Proof’d to close on Saturday

Approaching its first anniversary, Proof’d owners Christian and Rebecca Chotkowski will be shutting down their unique Plaza shop instead of celebrating its first year in business.

The tasting beer bar and liquor store at 19 W. Napa St. is closing because of a business decision. “But it wasn’t my business decision,” said Christian Chotkowski. “My landlord (Chase Bank) wants to sell the store – and they want to sell a vacant store.”

So the store, that’s been a liquor store in one form or another for more than 60 years, will be closing Saturday.

Back in June, Chotkowski was set to renew a five-year lease with the bank and had sent it by certified mail. “But the person I’ve been dealing with called me and said that since he hadn’t signed the lease yet, he was going to tear it up. He said they wanted to put the building on the market and he offered me a chance to buy,” he said.

But, the bank wanted almost $1 million for the building.

“I don’t have $1 million,” Chotkowski said. “If I had an extra $1 million, I wouldn’t be working here six days a week.”

He and his wife, Rebecca, worked for six weeks to transform their former liquor store, Historic Plaza Liquors, into Proof’d last year. The couple had operated Historic Plaza Liquors for the prior three years taking over the then Plaza Liquors.

Chotkowski has known for a while that the end was near, but didn’t want to announce it until the last week.

“I told my employees before we went on vacation the first week in August,” he said, “in case they could line up a job.”

He said he asked the bank to sell him the building a year ago, but when he had the building appraised, it wasn’t far off from what the bank is seeking.

Chotkowski said he’s enjoyed the business more since the couple went with the tasting bar concept. “I’ve enjoyed it a lot more since I’ve had people hanging out with me,” he said.

Sunday afternoon, he joked with customers as they came in, asking where they were from, asking what sort of beer they liked and pouring a taste or two.

“I rotate out five gallon kegs, and in the past year, I’ve only repeated two beers,” he said. “In the last eight months, I’ve featured 200 different beers.”

Many of the beers are varieties that most people haven’t seen or tasted before.

When Proof’d opened, Chotkowski had four tap handles for beer. Within a month, he went to six and a month later to nine. “But nine is all I can fit,” he said.

He said the thing he’ll miss the most is the interaction with the public – especially out-of-town visitors. “I can give a fresh view of California to the out-of-towners,” he said.

Two-and-a-half weeks before Conde Nast Traveller magazine came out with an article naming Sonoma one of the top-10 friendliest cities in the country, the reporter who wrote the article stopped by Proof’d. “He went over to Napa and then came back here,” Chotkowski said.

In addition to a rotating variety of beer, Proof’d also stocked mostly Sonoma Valley wines and a selection of hard-to-find liquors.

That included one of the few bottles of wine that is left is from the Seamus Winery in the Valley. “Other than the winery, there were two restaurants and here, (where) you could buy their wine,” he said.”

“We had tequilas that Maya (restaurant) didn’t carry,” he continued.

He said that most of the restaurants would send customers to him if they came in looking for a hard-to-find bottle of spirits. “It’s a total community,” he added.

There’s a blackboard behind the bar, that is a primitive FAQ.

• Yes, we are closing.

• No, not anything done wrong.

• No, we do not know what we are doing next.

• Yes, I know you might be feeling bad about this.

• Have fun.

Thru Saturday, Proof’d is selling beer at a 20 percent discount while spirits and wine are 25 percent off.

“I don’t know what’s next,” he said, pouring a beer for another customer.