By Kevin Collison
River Bluff Brewing, a St. Joseph microbrewery, is opening a location in the River Market in the historic City Water Department building this spring at 201 Second St.
“Kansas City has such a great beer scene,” said Chris Lanman, founder of River Bluff. “There are so many great brewers and we always wanted to be part of that culture.”
Chris Sally, the owner of the 115 year-old former City Water Department Building at Second and Main, said River Bluff will be an ideal tenant.
“These guys are absolutely amazing,” he said. “With all the development going on, especially the Second and Delaware apartments, this is a fantastic location for this kind of place.”
River Bluff Brewing opened two years ago in a mid-19th Century building at 1224 Frederick Ave. in St. Joe. The brewer quickly received critical acclaim, winning the 2019 Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
“There were over 7,000 entries and about 300 medals,” said Lanman said. “To get one in our first year, we were blown away.”
Lanman said his brewery got a head start by hiring some top Kansas City brewers,
Among the staff is Morgan Fetters, the lead brewer, who formerly was with McCoy’s Public House, the popular Westport brewpub that closed a couple years ago. Joel Cummings, who came from Boulevard Brewing, has the title “brewer extraordinaire.”
Lanman said Cummings will manage the new River Market location.
“We’ll bring some of our beers down and we’ll have a system in the River Market where Joel will make Kansas City specific beers,” he said. “We also like to collaborate with other brewers.”
The River Bluff web page lists a beer menu that includes Union Lager, River Cream Ale, Skipping Stone IPA, Green Goddess Shandy and Sandy Dunes Belgian Ale.
And while the new microbrewery will join a hopping downtown craft beer scene, it will be only the second in the River Market.
The other neighborhood brewer is Strange Days which opened at 316 Oak in March 2018.
River Bluff will occupy the 5,500 square-foot space on the ground floor facing Second Street that was once home to the former Garrett’s Market.
The two-story building was built in 1905 to house the stable, warehouse and shops for the City Water Department in what was then the heart of downtown Kansas City.
It was renovated in 2003 to house the market and offices, but closed in 2013.
Sally bought the building last spring with plans to upgrade its interior and attract new retail and office users. He said talks began with River Bluff in September.
“We went to St. Joe to check out their existing location without telling them,” the developer said. “It blew us away with its aesthetics and having a good crowd, even with the Covid restrictions.”
Lanman said he and his partners looked at 20 different locations in Kansas City before deciding on the historic Water Department Building and the River Market.
“We thought River Bluff at River Market had a great ring,” he said. “We loved the atmosphere and the building. We like to reclaim historic things.”
The planned River Market location has a 500 square-foot outdoor patio area formerly used by Garrett’s and Sally said the city may be asked to allow part of the sidewalk and street to be used for outdoor seating.
Second Street was rebuilt about a decade ago after being used for many years as a cinder-strewn route for railroad cars. It’s now one of the River Market’s most attractive streets with benches and other landscaping.
The planned brewery is near the Town of Kansas pedestrian bridge and observation deck overlooking the Missouri River, and the Riverfront Heritage Trail.
“People will be out walking or biking, and having a great time along the river and then come have a refreshing beer,” Sally said.
Lanman said his brewery will focus on beer, but plans to sublet space for a small food operation. A kitchen formerly used by Garrett’s remains at the space.
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