“Park Hill is probably one of the most tightly knit neighborhoods in Denver,” says Chris Cunningham. But unlike the west side of town, where there are plenty of small business strips woven into the neighborhoods, Denver’s east side is mostly just houses. So when Cunningham and his businesses partners found a retail building for sale at 2895 Fairfax Street, tucked into Park Hill, “we just about fell over,” he notes.
Some time next year, Cunningham and his wife, Tauna Rignall, along with another couple from Seattle, plan to open a small brewery inside the building, a former gelato shop, which they bought in August. They haven’t revealed a name for it yet because they are still researching brewery name trademarks.
”This is something we have wanted to do for quite some time,” says Cunningham, a chemical engineer who has been home-brewing for 25 years. “The number-one reason we wanted to start a brewery was because we wanted to be a part of a community. To do that, you have to find a building that is surrounded by one.”
But finding an affordable building in the middle of a neighborhood, rather than in a more industrial area, is almost impossible to do, he says. “That’s also why the owners decided to buy the building rather than to lease one. “We want people to understand that we are there to stay, and not just testing the waters,” he adds. “We want to be hyper-local. We are not concerned with distribution or anything like that.”
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The Park Hill brewery will take up about 2,400 square feet of the 3,000-square-foot building. Cunningham plans to lease out the remaining space, currently occupied by a clothing store, to another tenant.
They will install a seven-barrel brewing system and a taproom on the main floor, and keep their fermentation tanks and cold storage in the basement in order to make the layout work. As for beers, Cunningham says he plans to brew some German lagers and English-style ales, but also some bigger brews, like barleywines and a quadrupel. He also wants to experiment with making the same beers using different yeast strains.
Park Hill residents are notoriously prickly when it comes to new businesses in the neighborhood, especially those with liquor licenses. They often cite parking and other issues as a problem. On the other hand, the interior of the neighborhood is a virtual desert when it comes to eating and drinking options, with only a few small oases sprinkled around. Three other breweries, Station 26, Cerebral and Fiction — each at least two miles away — sit on the very outskirts of Park Hill and overlap as draws from other neighborhoods.
“The good side of being a market desert” is that the brewery should be popular with neighbors who can walk or bike to it, says Cunningham, but he also hopes more people will venture to east-side breweries if there are more of them. He says that he and his partners hope to open sometime in 2017.