Central Standard Craft Distillery to add tasting room, event hall in historic downtown building

Thursday, January 9, 2020
Sean Ryan, Business Journal


Central Standard Craft Distillery will open a larger tasting room and event center in a vacant, historic building on East Clybourn Street on the border between downtown Milwaukee and the 3rd Ward.

Co-founders Evan Hughes and Pat McQuillan said they will buy and restore the 1874 building at 320 E. Clybourn St., reopening it this summer before July. Formerly an industrial building where leather from Milwaukee’s tanneries was made into saddles or other goods, it will become a new attraction in that budding district of Milwaukee.

“We’ve always tried to be part of the fabric of the community, be a gathering place and join everybody together,” McQuillan said. “We hope this building will do that.”

The project represents a significant expansion for the Milwaukee distiller. The Clybourn Street building is about 15,000 square feet, much larger than Central Standard’s current tasting room on South Second Street in Walker’s Point. 

“This is going to at least double, if not triple the amount of people we have employed at that location, not only because we will be open more, but because of the square footage and the programming on the different levels,” McQuillan said.

The distillery’s main production center will remain at 2330 W. Clybourn St., about two miles west of the planned new home.

The East Clybourn Street building’s first floor will become Central Standard’s new visitor center and tasting room, with additional space for a 100-gallon pot still to grow its research into new types of spirits. Small batches of those new drinks will be served in the tasting room. 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to expand the R&D and be able to offer people new and unique things in the short run,” McQuillan said. 

The second floor will become a 3,900-square-foot event hall. Hughes and McQuillan are in talks with a hospitality company that would run a commercial kitchen in the building’s basement to serve those venues. The rooftop would get a new deck to become a usable outdoor space for the event hall or tasting room.

The project puts Central Standard in an active area of downtown. The Huron Building offices are under construction just to the west on North Broadway, and three hotels are under construction to the east at Clybourn and Jefferson Streets.

Hughes said Central Standard is in the process of selecting an architect, and doesn’t yet know the full cost of the planned restoration. The owners intend to preserve the historic character of the building, while adding new features such as a mural on its east-facing exterior wall. The look of the mural will be worked out after an artist is selected.

“We work in an industry where we get to be creative and we get to take our product and let other people be creative with it,” Hughes said. “Our style is not just to put a giant logo on the side of it.”

The two are visibly enthusiastic about the former Wisconsin Leather Co. building’s history, and have done some research on it. The structure was designed by noted 19th century architect Edward Townsend Mix, who has designed other historic buildings in that neighborhood of downtown.

Currently, they’re considering ways to, for example, pay tribute to the history of the building’s hydraulically powered elevator, which is among the first 40 or so built in the state, Hughes said.

“For a building being from 1874, it’s gorgeous inside,” he said. 

Central Standard will lease the East Clybourn Street building’s third floor to other companies as loft-style office space.