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Posted: January 13, 2016 Brew pub opens location

by Joe Knight
Leader-Telegram staff

Paul Wagner of Eau Claire said he usually doesn't start drinking beer as early as 3 p.m., but he made an exception for Lazy Monk Brewing at its new location at 97 W. Madison St.

“This is such a special occasion,” Wagner said as he sipped a Baltic porter, one of the heavier brews in their lineup.

But Wagner said he likes all their beers.

“They’ve found a way of making lagers and pilsners more interesting,” he said.

Paul Miller of Eau Claire, who was second in line for the 3 p.m. opening, said he enjoyed all Lazy Monk beers, with Scottish Ale and Octoberfest ranking highest among the current lineup, but he was looking forward to MaiBock, which is typically brewed later in the spring.

The new location with more space and more taps is all good, according to patrons.

“Ten years ago, I never would have guessed that Eau Claire would have so many music venues or brew pubs,” Miller said.

Jim Zimmerman, who was there with three generations — his 14-year old granddaughter was having the tap root beer,  said the brewery’s old location on Putnam Street by The Community Table was hard to find. Having an expanded Lazy Monk downtown was good for the city’s center, said Zimmerman, adding that he and his wife like the Lazy Monk beer so much they have it on tap in refrigerators in their barn and garage.

Kelsey Hince, beer hall manager, said the business is trying to appeal to families. At the new location, Lazy Monk will be open seven days per week, rather than five, and will stay open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, an hour later than normal, but the brewery is trying to provide a different experience than a bar.

“We don't want to be put under the same umbrella as a bar,” she said. “We're a brew house.”

Dogs are welcome for now; although, owners plan to begin serving food in two years, and at that time, dogs will have to stay outside because of health codes, she said.

Friday afternoon a golden setter was wandering among the patrons with a leash in her mouth, looking for someone to take her for a walk.

Bohemian beginnings

Theresa Frank, who owns and manages Lazy Monk with her husband, Leos, said they met as pen pals long before there was Internet dating. He is from the Czech Republic. She is from Altoona.

They married 22 years ago in Prague and lived in the Czech Republic. A mural on the wall of their new building depicts the young newlyweds with scenes of fields of Germany and the Czech Republic and the city of Prague.

They moved to Wisconsin when her mother became ill. Leos missed the beer of his homeland and began brewing German- and Czech-style beers. They shared it with neighbors. “We had the most popular backyard on the block,” Theresa said.

Friends encouraged Leos to go commercial with his brewing, a suggestion they ignored until he was layed off from his job at Mason Shoe in 2010.

They opened Lazy Monk in 2011, brewing German- and Czech-style beers using hops and grains from those counties. The couple opened a tap room in 2012 in a building on Putnam Street. People found them, and in 2013, they took out a wall to increase the size of the tap room, but they soon needed more space. 

The couple wanted to remain in the city center. “We're really downtown people,” she said. “We live on the East Hill.”

They wanted to buy the old Charlson's building, which the city had acquired with a Department of Natural Resources grant. The plan was to knock down the building for green space and a bike trail.

The Franks made the case that they could save the 100-year-old building and still have a bike trail running along the Chippewa River. “Our architect put together a plan to show it could be the best of both worlds,” Theresa said.

The City Council agreed.

The city owns land bordering the river where the bike trail will pass and has a lease for the trail to cross the Lazy Monk property.

The new tap room has room for about 180, with room for 45 to 50 more in a connected “events” room, Theresa said, compared to a capacity of 70 to 75 at their previous location.

 This spring the plan is to build a deck overlooking the river that will have room for 100 people, she said. Their plans also include having murals on the outside of the building.

“Once the deck goes up, we'll have a better idea of what we can do with this big, gray building,” she said.

Friday was a “soft” opening. The couple plans to have more tables in place for the official grand opening Jan. 22-23.

By 5 p.m. Friday, a standing-room crowd of old customers had wandered in to check out the new location. Theresa Frank greeted many of them with hugs.

“We're very humbled by the support we've had from the community... People stop me at the gas station. We talk. That's what community is about,” she said.

Brew pub expansions

Other brew pubs are expanding in the Eau Claire area.

The Brewing Projekt, at 2000 Oxford Ave., has outgrown its current location and is considering expanding across the street to a vacant warehouse at 1807 Oxford St., which also borders the Chippewa River. 

The Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority had planned to raze the building. Owners of the Brewing Projekt have three months to determine if they can renovate the structure to fit their needs and negotiate a price with the RDA. The warehouse is about 10 times larger than their current brewery and tap room and offers the possibility of a tap room overlooking the Chippewa River.

Northwoods Brew Pub & Grill has relocated from its longtime location on the south side of Eau Claire to a former dairy plant in Osseo, which also will house a banquet facility. The new site doubled the space Northwoods had in Eau Claire, with a 3,000-square-foot brewery area, 1,200-square-foot cooler, and about 4,000-square-foot tap room, said Sean Annis, a partner in the project and general manager.

Barring any setback, Northwoods should open by the end of February or early March, he said.

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