Last week, celebrated Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie debuted his newest venture, Cold Beer. The much-anticipated two-story, 7,000-square-foot space is situated in the Edge mixed-use development, facing the Eastside Beltline, near the Edgewood Avenue Bridge in Old Fourth Ward.
In many ways, Cold Beer is an extension of Gunshow, Gillespie’s innovative and raucous restaurant in nearby Glenwood Park. But unlike Gunshow, it’s as much a bar concept as a food concept — with a long folded menu that features 15 imaginative seasonal cocktails from beverage director Mercedes O’Brien, alongside 15 seasonal share plates from chef de cuisine Brian Baxter.
And the team from Ai3 — the Atlanta-based firm that translated Gillespie’s more minimalist vision at Gunshow — was clearly given a much bigger budget, and tasked with creating a more dramatic, multifaceted design for Cold Beer.
The front patio, a soon-to-open rooftop deck, and a planned beer garden all address the energy of the Beltline’s pedestrian parade with casual communal tables and first-come, first-served seating. In contrast, tables and bar seats inside the airy, arty, more formal dining room can be reserved in advance.
One recent afternoon, Gillespie took a seat at one of the outdoor tables, where he talked about all things Cold Beer.
“This was an idea we had when we built Gunshow,” Gillespie said. “We planned to take the space next door and make a little bar annex where people could hang out and drink before we called them for dinner. We first called it Moonlighters, joking about the fact that we didn’t know anything about running a bar.
“And then we wound up with Cold Beer after I was telling the story about this place where we’d camp when I was a kid that had a sign painted on the side of the building that advertised cold beer. As fate would have it, we never opened that bar, because they wouldn’t let us knock out a wall, and I ran out of money.”
The revival of Cold Beer came years later, following O’Brien’s success with cocktails, and a roving bar cart that became a popular fixture at Gunshow.
“I’ve always been adamant if you join our team, and you’re committed and loyal, and have talent, we will find a role for you when it’s time to grow,” Gillespie said. “It was time for Mercedes to take another step, and so about two years ago, I approached her with the idea of Cold Beer. I said, it’s gonna be big, it’s gonna be on the Beltline, and it’s gonna be a sister restaurant to Gunshow, and she was absolutely on board from the very beginning.
“So I said, this is gonna be your baby. We’re gonna let you drive this beverage program. And it sounds pretentious to say this, but we wanted to build something different than anything else on the Beltline. In my mind, this is the other side of the same coin that is Gunshow. Gunshow is the brash masculine boy who’s into punk rock and heavy metal, and needs to defy everybody. And this is the really beautiful artsy girl who is super creative, but also has a particular style, and she’s confident in it.”
Speaking of the design, Gillespie said much of the build-out reflects his personal taste in art and architecture.
“Cold Beer is a giant version of my house,” he said. “My house is painted the same color on the outside and the same color on the inside, with a very similar aesthetic and style. It’s all very modern, very open, and the same artist (O.M. Norling) who painted the piece with the polar bear we have here, I have a very large piece of his art in my living room, as well. We went with a very contemporary, very black exterior, mostly to highlight the very light, natural and bright interior.”
A little over a year ago, Gillespie underwent surgery to remove a kidney after having been diagnosed with renal cancer. Since then, he said he’s had to rethink his role in his Red Beard Restaurants group, which also includes Revival in Decatur, and Gamechanger at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“The plan was I was going to come over here and take over as the chef day in and day out,” Gillespie said. “And then I got really sick, and I had to have a little bit of a sit-down with myself, and realize that our restaurant group can’t grow if I’m chained to a single stove somewhere. As weird as it sounds, getting sick was probably the best thing that’s ever happened for our company. I brought on all these talented people, and then I wouldn’t let them do what they could because I was too obsessed with micromanaging every single aspect.”
Part of Gillespie’s stepping back meant hiring a chef for Cold Beer, and he said Baxter, formerly of Husk and Bastion in Nashville, was his first choice.
“The only person I wanted for this role was Brian Baxter,” Gillespie said. “He’s the first call I made. I was extremely insistent, and as luck would have it, the stars aligned, and he was interested. But my wife jokes that Brian and I are the same person in two different bodies because we like all the same music, and all the same food, and all the same everything. We even have some of the same tattoos, in almost the same places, which is super weird.
“People have been surprised that I didn’t write the menu. Brian wrote the menu. I sent feedback. He adjusted it. I sent some more feedback. He did a tasting. I tweaked all the dishes, and this is what we have. So this has been collaborative. But this is his menu. And this is the future for me. I’m feeling really well right now, but I’ve also been given extremely clear directions from my doctors about what I can and cannot do moving forward.”
670 DeKalb Ave. NE, Suite 101, Atlanta. 404-254-1032, coldbeeratl.com
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Cold beer
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