BENTON PARK – When the owner of a vodka distillery went looking for a better location in St. Louis, he was thinking only about finding a good place to produce its product and show it off to the public. He wound up with a location that had a major place in the south side’s history of beer making.
Mastermind Vodka is going through the process of obtaining various licenses to have a distillery and tasting room at 1937 Shenandoah Avenue. It also wants to sell to the public, do tours, hold catered events and meetings and sell its product by the drink. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be in business by the end of the year.
Robert Gerarghty, a consultant for the company, found the place after he combed the area for a perfect location. He knew it had long been the office of a title loan company but soon discovered it had a long-unused bar and event area.
What he didn’t know was that this was the Falstaff Inn, a major showcase of the Falstaff Brewing Co. That company went out of business in 2005 but was brash enough to challenge Anheuser Busch for the No. 1 spot in the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Before Harry Caray sold Budweiser on Cardinals games, he did the same for Falstaff.
“I’m proud to be coming into the Falstaff Hospitality House,” said Carl Levering, Mastermind Brewery’s founder and owner. “My vision is to move our operation that’s in Pontoon Beach to a location that’s more accessible to people.”
Old articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch talk of events at the Falstaff Inn during the time the company brewed Falstaff at a nearby plant at Shenandoah and Lemp avenues from 1957 to 1977.
The inn was the venue for a fundraising buffet supper and auction of the St. Louis Blueliners in 1973 and a meeting of the Cornell Club of St. Louis in 1958. The Theta Sigma Phi National Journalism Society for Women gave out its Tear Stained Typewriter Awards to members who did the most, at a dinner in 1963. Mayor A.J. Cervantes officiated at the first showing of a movie about the city’s Neighborhood Rehabilitation Program in 1965; and Falstaff gave out 25-year service awards to 28 faithful workers in 1958.
Best of all, a full-page ad in the Post-Dispatch on Feb. 16, 1964, announced that the place was the Falstaff Museum, with a display of brewing memorabilia commemorating the history of brewing in St. Louis.
Placed right after the city’s bicentennial celebration, the ad announced that Falstaff would make the museum a permanent tribute to the city’s brewing heritage.
Alas, Falstaff and the museum exited the building, leaving anything having to do with alcohol to Mastermind.
In business for nine years, that company has been in Pontoon Beach, Ill., for nine years, Levering said. It sells at its distillery, where it produces about 3,000 bottles a month. It sells to grocery stores and liquor stores and various smaller stores throughout much of Illinois and Missouri.
The owners of the title loan company walled their office off from the rest of the building, which includes Old English style features and a long bar. Clearly, it’s made for gatherings.
“It’s a larger facility. We’re open to larger venues, larger tours,” Levering said.
Levering plans to lease the building and put about $300,000 into renovations. People will be able to take tours and watch the production of vodka and also hold catered events for 75 to 100 people.
When it’s finished, the distillery and tasting room won’t be exactly like the Falstaff Inn. But by a coincidence, it’ll be close.