Snug between Chestnut and Montgall in the East Bottoms, the old Heim Brewery bottling house sits overlooking the Union Pacific Railroad railroad tracks. On the outside, vines are growing thick along the walls and the former Local Pig meat shop across the street sits abandoned. When the tracks are empty, everything is quiet.
But on the inside, a revival is happening.
An idea, sparked by local craft cocktail connoisseur Ryan Maybee, was pitched to the only remaining descendent of Jacob Rieger, the founder of J. Rieger & Co. to bring back the old distillery that had been closed for 90 years.
Jacob Rieger, an Austrian immigrant, settled in Kansas City in the early 1880s and began his operation of creating alcohol at 1529 Genesee Street in Kansas City’s West Bottoms neighborhood. He founded J. Rieger & Co in 1887.
The area, which included the Livestock Exchange building, the Union Depot, as well as several saloons and liquor retailers, was known as the “wettest block in the world.”
With no signs of slowing down, Jacob Rieger turned over operations to his son, Alexander. Under his leadership, the company became the largest mail-order whiskey house in the United States, shipping whiskey to over a quarter million customers nationwide.
Five miles northeast, the Heim Brewing Company Bottling Plant, created in 1901 and designed by Charles A. Smith, a prominent Kansas City architect, was the largest brewery west of St. Louis, producing nearly 125,000 bottles of lager beer daily.
Easy access to the train tracks gave the brewery easy transfer and distribution to their refrigerated fleet of railroad cars.
It seemed as if nothing could stop the growth, success, and nationwide reach of both J. Rieger & Co. and Heim Brewery.
But in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, outlawing the sale, production, and transport of intoxicating liquors. Alexander Rieger and the Heim brothers were forced to close their doors.
The Heim brothers were also known as the creators of Electric Park, two amusement parks built in Kansas City. The first was constructed next to the Heim Brewery. Open from 1899 to 1906, it was one of the world’s first full-time amusement parks, featuring a shoot-the-chutes ride, and a beer garden, with beer being piped directly from across the street.
Eventually, the park outgrew the small space, and moved to a new location on 46th Street and The Paseo in 1907. This park featured band concerts, Electric Fountain, an alligator farm, chutes, penny parlors, a scenic railway, a pool room, boat tours, soda fountain, shooting gallery, and much more.
Walt Disney would later cite Electric Park as his primary inspiration for the design of Disneyland.
Fast forward nearly a century later. Ryan Maybee, a restaurateur with expertise in the fields of wine and spirits, began his career as a bartender in Kansas City. Founder of Manifesto, a small, intimate cocktail lounge in the basement of the Rieger Hotel, he opened a new restaurant, The Rieger, on the main floor of the Rieger Hotel.
In April 2010, on opening night of The Rieger, Maybee met Andy Rieger, the great-great-great grandson of Jacob Rieger, the original founder of J. Rieger & Co.
It was then that Maybee pitched the idea to “bring back the old distillery” to Andy Rieger.
In October 2014, the brand was relaunched. The core product line includes Kansas City Whiskey, Midwestern Dry Gin, Caffe Amaro, and Premium Wheat Vodka
Exactly one hundred years after J. Rieger & Co. was forced to shut their doors due to prohibition in 1919, the company is opening the new distillery destination experience in the old Heim Brewing Bottling Building, located in historic Electric Park.
Rieger and Maybee plan to weave the rich history of the companiesand the neighborhood into the 60,000 square-foot space.
The building will include daily tours and tastings, cocktails on tap, lounge space overlooking the distillation production floor, two full-service cocktail bars, a custom whiskey bottling station, a 3,000-square foot KC history exhibit, a 40-foot slide between floors, a gift shop, classes, and private event space.
Guests will also be able to enjoy two distinct bar experiences with The Monogram Lounge, a cozy and refined cocktail lounge overlooking the distillery production floor, as well as the Hey! Hey! Club, a dark and swanky underground cocktail bar with live Jazz.
Named after Kansas City’s rich cocktail history, the bar spaces have entirely state-of-the art programs complete with draft cocktails on rotation and a dedicated ice-cutting room, able to churn out 200 pounds of crystal clear ice daily.
In keeping with J. Rieger & Co.’s long record of collaboration with other local brands, and to encourage patrons to work, stay, and play in the new space, they will continue the working relationship with Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters by offering coffee service starting at 9:00 a.m. daily.
The building will also offer multiple event spaces, including flexible space options from corporate meetings to private celebrations, ranging from small groups, to parties of 200 in the Tasting Room, The Monogram Lounge, Jacob’s Barrel Dining Room, and Alexander’s Board Room.
When asked if there were any specific plans to honor the Heim Brothers, Andy Rieger said KC Bier Co. is developing an exclusive beer, a traditional German-style Export Helles Lager called Heim Beer, to pay homage to the location and history.
The public opening is expected mid-June 2019. For more information, visit jriegerco.com.