Brewer’s Alley, a longtime dining and drinking establishment in downtown Frederick, is undergoing major renovations to expand outdoor seating and bring its brewing system back home.
The restaurant at 124 N. Market St. soon will have a new dining room in the back and a rooftop terrace, increasing the restaurant’s seating capacity 20 percent, according to owner Phil Bowers.
Other significant changes to Brewer’s Alley include adding a brewing facility to the rear of the building, expanding first-floor kitchens and bathrooms, and moving the pizza oven, Bowers said.
Renovations to the interior are nearly complete. One of the last items is relocating the pizza oven this week. Bowers warned that Brewer’s Alley may not be able to fill pizza orders until the week’s end.
Construction on the dining room and brewhouse additions are set to begin this week, as well. Bowers said work is slated to be finished in May or June, prior to the restaurant’s 20th anniversary in July.
Despite major renovations and changes, Brewer’s Alley will remain open.
“The main goal was to enlarge the kitchen, enlarge the bathroom, get some more seating and bring back our brewing system,” Bowers said, referring to the brew pub’s newer and smaller brewing system.
Brewer’s Alley bought a large and a small brewing system in 2012 after selling its original one. Bowers said he had hoped to install the smaller one at the restaurant, but waited because of space concerns.
Both brewing systems are in operation at Monocacy Brewing Company.
“The plan was always to have another system here and continue brewing on site,” Bowers said. “But when we opened up the bar and realized that this was an area that people really enjoyed, we didn’t want to put it back here. We wanted to try and find another place for it.”
The smaller brewing system will be in a facility at the back of the restaurant, behind the rear dining room. Windows on each side will let diners and passersby see inside, he said.
Construction on this facility has already begun. It is slated to finish this summer.
The new dining room will be an expansion of what Bowers referred to as the “puppy patio” in the rear of the restaurant. It will be enclosed, but Bowers said it “is meant to still be kind of an outside room,” with doors that open up and a deck that wraps around the space. The rooftop terrace will be above.
“The outside terrace will probably be more in the 80-person range, and the new dining room will have a similar number,” Bowers said.
Renovations to the restaurant’s interior, which included expanding the kitchen and bathrooms on the first floor, concluded last month, in time for the annual first Saturday event Fire in Ice held Feb. 6.
“We had to close the downstairs kitchen and back dining room and bathrooms for a period of time, so we needed to orchestrate how we could stay open and use the second-floor facilities to be able to do that,” Bowers said. The facilities closed for about a month and have since reopened.
Although the expansion of these two facilities took away some seating and dining room space, the addition planned for the first floor for seating and rooftop terrace will make up for that.
“The kitchen has probably been too small for the last 20 years anyways,” Bowers said.
Jackie Ade, an event coordinator at Brewer’s Alley, said she found the month during which crews worked on the first-floor kitchen and dining room somewhat stressful, given the constraints on space. However, the restaurant staff worked through it, and customers did not seem to mind too much.
“You do what you have to do,” Ade said. “You have to make it work.”
Cindy Curtis, a bar manager who has worked at Brewer’s Alley for 18 ½ years, was excited for the changes. The end result mattered more than any temporary inconvenience she experienced.
Bowers would not say the total cost of the renovations to Brewer’s Alley. “It’s a major investment,” he said. “Just leave it at that.”
Discussion about the expansion of and additions to Brewer’s Alley began in 2012, but plans were set into motion in 2013 as Bowers approached the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, he said.
One of the first applications to the commission was dated Aug. 2, 2013. However, construction did not begin until Jan. 10, about 2 ½ years after the submission.
“The long process was not the city process. It was our process in just refining what we really wanted to do,” Bowers said. Plans changed as work began, and each change needed city approval.
Christina Martinkosky, a historic planner for the city of Frederick who oversaw the Brewer’s Alley application, said Historic Preservation Commission review of big projects typically take two months.
“There was maybe two years where no action took place, but they had approval,” she said.
Martinkosky recalled the biggest concern for the city and the restaurant was preserving the historic nature of the building, which previously served as a city hall and an opera house.
“The big thing with any major addition to a historic property is how can we minimize the demolition of character-defining features and how it will visually impact the building,” she said. “They were very clever with how they did it by putting the addition on the back.”
The proposed changes received approval from the Historic Preservation Commission with only slight changes to the plans. Martinkosky said she and the commission are eager to see the final product.
“I think overall the commission was excited by the creative plans of mixing old and new, and I think it is a really good project,” she said. “I’m excited to see it starting.”
Bowers said customers may see more disruptions the next few months as construction continues, but encouraged residents and visitors to continue coming in.
“I think we’re now to a point where what is open is good and fresh, and there’s no reason to not come and see what’s going on,” he said. “Now is the time to come, see what we’ve done so far and check the progress.”