American Freedom Distillery’s tasting room and entertainment facility is getting closer to opening in St. Petersburg. Previously dubbed America Neat and now slated to launch in early spring, the Urban Stillhouse will pair inventive craft cocktails with elevated yet approachable American dishes.
Urban Stillhouse owner Meredith Koko, whose father John co-founded American Freedom, said the joint is more mixology driven than food focused. At the moment, she’s thinking 10 staples that the exposed kitchen can expand upon down the line.
“One beautiful burger, one beautiful entree salad, upscale sides,” Meredith Koko said. “It’s not reinventing the wheel — it’s just done really well.”
She has brought on Dean Hurst, former director of spirits for Bern’s Steakhouse, to design the menus and inventory for the beverage program. At the main bar downstairs, some cocktails will spotlight American Freedom’s bourbon Horse Soldier. Others are tiki inspired or call for tequila and mezcal.
Mingling with the mostly local selection of canned and bottled brews, two barrel-aged bourbon cocktails — an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan — are expected on tap, too.
“It gives it a much different flavor. It lets it marinate. It’s easy for the bartender, but it’s also consistent. So you’ll always get the same cocktail,” Koko said, adding that a red wine, a white wine and a rotating beer will complete the draft line.
The first floor of the 150-seat Urban Stillhouse, which showcases a fireplace as its centerpiece, is also where the dining room and the tasting room are found. Just outside the production area, the tasting room will function as an education center, Koko said, primarily pouring flights of Horse Soldier and guiding guests through topics such as “nosing 101.”
Upstairs promises another bar, plus three private dining rooms and a library in a separate room with a pool table, leather couches and its own fireplace. The bar will present a Hurst-curated list of brown spirits. They’re interesting offerings, from America and Scotland to Ireland and Japan, that Urban Stillhouse thinks you won’t find anywhere else.
Food will be served, but Koko sees this as more of a social setting designed for sipping.
“We don’t want to be the biggest in the state. I think we could maybe get there, but to start we want to be the most comprehensive,” she said. “You’re going to go up there with the intent of having something neat or a really cool brown spirit.”
Reminiscent of a distillery in Scotland, the Urban Stillhouse’s look and feel will work in other elements like marble tables, heavy metals and coppers, the smell of wood burning and gas lanterns. Games are headed for the back of the facility along the Pinellas Trail, and the side patio will feature outdoor seating.
Everything will debut at once, with only dinner and a couple of tasting room bookings per day available in the beginning.
Bonus: American Freedom plans to do limited runs of vodka, gin and rum for use in Urban Stillhouse cocktails at the main bar. The distillery’s brown spirits, which will still be made off-site, are set to move from Ohio to Somerset, Ky., when it opens a $50 million expansion project there in 2023.
“We’re definitely a destination,” Koko said of the Urban Stillhouse.
“We’re not downtown, but we’re only six minutes from downtown. I want it to feel like people (can) come here, and they’ll stay for three or four hours.”