ITHACA, N.Y.—Businesses and residents have increasingly set their sights on Ithaca’s West End in the past decade, with burgeoning housing and restaurant options potentially joined soon by a distillery and beer garden recently proposed for the area.
The proposal for 805-813 Taber Street, submitted to the City of Ithaca, calls for the renovation of a former 3,645 square-foot auto body shop and adjacent undeveloped parcels into a micro-distillery space for Redbud Distilling, a beer bar with seating for 79 patrons, restrooms, storage space, and a beer garden with a pergola and wood fence enclosure. The bar would double as a tasting room for the distillery.
The renovation of the Taber Street property will be conducted in three phases, with the distillery and storage space first, followed by the bar’s debut by late winter 2024, and the beer garden in time for next summer.
Records show that 805-813 Taber Street is owned by “Taber Street One LLC,” which acquired the three parcels of land in November 2020 for $240,000. Lawyer and Tompkins County legislator Rich John is a member of the LLC, and has been involved in similar beverage endeavors as he is a solicitor for the Ports of NY winery housed next door to the proposed distillery and beer garden.
“I think it’s a pretty good location. It still has the industrial vibe to the neighborhood,” John said. “We’re not next to a church, a daycare center or residences, we’re off on our own here. It’s going to be a very small operation. I think it’s in keeping with what’s here, now, and with what will be developed in the area.”
John said he purchased the bar fixtures from longtime Collegetown staple Rulloff’s, and is “going to try and reconstruct that bar in the space.”
“The idea is to focus on New York products,” John said. “I take some inspiration from the wine center that was on Cayuga Street. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, but I don’t think it was a bad idea. I believe we’re making some good wine in the Finger Lakes, and some bad wine. The same with beer and spirits, there’s a lot going on.”
“If we get this off the ground, there would be a space in-between this building and Port of NY where I would love to see a beer and wine garden. Among other wines, we would showcase [Ports of NY]. That was part of the driver for this project,” added John.
Redbud Distillery is a new entrant into Ithaca’s food and drink scene, owned and operated by local businessman Abram Kurtz and former Ithaca Common Council member Seph Murtagh. Redbud will be leasing the Taber Street space from John, while another tenant uses the adjacent storage space.
“Abram and I have been making cider as a hobby together for years, and we got it into our heads that it would be cool to open a distillery in Ithaca,” Murtagh told The Ithaca Voice. “When we heard that space was available in the former Taber Street Auto building, we were thrilled. It seems like a great spot, next to Ports of New York and with the Black Diamond Trail eventually coming through there. We’re calling it Redbud Distilling, after the tree, which is iconic in Ithaca.”
Murtagh cautioned that the approvals process for a distillery is complex, with state and federal permits needed. There are still several aspects of the project that need to be worked out before any drinks are served up for eager customers, he said.
“Our plan is to really lean into local botanicals and ingredients to make our spirits. We plan to make gin, fruit brandies, liqueurs, and when we get our chops down, whiskey,” Murtagh said. “Eventually, we want to open a tasting room where we can sell our spirits alongside other New York State products like beer and wine.”
Murtagh said he and Kurtz are “excited to be located in the West End,” particularly since both of them are city residents. He added that their goal, as stated in the proposal, is to be “open for production next year.”
That area of the West End in particular has been a topic of community discussion recently as the city of Ithaca mulls plans to control homeless encampments that have gradually crept closer to the Taber Street area, something John has vocally advocated for as both a county legislator and as a nearby resident and business partner. The most recent proposal would prohibit encampments near the Taber Street property.
Local architecture firm Barradas and Partners is overseeing the renovation plans, with T.G. Miller P.C. providing engineering work. According to the Site Plan submission, the project will be all-electric and rely on heat pumps for its energy needs.
While a fairly small project, the founders are looking to add some local flavor through another option for Ithaca’s nightlife, especially as interest in the West End continues to grow.
“We’re trying to do something good for the community here. This is a development that would be good for the neighborhood and certainly provide something very different,” said John.