Long before the brewery craze of today, Old Town developer Dave Burk brought River City Brewery to Old Town in the mid-1990s.
For years, he says his goal has been “bringing in special things that aren’t located anywhere else in the city so it’s a natural draw for Old Town.”
Now, he and Key Construction’s Dave Wells are partnering with David Bahre to open his second Wheat State Distilling site in a new 700-seat event center in the heart of Old Town.
“It’s huge,” Bahre says of the almost 15,000 square feet at 244 N. Mosley.
That’s the balance of the former Doc Howard’s Lounge space in the same building where Oasis Staffing, Taste and See and Lotus Leaf Cafe already are.
The newly named Distillery 244 Old Town will open in the middle of August for tastings and events.
The original Wheat State Distilling production facility that opened at the southwest corner of 37th and Hydraulic two and a half years ago will remain in business as well.
“Initially when I wrote this business plan, I wanted an event center,” Bahre says. “I just didn’t have enough capital to make it happen.”
Nor was 37th and Hydraulic an ideal retail spot, Burk says, though the business has established a following and is in 275 businesses across the state.
Burk says he likes that Bahre has already dedicated so much time to Wheat State.
“It’s not like we’re starting this … from scratch.”
Wells has a personal reason for getting involved.
“What really got my interest … is the fact that my son’s getting married,” Wells says of his son, Steven, and his fiance, Aleigh Pote.
“We were looking for event space,” Wells says. “It’s really hard to find a 500-plus space.”
The venue side of the business will seat 580, and the distillery side will seat another 120.
“That’s the beauty of this deal,” Wells says. “We can take both spaces and have a really, really nice venue.”
Bahre says the distillery side, which will have a variety of Wheat State liquor including whiskey, gin and vodka, will be similar to a cigar lounge atmosphere minus the smoking.
“It’s going to be a more informal side,” he says. “It will see more like … a gathering space, a destination, so to speak.”
It’ll have a copper-top bar, and the venue will have a lot of exposed brick.
“It’s going to have kind of an industrial theme,” Bahre says.
A giant glass wall will separate the event center and distillery.
“It’s going to be really unique,” Bahre says. “It’s something that Wichita doesn’t have.”
There will be a movable stage, giant curtains to close off space for smaller groups and a full kitchen for independent catering.
Bahre says he wants the restaurants surrounding the business to do a lot of the catering.
“We have so many … that are within walking distance,” he says. “Some of them are even in my very building.”
Even if other area businesses aren’t the ones doing catering for a particular event, there should be a benefit from drawing event attendees, Wells says.
“It’s going to be great for all the other eateries and bars,” he says.
“It’s going to be great for the two hotels there,” Wells says. “It’s a great addition to Old Town in general.”
Bahre says the hotels and a couple of nearby parking garages should be handy for events.
“If you want to have a wedding, for example, then your guests don’t have to drive.”
Burk says the venue should bring a lot of weddings and other events to Old Town that previously weren’t able to be held there.
“There’s not a lot of competition for … that type of space except for larger hotels,” Burk says, “and a lot of people don’t want to have their weddings in large hotels.”
Bahre says there will be suites for brides and grooms with monitors to see what’s happening in the rest of the venue.
There also will be a trap door for brides and grooms, who aren’t supposed to see each other before a wedding, to pass back and forth what Bahre envisions to be love letters.
“I thought it would be fun,” he says.
It’s part of what he thinks will set apart Distillery 244 Old Town from other similarly sized venues.
“It’s not going to be the same type of experience or atmosphere.”
Bahre jokes about his transition from distillery owner to venue manager.
“I started off owning a distillery … now I have a bridal suite,” he says. “This is what my life has turned into.”
Burk says the business is going to bring a noticeable change to the area.
“It just puts a lot more people on the streets in Old Town, which is what we’re trying to do,” he says. “And the distillery adds a new element that is really nowhere else in town.”