Atwater Brewery reopens Rivertown restaurant, taphouse

Dawn Riffenburg
The Detroit News

What's old is new again in Detroit's Rivertown area.

Atwater Brewery is reopening its new Biergarten and Taphouse at 237 Joseph Campau Wednesday.

Yes, that's right, the night before Thanksgiving, the busiest bar night of the year.

"We decided it was go big or stay home," said Atwater owner Mark Rieth about the decision to make Wednesday their grand reopening.

Atwater originally opened in 1997, and Rieth joined the company in 2002. "Riverfront was hopping back then," he said. But the restaurant closed in 2010 while Atwater focused on its production side. When Rieth bought the building in 2013 and gained back the restaurant space, he flirted with locations in downtown or Midtown but ultimately decided to keep Atwater where it was -- on Atwater off Joseph Campau.

"This is our home," Rieth said during a preview tour Thursday. "Basically, there's nothing better than reopening in Rivertown right now. It's really neat to see everything happening here."

The taproom will offer 20 brews, three or four of them unique to the Detroit space, with 15 standard taps and around five that will rotate. On Wednesday, that will include Lebkuchen -- a Christmas ale -- and Rivertown Porter.

The Lebkuchen is a dark amber with spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg, that clocks in at 6.5% ABV. It's a warm ale with good spice notes and a balanced sweetness. Atwater brewed the popular beer last year. It should be available at retail outlets within the next week.

The Rivertown Porter is a traditional English-style porter that will be available on draft only.

In addition to serving beer at the taproom, growlers, bottles and cans will be available. Atwater will offer a mug club with a twist: Any original Atwater mug club members get to rejoin for free.

The taproom has a familiar feel for anyone who was there back in the old days. They reclaimed and brought back the original furniture that had been moved temporarily into the production side of the facility. The furniture, originally from Germany and made to Atwater's specifications, gives the space a cozy feeling.

The 5,000-square-foot, 125-seat space will include community seating and a bar. There's also a view of the production area and private event space. "I'm told it's the longest bar in Detroit," Rieth said. "Until someone tells me differently, that's my story."

Patrons will order at a counter, receive a number and seat themselves at one of the communal tables made of reclaimed wood from Detroit homes. Each table bears a tag with the address of the home from which the wood was reclaimed. "We really tried to make it Detroit-centric," Rieth said.

There is no table service, and that decision was deliberate. "The space is all about hanging out with people you might know from across the street," Rieth said.

Reopening the restaurant and taproom is only part of what's new for Atwater. A big investment in the brewery infrastructure will allow Atwater to triple its capacity within the next year.

Atwater is sold in 26 states, but Rieth said that 65% of its sales are in Michigan. "We're still very much about local," he said. "The farther we go, the more important we realize that is."

Atwater will also Wednesday begin offering craft cocktails made with Atwater spirits at the Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park locations on Wednesday; the spirits will be sold at retail outlets in the spring and a new still will be coming to the Detroit location. While the cocktail menu is still being drafted, look for classics plus some twists.

Atwater is now offering vodka, gin, rum and two whiskeys (a well and an eight-year Tennessee bourbon.) There's wine made with grapes from Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, and a dry cider that would be right at home on the Thanksgiving table.

"We went back and forth between sweet and dry, and this has a stronger tartness at the front," said marketing director Chelsea Iadipaolo, pointing out that the apples for the cider come from Blake's in Armada. If you can't decide between cider or beer, try a Snakebite: a refreshing blend of cider and lager.

"We move a lot of cider in the summer," Iadipaolo said.

The menu has been completely revamped, with a few favorites brought over from Atwater in the Park, such as the German pizza (four-cheese sauce topped with a mozzarella blend, bratwurst, crisped onions and sauerkraut).

When you're in the taproom, check out the framed art around the room. Atwater commissioned a local artist for a new packaging launch in 2016.

The Atwater Brewing taproom and restaurant opens its doors at 4 p.m. Wednesday. From 4-6 p.m., there will be select $1 beers. Hours are: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight. There's secured parking available.