Northside’s Urban Artifact Brewing opened its doors last week, hoping to push the envelope by displaying a finessed brand and aesthetic by reinvigorating old styles of beer and celebrating local artists of all genres. Residing in a renovated church, the brewery is collaborating with restaurant Meatball Kitchen and has big plans for the future as a destination to hear live music.
“We love Northside and we love the neighborhood, so that was at the top of our list from the beginning,” says Scott Hand, who opened the brewery with partners Brett Kollmann Baker, Scott Hunter and Dominic Marino. Hand, a DAAP graduate, was working as an architect in Chicago when he and Marino, a musician and artist, began talking about opening a brewery. Knowing the financial restrictions they would face as a new business in the Windy City, the duo relocated to Cincinnati to begin the project.
Hand was familiar with the process of reconstructing an old space, so when St. Pius X on Blue Rock Street, formerly home to Queen City Cookies’ bakery, became available, the team thought it was the perfect fit for their vision. Originally, Hand and Marino had planned to open Greyscale Cincinnati, a multi-use performing arts facility and craft brewery in the former Jackson Brewery on Mohawk Street in Over-the-Rhine. But plans and funding change, and the Northside church’s sanctuary, gymnasium, next door rectory and other open spaces have now become Urban Artifact, a brewery and event space still focused on blending music (their music label retains the Greyscale Cincinnati name) and unique beer, but with an additional spotlight on good food, design and elevated branding.
“Because of branding, we made a point to reuse a lot of the church and what was already there,” Hand says. “This is a lot harder than just gutting it and starting from scratch. Most breweries are in warehouses or large rooms; our brand and beers come together for a unique experience.” In the final renovation, the team highlighted the church’s historic features, like its stained glass and old columns. They’ve also kept the radiators and reincorporated the 1940s maple floors they plied up from the gymnasium, now home to brewing equipment and fermenters, as finishes in the main church building’s lower-level taproom.
Featuring old things while incorporating contemporary necessities was crucial for Urban Artifact. Most of their beer styles, which utilize wild yeast, bacteria and other captured local cultures, are from the Prohibition days — brewers Hunter and Baker both have backgrounds in chemical engineering. Hand’s favorites are the Maize, a Kentucky Common-style beer, and Harrow Gose, a bready beer of German origin. “The Gose is the most enjoyable for me, and it’s a light beer so I can have two or three without feeling bad about it,” he jokes. The brewery will also focus on experimental wild and tart ales, listing the ale’s pH and other information in the taproom to add an educational element to the experience, and will have local Skinny Pig Kombucha on tap as a non-beer fermented alternative.
The brewery also partnered with Meatball Kitchen, leasing part of rectory’s first floor to become the restaurant’s second location. Food runners will unify the two buildings and make Meatball Kitchen available to everyone. (Currently, Meatball Kitchen is set up in a corner of the taproom until the restaurant renovations are complete.) Hand says the partnership was a natural fit due to their similar aesthetics.
“[Meatball Kitchen’s] Short Vine location has a similar feel — old wood, exposed pipes and things. The menu really identifies with our beers as well,” he says. “I think they are redesigning and making little changes to their menu to make our collaboration more cohesive.”
The brewery’s lower level, which can hold about 200 people, is separated into two parts — the taproom and a listening lounge — in addition to a beer garden outside. Every Wednesday, the listening lounge will feature Cincinnati Jazz institution the Blue Wisp Big Band, which features brewery partner Marino on trombone. The band has been performing every Wednesday night since 1980, but lost their home last year when the Blue Wisp Jazz Club closed. Hand says the “Cincinnati cultural icon” will be at Urban Artifact indefinitely.
In terms of other live music, the brewery scored Soul/R&B/Funk band The Almighty Get Down for their opening night last Friday and World-Fusion band Baoku last Saturday. While powerhouse local bands are flocking to Urban Artifact, they are still looking to book less established, up-and-coming local bands of any genre for other nights. (Hand encourages interested bands to contact Marino at [email protected].)
The four partners are working hard to have a successful first week of business, but Hand has big plans for the future. The lower level renovation is complete, but the main floor sanctuary is phase two. As a music enthusiast with an architectural background, Hand’s main passion is acoustics. His goal in the next couple of years is to create a “formal but flexible” space for ticketed events, live theater, receptions and eventually big-ticketed performers in the sanctuary.
“I do not want it be your typical standing space,” he says. “It will not be the environment where you blast bands to the loudest decibel and come out with your ears ringing.”
Hand says performers would have the opportunity to record their live shows for personal use or redistribution. He hopes creating the ideal acoustic space will attract larger name performers.
Urban Artifact, whose motto is “Wild culture” for their beers and their brand, focuses on creating a unique product, building promising partnerships and including local artists and culture in their brewery. “We have identified what we’re best at and we do it well, but the best thing is that we come together in the end and figure out how to get things accomplished best as a team,” Hand says. “I think we are pushing the envelope for what a finessed brewing aesthetic is and how that affects the overall experience.”
Urban Artifact is located at 1660 Blue Rock St., Northside. Hours are 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Friday; noon-1:30 a.m. Saturday and noon-midnight Sunday. For more information, visit artifactbeer.com.