From designing the space to intentional selection of furniture, brand director, Lucy Rieger, considered no detail too small while her team planned for the company’s expansion.
Come mid-July, J. Rieger & Co. will open the doors to its new location. This 60,000-square-foot distillery will boast a 40-foot slide between the first and second floor, a Kansas City history exhibit, two full-service cocktail bars and the opportunity for guests to experience J. Rieger & Co. in person. When the brand re-launched in 2014, Lucy Rieger expected the 15,000-square-foot space to be home for several years. But high demand for the spirits led to the decision to expand.
“The catalyst for the new building is that we ran out of space, and that’s because we were distilling a lot more than we ever thought we were going to. We were selling a lot more product than we thought we would,” Rieger says.
While the increase in square footage and inclusion of a guest experience is new, the building itself is not. The site of the expansion, located in the Electric Park neighborhood, was formerly Heim Brewery bottling house built in 1901.
“We oddly have a connection to that brewery in that they had their own glass manufacturing plant at the brewery,” Rieger says. “For a time, they were manufacturing bottles for J. Rieger & Co. prior to Prohibition, so we have this weird, pre-Prohibition connection with them. But ultimately, it was a beautiful, old historic building, and we just thought it was so appropriate for being the next distillery. It felt right.”
Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the team at J. Rieger & Co. faced certain limitations with what they could and could not do with the space.
“There were definitely some wonky things,” Rieger explains. “I wanted to do this tile inlay in front of the upstairs bar, but they told me it was a nice idea, but we couldn’t do it because the building kind of wiggles a little bit. It sounds weird, but when the trains go by the building vibrates ever so slightly. I was told that if I did the inlay, we would run the risk of it starting to crack. We had some ideas that didn’t necessarily work out, but by and large, it went mostly according to plan, and we got most of what we wanted.”
In designing the space and selecting décor, Rieger paid close attention to small details. Throughout the process, the team at J. Rieger & Co. approached the space as if it were their own home.
“The distillery is family owned, it always has been, so we really wanted it to feel like you’re in somebody’s comfortable home,” she says.
An important piece in crafting this cozy vibe was the furniture. Rieger mentioned that the second floor bar, Monogram Lounge, has an eclectic yet curated vibe which was achieved through the different seating options provided—big armchairs surrounding a coffee table, high-top tables and couches instead of filling the space with identical tables and chairs. In contrast, the basement bar, named Hey Hey Club after the jazz club in the 18th and Vine Historic District, has a dark, moody and swanky aesthetic. To create an intentionally intimate environment, the bar has 48 seats compared to 200 seats upstairs.
“The building is from 1901, so we didn’t want it to feel as if we walked in there and shoved all this brand new stuff in this building,” she says. “We wanted it to feel like this furniture could have always been there and was really well thought out, collected and curated over time.”
While producing quality whiskey in Kansas City has been part of the Rieger family history since their first distillery in 1887, Rieger views the move to a larger space as a meaningful project for the city.
“Whether you’re a drinker or not, J. Rieger & Co. is just a good pride point for the city,” she says. “I always describe it as that place I would take my brother and my dad when they come to town. You want to take them to go do something and see something, so I think it’s going to be really cool for that purpose.”