps Josh’s philosophy for success, “Chase the dream, not the money,” has something to do with it. In thinking outside the box, he and his collaborators have created a college-town gem that outshines traditional bars in a big way.
The Apothecary Drafthouse is located at 7 Public Square East, Jacksonville, Alabama. Summer hours are Tuesdays to Thursdays 4:30 pm – 11:00 pm, and Fridays to Saturdays 11:00 am – 11:00 pm. They’re closed on Sundays and Mondays until the fall. Check out their Facebook page for current happenings or follow them on Instagram, and plan your visit!