Beer Town: Lee + White development in West End is poised to become ‘Malt Disney’

Jim Chasteen of ASW Distillery (from left), Kraig Torres of Hop City, and Nick Purdy of Wild Heaven at the opening of Boxcar in the Lee + White development in Atlanta’s West End. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Jim Chasteen of ASW Distillery (from left), Kraig Torres of Hop City, and Nick Purdy of Wild Heaven at the opening of Boxcar in the Lee + White development in Atlanta’s West End. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

On March 1, owner Kraig Torres and the Hop City team opened their newest concept, Boxcar, in the Lee + White development on the Atlanta Beltline in the West End.

The sprawling space features a restaurant and cocktail bar on the top floor. And in the basement, there’s a Hop City retail store, with a broad selection of craft beer and small production wines, and a second bar for sipping while you shop.

But as ambitious and exciting as the Boxcar/Hop City project is as a dining and drinking hub, it’s only one part of what’s to come in the Lee + White “food and beverage district.”

In fact, with ASW Distillery set to open its Exchange tasting room bar and barrel-aging facility in mid-March, and the new Wild Heaven Beer and Best End Brewing on track to follow in succession, some people have started calling the sum total of the adaptive reuse project “Malt Disney.”

Of course, Monday Night Brewing led the way in 2017, transforming a 22,000-square-foot warehouse into a facility for sour and barrel-aged beers, with a taproom and event space that’s quickly become a Beltline destination.

Last week, I caught up with Jim Chasteen, co-founder of ASW Distillery, and Nick Purdy, co-founder of Wild Heaven, who were with Torres at the soft opening of Boxcar.

They each had a unique perspective on the future of Lee + White, as they took me touring. But they all agreed that “Malt Disney” is a thing. And it’s poised to shake up perceptions about competition and community in the food and beverage business in Atlanta.

"This is our most expensive project by a pretty wide margin," Torres said. "We did Barleygarden in Avalon. We've done retail stores and bars, before. The combination of everything in a 9,000-plus-square-foot beer and food wonderland is the most ambitious, but I have every confidence this is going to work.

“I love our neighbors. We’ve been friends with Monday Night for a long time. I’m excited to have Wild Heaven here. We think this is going to be the beer destination in town. I think a lot about neighborhoods in Portland, Oregon, where you have all these breweries and bottle shops in one place, and they’re all challenging each other to be better every day.”

“We keep looking at our 21,000-square-foot building, and realizing that we have built an aircraft carrier,” Purdy said a little later, walking among workers finishing the Wild Heaven space. “And we need to learn how to drive an aircraft carrier, because there’s a lot of things that we can do inside this building.”

A big part of that will be a new seven-barrel “experimental” brewery that Wild Heaven brewmaster Eric Johnson will use to play with new ideas and recipes. But there also will be several bars in the two-part taproom, a full kitchen with a chef on-site, offering counter-service pizza and other food, an outdoor bar adjacent to the Beltline, and a large multipurpose event space.

Asked for his take on Wild Heaven’s place in Malt Disney, Purdy said, “I can tell you none of us are here randomly. We’re all here because we want to be here together. We believe that the sum of our parts will clearly be more valuable.”

At the ASW Exchange, which wraps around Boxcar and faces Monday Night and the Beltline, Chasteen explained that the space was named for and inspired by old-time grain exchanges, where farmers would come to sell their wheat and barley. And he said he thinks Lee + White tenants will have a similar symbiotic relationship.

“We’ve all seen the thing where there’s a McDonald’s and then a Burger King shows up,” Chasteen said. “And people wonder how they’re both making money. But it’s actually that they both became more profitable because it becomes a destination. This is that times a thousand because it’s cool.

“Of course, for us, it was a no-brainer, having the distilled spirits angle, and I think we’re going to bring a lot to the neighborhood. Our demographic is incredibly broad with the appeal of cocktail culture. We get a lot of 20- and-30-somethings, but we also get their parents and grandparents.”