Black-owned metro Atlanta coffee shop brews message of unity through diversity

Gilly Brew Bar owner Daniel Brown (left) and Miya Bailey are seen in front of Peters Street Station, a multi-use venue in Castleberry Hill that will serve as the home of the second Gilly location. CONTRIBUTED BY GARY FORTNER
Gilly Brew Bar owner Daniel Brown (left) and Miya Bailey are seen in front of Peters Street Station, a multi-use venue in Castleberry Hill that will serve as the home of the second Gilly location. CONTRIBUTED BY GARY FORTNER

Credit: Gary Fortner

Credit: Gary Fortner

Being a Black-owned business isn’t the only thing that makes Daniel Brown’s Gilly Brew Bar stand out from other coffee shops.

The shop’s cocktail-like coffees and tea “elixirs” occupy far more menu space than the latte art or heady nitro cold brews that are coffee shop staples. Brown has been serving them in Stone Mountain Village for the past two years. A second location will open later this year in Peters Street Station, tattoo artist Miya Bailey’s community center for the arts in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood.

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Gilly Brew Bar features a seasonal, themed menu of five tea and coffee elixirs. The most recent lineup, the Masquerade, is a pandemic-inspired representation of how masks have been used throughout history, and how they’re used today. CONTRIBUTED BY MARY-CLAIRE STEWART
Gilly Brew Bar features a seasonal, themed menu of five tea and coffee elixirs. The most recent lineup, the Masquerade, is a pandemic-inspired representation of how masks have been used throughout history, and how they’re used today. CONTRIBUTED BY MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Credit: MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Credit: MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Although the Castleberry Hill neighborhood is different from Stone Mountain, and has its own unique history, Brown remains committed to spreading the underlying message of “unity through diversity” offered at his first location.

"I did research on the Castleberry community, and the rich history there is phenomenal when it comes to Black ownership and businesses," Brown said. "It just felt really right."

Castleberry Hill has the highest concentration of Black-owned commercial real estate in the city, according to H. Jerome Russell Jr., board chairman of the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit that helps support Black entrepreneurs and small-business owners. It’s also an Atlanta art hub — home to the largest African American fine arts gallery in the Southeast.

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Daniel Brown (left) is opening a second location of Gilly Brew Bar at Peters Street Station, tattoo artist Miya Bailey’s community center for the arts. CONTRIBUTED BY GARY FORTNER
Daniel Brown (left) is opening a second location of Gilly Brew Bar at Peters Street Station, tattoo artist Miya Bailey’s community center for the arts. CONTRIBUTED BY GARY FORTNER

Credit: Gary Fortner

Credit: Gary Fortner

“Because of this movement that we’ve been able to create through our elixirs, [Bailey] saw what we did as an art form, and thought this would be the perfect marriage,” Brown said.

Gilly Brew Bar — named after the nickname Brown’s family gave his grandfather, Gilbert — features a seasonal menu of five tea and coffee elixirs. Driven by his Christian faith, Brown seeks inspiration and sets a theme, then he builds the drinks around it.

The most recent seasonal lineup of brews, the Masquerade, is a documentation of daily life during the pandemic, with each drink representing how masks have been used throughout history, and today.

The music played at the new shop may sound different than at the first shop, and the messages behind the drinks will speak more to the unique needs of that community. Even the flavors will cater to the local customers. Still, the mission is the same.

“We want to get to know the people who live in that community, because the better we understand the community, the better we’re able to serve their needs,” Brown said.

Through the Peters Street location, which will serve pastries from Apple Butter Bakery, owned by Brown’s wife, he hopes to highlight Black excellence in business, particularly in the coffee industry, where Black professionals are underrepresented.

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As it awaits the official opening of its second location in Castleberry Hill, Gilly Brew Bar has begun to hold pop-ups there. CONTRIBUTED BY MARY-CLAIRE STEWART
As it awaits the official opening of its second location in Castleberry Hill, Gilly Brew Bar has begun to hold pop-ups there. CONTRIBUTED BY MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Credit: MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Credit: MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

This also was part of Gilly Brew Bar’s purpose at the Mayor’s House in Stone Mountain. The house has had many identities, some of which were marked by the racism that’s often associated with the area. Built by slaves in the 1830s, it was the house of Stone Mountain’s first mayor. Then, it served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. It later became a hotel and, eventually, a restaurant, before sitting vacant, awaiting a new purpose.

When Brown and his family bought the property in 2015, he wanted to use the space to help change the narrative of his community.

The stories and purpose behind the elixirs reflected the day-to-day efforts Brown and his team made beyond the brew bar. They fought racial division in the city, using what he calls “positive disruption.”

Gilly Brew Bar offers cocktail-like coffees and tea elixirs.  CONTRIBUTED BY MARY-CLAIRE STEWART
Gilly Brew Bar offers cocktail-like coffees and tea elixirs. CONTRIBUTED BY MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Credit: MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

Credit: MARY-CLAIRE STEWART

While that meant building relationships on an individual level every day, it also meant having conversations at the community level. The brew bar often hosted conversations on race, and monthly events, during which spoken-word artists, musicians and singers could perform.

“I just want to expose what’s true, and figure out solutions on ways we can make it better,” Brown said.

Though COVID-19 has put events there on pause, and affected the coffee shop experience, it hasn’t stopped the Mayor’s House location from moving on to its next stage. To help bring more culinary variety to the area, Brown is adding an incubator-style kitchen that will welcome a rotation of private chefs. Then, he plans to add a cocktail bar.

As for the Castleberry Hill location, he hopes to debut that by late summer or fall. Until then, Gilly will be hosting pop-ups at Peters Street Station, announced on the brew bar’s Instagram feed. Gilly Brew Bar also is holding seasonal pop-ups at Radio Roasters Coffee in Decatur, Fridays to Sundays.

Gilly Brew Bar. 5329 Mimosa Drive, Stone Mountain, 770-557-1614; and 333 Peters St. SW, Atlanta, 404-948-2946, gillybrewbar.com.

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