J. Rieger Rolls Out Top-Shelf Destination Distillery in East Bottoms

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The opening of the new J. Rieger & Co. distillery featured signature drinks at its Monogram Lounge. (Photo by Cydney Millstein)

By Kevin Collison

Andy Rieger is betting big his classy, new distillery and entertainment destination in the historic Heim Brewery Building will be a major East Bottoms draw.

Rieger, who along with partner Ryan Maybee revived his family’s 130 year-old distillery Jacob Rieger & Co. five years ago, has converted the 60,000 square-foot former brewery building into an entertainment complex centered around his distillery operation.

The endeavor, which is two miles east of the River Market on Guinotte Avenue, was described as a $11.3 million project when it was first presented to a city development agency in April 2018.

The Rieger Distillery features an upstairs Monogram Lounge that accommodates 350 people, a basement Hey! Hey! Club resembling a Prohibition speakeasy, a first floor tasting room, gift shop and sophisticated 3,500 square-foot exhibition area depicting his family’s Kansas City distilling history dating back to 1887.

A 40-foot slide glides visitors from the second to first floor.

Oh yes, there’s a 40-foot winding slide that allows visitors to quickly slip between the second and main floors too.

“The idea is a destination distillery like you’ve never seen before,” said Amanda Davis, who’s handling marketing for the project.

“The whole thing is about production first, that’s why the distillery is in the middle. It’s a destination, a travel experience in Kansas City and also the revitalization of the East Bottoms.

“We feel this can help bring the East Bottoms and Electric Park back.”

For the foreseeable future, the new Rieger Distillery at 2700 Guinotte and the more funky Knuckleheads Saloon music club across the railroad tracks, will be the only reasons for visitors to travel to the East Bottoms.

Most of the area beyond those attractions is either gritty industrial or a residential neighborhood that has experienced substantial blight.

The J. Rieger & Co. reception desk is located in front of the glass-enclosed distillery operation.

There are no immediate plans for further redevelopment beyond the confines of the distillery, but the nearby area does have a fascinating back story.

Electric Park was opened as an amusement park, beer garden and picnic area in 1899 by the Heim brothers, the founders of the adjoining brewery.

The brothers financed construction of a streetcar connecting the park to downtown Kansas City and it was a popular destination, particularly for working class Kansas Citians, until Prohibition shut down the brewery.

In its heyday, fresh beer was piped from the brewery to the park and its extravagance of electric lights were a dazzling novelty.

The 3,500 square foot historical exhibit area features the 130 year history of J. Rieger & Co.

Jacob Rieger & Co. was originally founded in the West Bottoms in 1887. Like Heim Brewery, it was a casualty of Prohibition in 1919.

The company was restarted in 2014 and its product line, which is distributed in 20 states, features high-quality bourbon, whiskey, vodka and gin.

The work done at the new distillery complex equals the quality of its spirits.

No expense seemed to be spared on the interior furnishings from the bars to the museum-quality historical exhibits that include a reproduction of a late 19th Century beer wagon used by Heim.

GastingerWalker& was the architect and A.L Huber was the contractor.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, research provided by Cydney E. Millstein of Architectural & Historical Research. Dimensional Innovations designed and fabricated the historical exhibits.

The J. Rieger & Co. distillery and entertainment center is in the renovated Heim Brewery bottling building which was completed in 1901 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The distillery at the core of the complex is a work of art itself that includes a gleaming silver gin still and a couple of big copper whiskey stills. Daily tours are scheduled to begin Aug. 1.

While Rieger spirits will be the featured drinks, there will also be beer brewed in the Heim German lager style by K.C. Bier Co. and coffee from Thou Mayest. Food prepared by culinary director Marita Swift also will be available.

There are also multiple event spaces available for rent. The facility will employ 60 full- and part-time workers.

Hours at the J. Rieger & Co. Distillery are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The gleaming stills at the center of the J. Rieger facility are part of the tour.
The barrel room features a private dining area for 16.

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