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Remodel of 1930s ice house creates old-world brewpub

Rob Sabo

In 2010, when St. James Infirmary owner Art Farley was seeking to expand his pub concept into a brewery and restaurant, a commercial real estate broker took him to look at the old Crystal Water building at 901 S. Center St. in Midtown Reno.

Farley knew the moment he entered the old building, originally constructed in 1929, that he’d found a home for Brasserie St. James.

“It was almost instantly that I knew this had to be a restaurant and brewery,” Farley says. “I literally walked in and could see it.”

Remodeling the facility to get the pub up and running has been a much longer process, however.

Farley, 38, closed escrow on the building in June of 2010. The property housed Crystal Springs Water from 1935 through 2008.

Working as a general contractor, Farley began demolition on the project in August of 2010. It wasn’t until late 2011 that construction work began in earnest, however, because of ta lengthy plan check process and relocation of the building’s former tenants.

The building’s age actually worked in Farley’s favor. The rustic wooden bar tops, tables, benches and wainscoting found throughout the building all came from re-purposed wood. The beautiful clear-grade fir flooring was found hiding behind sheetrocked interior walls.

“This was an old icehouse, and we found a treasure trove of wood that I could never have afforded to buy,” Farley says. “All this finished wood would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The wonderful stone fireplaces and stone wainscoting? The rock came from excavation of the grease trap. That excavation proved a monumental task, however, as crews encountered big boulders and various old footings long buried and forgotten. What should have taken a couple weeks instead took a month and a half.

Huge sections of the building’s roof had rotted as well and had to be rebuilt. Adding a rooftop patio also required additional structural work inside.

“We kept running into issues,” Farley says.

Subcontractors on the job included Triumph Electric, Alexander Heating and Air, and Root-O-Matic for the plumbing. Specific Mechanical Systems of Victoria, B.C., manufactured the stainless steel brewery equipment, and JNL Plumbing installed all the brewery piping.

Total investment to rehab the building and purchase new restaurant and brewery equipment was close to $2 million, Farley says. Securing funding proved almost as onerous as the construction work.

“I was surprised at how difficult it was,” Farley says. “I had borrowed millions of dollars in the past 10 years buying and remodeling houses and had paid it all off, and I had an operating business that was making plenty of money. I could show on paper my ability to pay all my personal expenses and still service the loan debt, but I still couldn’t get funding.”

Farley eventually teamed with Reno accountant Deane Albright of Albright Persing and businessman Joel Rasmus, owner of No-IP.com, and together the three secured funding through Nevada State Bank.

Brasserie St. James will employ between 35 and 50 employees. Using posts on Facebook and craigslist, Farley has already hired floor, bar and kitchen managers and a head cook.

Farley targets a September opening. Josh Watterson, a brewer from Portland, Ore., has been hired as brewmaster. The brewery will be able to produce 20 barrels per batch, or the equivalent of 40 kegs of beer.

Farley says the old-world Belgian feel of the pub, combined with his passion for good food and specialty beers, should help separate Brasserie St. James from similar concepts in town.

“There is no secret recipe,” he says. “But right now this place is covered in sawdust, and there is no room in Reno I’d rather be in. Having an old building with this history, it’s very dramatic and has and old-world feel. I think it’s something Reno doesn’t have.

The remodeled building also includes two separate live/work spaces of roughly 900 and 1,100 square feet at 48 and 50 Taylor Street. The spaces didn’t fit within the flow of the brewery/restaurant operation, Farley says, so he converted them into living quarters.