Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery celebrates cross-cultural southern cuisine and craft beer within the historic Pearl Brewery, an 1890s-era building located in the heart of what is now dubbed the Pearl in San Antonio. Architecture firm Clayton Korte worked to bring the gritty magnificence of the brewhouse back to life while adapting it for contemporary needs.
When the firm was approached about the project, the space was in rough shape. Cracked and peeling paint, rust stains, rotted windows and a leaky ceiling provided some major challenges but, at the same time, the 7,600-square-foot space offered an opportunity to leverage the embodied history and patina of the existing architecture to the advantage of the new use.
An exercise in juxtaposition, Southerleigh’s design seams together an inherently gritty space and layers delicate and ornate moments through tactile materials and details.
The Pearl Brewery had operated as a commercial brewing facility until 2001, after which it was redeveloped as a food, beverage and cultural destination center within the city. Constructed in 1894, the brewhouse instantly became a symbolic feature of San Antonio industry. The building was designed by Chicago architect August Maritzen who had specialized in breweries. Over the years the brewhouse had received various additions, which left much to peel back and undo to make the space ready for a modern restaurant and brewery.
The team designed Southerleigh as a restaurant, bar and brewery complex, which includes 5,000 square feet of combination restaurant and bar and a 2,600-square-foot brewery. Southerleigh consists of three distinct dining rooms—each with its own signature bar—at the entry of the restaurant, in the middle of the space and at the back. The front dining room features original columns, a cast-iron staircase, and a new steel and concrete mezzanine. The second, middle dining area features a view into the kitchen. Working closely with interior design firm Joel Mozersky Design, the third, back dining room displays blue and white murals over plaster, inspired by historic photos and floor plans of the original brewery.
To preserve as much of the existing building and its patina as possible, new construction was strategically inserted to work with the existing architecture and spatial configuration. The massive, unreinforced load-bearing walls posed a structural challenge for the project and required careful placement of new openings and steel to accommodate the new floor plan. The narrow spacing of the existing walls wasn’t conducive to the kitchen and brewery layout. To respect the original architecture as much as possible, the design team elected to leave the beautiful original masonry arches in all of the areas visible to the public.
For example, existing large masonry openings and original demising walls that separated the large interior volume into smaller work areas were preserved to create the distinct dining rooms. Southerleigh Chef Jeff Balfour explains this design strategy is a highlight of the project, “Seeing the space, which was pre-set, come together in a workable way—it is tight but it functions and keeps all of the beauty of the original architecture.”
However, a couple arches, deep in the bowels of the brewery, had to be sacrificed to allow fermentation tanks into the space. Designed with every inch in mind, the limited ceiling height made squeezing in the new second-floor brewery no easy task. It was paramount to retain the existing vaults at the ceiling, and raising the ceiling was not an option. The decision leaves openings and additions from years past intact, which then were simply filled in with concrete, working around them to add texture and character to the ceiling.
Clayton Korte retained vestiges of the deep history at Pearl through the repurposing of remnant historic equipment, transforming the equipment into functional and decorative elements throughout the space. For example, production-line conveyors were reused as decorative wall cladding above the main dining area’s centrally located bar, drawing attention to the bright tanks above and showcasing the brewing process. The tanks sit behind a simply detailed wood storefront with historic chicken-wire safety glazing. In addition, the building’s historic copper-clad mash tun and boil kettle sit in their original locations, serving as a focal point as patrons enter the main dining space.