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What's This?

One of the most exciting stories in Louisville today is set to take shape on Jefferson Street—a combination coffee roastery and craft bourbon distillery. But first, let’s begin at the beginning, and go on till we come to the end, then stop.

The so-called Rabbit Hole Distillery, an effort Mike Safai and Kaveh Zamanian, will transform the old Disney Tire Company building at 721 East Jefferson Street into an architectural marvel combining bourbon, coffee, community, and some really interesting design.

Insider Louisville first broke news about the distillery back in April, but plans are just now coming into focus, thanks to Insider’s watchful eye on Nulu, where its offices are located. At a recent meeting of the Nulu Business Association, the Rabbit Hole team revealed the first design details by Los Angeles–based architecture firm (fer) Studio.

Concept rendering of the Rabbit Hole distillery looking south from East Market Street. (Courtesy Rabbit Hole)
Concept rendering of the Rabbit Hole distillery looking south from East Market Street. (Courtesy Rabbit Hole)

While the old cinderblock warehouse that will eventually house Rabbit Hole is located off Jefferson Street, the distillery’s main entrance will be through a pedestrian passageway off East Market Street. What appears to be a bridge-type structure rises from a vacant lot just west of Augusta and Gill Holland‘s Green Building forming a sort of landscaped path resembling New York City’s popular High Line. The path lifts over an alleyway and deposits visitors to the lower roof of the existing warehouse.

An at grade path is also shown, and Insider noted that shipping containers serving retail functions would line this space, shown paved in brick in renderings. Butchertown‘s nearby Copper & Kings distillery also uses shipping containers to form an entry into its forecourt. Developers said they planned to keep a community garden on the site, as the pathway is located on the site of an existing garden.

Rabbit Hole's main entrance will extend through this vacant parcel on East Market Street. (Courtesy Google)
Rabbit Hole’s main entrance will extend through this vacant parcel on East Market Street. (Courtesy Google)

The first three renderings of the project show the distillery’s inward facing facades with no detail about what will happen on Jefferson Street. Developers told Insider that they planned to improve the Jefferson streetscape as part of the project. Calls to developers were not returned and architects declined to disclose additional information about the project.

The elaborate processional entrance underscores one of the main challenges facing Nulu today—shedding its linear pattern and spreading out over the city grid. Jefferson Street has struggled to attract development and the city has been slow to deliver on promises to convert the wide street to two-way traffic, effectively making it a barrier to the redeveloped Liberty Green to the south. Still, the investment in Rabbit Hole could provide the impetus needed to anchor additional development on the street.

View of the Rabbit Hole distillery from the alley at night. (Courtesy (fer) Studio)
View of the Rabbit Hole distillery from the alley at night. (Courtesy (fer) Studio)
A new structure would be built alongside the existing warehouse. (Courtesy Rabbit Hole)
A new structure would be built alongside the existing warehouse. (Courtesy Rabbit Hole)

At the center of the site, renderings show a large, new, translucent structure approximately five or six stories high flanked by silos that glows at night. Most dramatically, a cantilevered, floating mass extends over the roof of the old Disney building featuring a rugged structural system exposed through a glass facade. Atop this mass, a large deck surveys they neighborhood and will surely be a popular event space. You would have to be half mad to dream me up, a certain hatter once said.

Safai’s coffee company, Safai Coffee, currently based in LaGrange, would move its headquarters and coffee roasting operation to the site as well.

The Los Angeles firm behind the design has completed several projects in Louisville already. Gill Holland met the architects at (fer) Studio while in college and commissioned them to design his Green Building almost a decade ago. The firm is also working on a number of projects for Holland’s Portland Investment Initiative and completed an addition at the St. Francis School in Goshen. They also put together an early master plan for a student housing development near the University of Louisville that was later abandoned in the development process.

The Jefferson Street facade as it appears today. The lower portion on the right will form the entry plaza from the Market Street pathway. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
The Jefferson Street facade as it appears today. The lower portion on the right will form the entry plaza from the Market Street pathway. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Back in May, Rabbit Hole received preliminarily approval for $650,000 in tax incentives from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) for creating 22 jobs over the next decade at their new facility, according to a report in Business First.

rabbit-hole-nulu-distillery-05

Rabbit Hole is currently selling four flavors of moonshine made off-site. The line launched at this year’s Barnstable Brown Gala over Kentucky Derby weekend. The new distillery will make around 5,000 barrels of bourbon and rye whiskey a year, according to KEDFA filings. Rabbit Hole has been working with Louisville’s Distilled Spirits Epicenter and Newport’s New Riff Distillery to craft those recipes ahead of the distillery’s opening.

The Disney Tire property was purchased by a team including Gill Holland, Augusta Brown Holland, William Mapother, Tim Peters and Lois Mateus years ago. Initially, the focus wasn’t on the 27,000-square foot warehouse structure dating to 1969, but rather a small outbuilding dating to the 1870s that was threatened with demolition. That building was renovated into the Little Green Building housing offices for Shine Contracting and a wellness studio also under the Shine banner. The Hollands initially planned to build a year-round farmers market and brought in the Project for Public Space to consult on the project in 2008. Plans never materialized and a portion of the building eventually became home to Mint Julep Tours.

The Little Green Building after renovations in 2010. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)
The Little Green Building after renovations in 2010. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Rabbit Hole will be joined by another major bourbon-related business, Insider also reported.

The Shine studio in the Little Green Building, 727 East Jefferson Street, has moved over to the Clifton Center to make room for Pappy & Co., an online retail operation selling Pappy Van Winkle merchandise, but not the bourbon itself. The business, run by triplets Carrie Van Winkle Greener, Chenault Van Winkle James, and Louise Van Winkle Breen, will locate on the building’s first floor this September, Insider’s Sarah Kelley reported. No word yet on whether the online retailer will open up a real world retail shop as well.

Nulu is currently in the slow process of becoming a full-fledged urban neighborhood, expanding from the linear strip of restaurants and retail space that launched the district years ago. New development will bring much-needed residences and hotel rooms to the area, potentially propelling it into an upward cycle of growth. Among the changes in the pipeline include 260 apartments at the Main & Clay development, a new hotel slated for Market and Shelby streets, the newly opened 310 at Nulu apartments, and a major streetscape overhaul connecting Nulu’s stretch of East Market Street with Downtown and the Nucleus district.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

4 COMMENTS

  1. Isn’t Mint Julep Tours still located on the right side of the proposed building (looking from Jefferson)? Are they going to move?

  2. Thanks for the info Brandon.

    I just couldn’t figure out what was going on with the design based on the IL article. I found that first image to be really confusing as to what was going on until you pointed out that it’s a bridge over the alley from the Green Building parking lot. A little odd, but as you hint at, everyone wants the Market Street presence.

    Let’s hope it helps spread things a little bit off the main drag.

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