A new 11,000-square-foot outdoor space is set to open this fall at J. Rieger & Co., the historic East Bottoms-based distillery, with an homage to one of Kansas City’s brightest but nearly forgotten eras.
The Electric Park Garden Bar — featuring a completely open-air patio bar and an adjoining atrium that will serve as an indoor and outdoor extension of the distillery’s tasting room — takes its name from a long-shuttered amusement park that once lit up the neighborhood.
Also on the playful menu: frozen cocktails, boozy snow-cones, draft cocktails, and cocktail floats.
“We really wanted to create a fun, energetic, and large outdoor gathering space that has the same level of excellence in food, beverage, and design that our guests have enjoyed in our indoor spaces since 2019,” said Andy Rieger, co-founder and president at J. Rieger & Co.
J. Rieger & Co. was originally founded in 1887 in Kansas City’s West Bottoms Livestock Exchange district. The distillery produced over 100 alcoholic products on a national basis, including the iconic Monogram Whiskey, but it was forced to close in 1919 with the advent of Prohibition.
In 2014, 95 years after Prohibition, the brand was relaunched by business partners Ryan Maybee, co-founder of The Rieger and Manifesto, and Andy Rieger, the great-great-great-grandson of Jacob Rieger. The East Bottoms distillery opened in 2019.
The histories of the distillery and Electric Park, which stood in the East Bottoms from 1899 to 1906 overlap, Rieger noted. Electric Park was owned and operated by the Heim brothers, who also launched the Heim Brewery in Kansas City, and bottled their beer in what is today the J. Rieger & Co. distillery building. A beer garden in the amusement park is said to have piped beer directly from the Heim Brewery.
A later incarnation of Electric Park also is rumored to have inspired a young Walt Disney, who arrived in Kansas City in 1911 as a child and later built one of the world’s most recognizable and visited amusement attractions.
“It was surrounded by a train, it had a beautiful fountain, this bandshell where John Phillip Sousa and his band played for the entire summer — so you know this place was a big deal,” said Dan Viets, a Kansas City attorney and Disney historian, describing Electric Park late last year during a Thank You Walt Disney event. “Electric Park was a spectacular place and a big influence on Walt’s idea of what an amusement park could be.”
The park also left an imprint on St. Joseph-born, legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite, who witnessed the latter-day park’s demise by fire in 1925.
“Electric Park Garden Bar was always a part of our original plan for the distillery campus,” said Rieger, referencing the years-long process from the property’s 2017 acquisition to the distillery destination’s opening in July 2019 and the ongoing rollout of attractions and spaces within the East Bottoms site.
The open-air patio bar will have its own free-standing bar with a cocktail menu that is unique to the patio space using recognizable flavors, various classic cocktail styles, and nostalgic theme park and soda parlor references, according to the distillery.
Guests also can expect the space to have its own food trailer that compliments the fun and casual vibe of the Electric Park Garden Bar with a range of unique but approachable offerings from J. Rieger & Co. Executive Chef Jordan Hayes.
The space — outfitted with turf, professional landscaping, and mature trees to create a park-like atmosphere, with reclaimed brick pavers that were once the road that ran through the property — is expected to be open seasonally April through November and will be on-leash dog-friendly.
Announcing plans for the Electric Park Garden Bar comes after months of pandemic pivots and pauses.
“The construction on the patio was delayed by about a year because of COVID,” said Lucy Rieger, brand director at J. Rieger & Co. “We were originally planning to start construction in the spring of 2020, but delays in permitting because those offices were closed and backed up in addition to supply chain issues caused us to push a year.”
Ultimately, work on the Electric Park Garden Bar began in April 2021 with a target opening set for September, she said, noting the project won’t debut to the public until all portions of the bar are complete.
“There is a major appetite for outdoor space because of the pandemic, so we are fortunate we are building the right thing at the right time,” she added.