It’s official. The anticipated reopening of Atlanta Brewing Company at Underground Atlanta isn’t happening, Urbanize Atlanta reports and brewery president and CEO Alton Shields confirms. The lease between Georgia’s oldest craft brewery and Underground Atlanta owners Lalani Ventures was terminated. But Shields and business partner Dave Peterson are now eyeing new brewing opportunities in Atlanta.
“We’re really sad to announce that unfortunately, Underground Atlanta had to recently terminate the lease due to construction not commencing since our announcement and the [brewery’s] inability to fulfill other lease obligations,” Lalani Ventures senior vice president and head of leasing Mary Turner told Urbanize Atlanta this week.
Shields credits Turner for continually advocating for Atlanta Brewing Company as they navigated a rezoning process with the city to allow breweries to manufacture beer Downtown and as they tried to line up investors to help with construction costs. Rezoning the area for breweries, he says, took six months. Shields also says investors weren’t seeing the “vision” for Underground Atlanta and the brewery’s place there.
“It was very difficult with the current state of craft beer to really attract investors who were willing to take the risk, not just in a craft beverage company, but with Underground,” says Shields. “They expected more activity at the development and more progress and announcements [of new businesses and restaurants]. We were on Upper Alabama, and most of the development is below ground on the Kenny’s Alley side.”
Shields says, however, he still believes in Lalani Ventures and the company’s plans for Underground Atlanta.
Atlanta Brewing Company, which has been in business since 1993 and was originally located on Williams Street, closed last summer after 15 years on Defoor Hills Road in Underwood Hills ahead of its relocation to Underground Atlanta. Shields told Eater at the time of the closure that the move to Underground Atlanta was due to a number of culminating factors, including a major rent increase and costs to repair the building and upgrade outdated brewing equipment. Staff had dropped from 20 people at the beginning of 2022 to four people last summer. Sources with knowledge of the situation claim the brewery had trouble meeting payroll earlier that year.
Shields and Peterson downsized operations after the closure and entered into a partnership with neighboring brewery Second Self Brewing to produce Atlanta Brewing Company’s beers. Second Self lost four of six contract brewing customers this year due to closures or shifting business to other breweries, which included the loss of Atlanta Brewing Company. Second Self ended up closing in June
“They did a great job for us, but we had many more challenges and obstacles to face, other than having our beers contract packed, with moving out of our previous facility and issues with relocating,” Shields tells Eater when asked about pulling out of contract brewing with Second Self. “They’re great guys and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of Second Self.”
As for what’s next for Atlanta Brewing Company, Shields says they’re looking to purchase existing breweries and continue serving at concerts, car shows, and other big events. Shields says they are currently in talks with an existing brewery in Atlanta, which will allow them to move beer manufacturing to that location and feature a restaurant, as the facility already includes a commercial kitchen and large taproom. The partners have also put in Letters of Intent to tentatively purchase two smaller taprooms in the city that include brewing facilities. Shields declined to provide locations, but says the larger brewery is near downtown Atlanta.
For its part, Lalani Ventures still hopes to find another brewery or beer-focused business to take over the space left vacant by Atlanta Brewing Company. Lalani Ventures purchased Underground Atlanta in 2020 from South Carolina-based WRS Inc. and is working to revitalize the entertainment district with new restaurants and bars, retail, and temporary art installations. Music venue the Masquerade is now open at Underground Atlanta, as is Dolo Pizza, Daiquiriville, and Future Showbar, an LGBTQ-friendly restaurant, cabaret, and dance club. MJQ nightclub is relocating to the former Dante’s Down the Hatch space by the end of the year. A 21-stall food hall backed by Robert Montwaid (Chattahoochee Food Works, Gansevoort Market) appears to no longer be in the works.
Underground Atlanta began life as a series of storefronts, restaurants, and hotels built along the railroad tracks paralleling Alabama Street near Pryor Street following the Civil War and was considered Atlanta’s earliest commercial district. Starting in the 1920s, and with pedestrian and vehicle traffic increasing in downtown Atlanta, a five-block stretch was covered over to raise the street level, transforming many of the buildings on what is now Lower Alabama into basement storage for businesses above ground, and eventually into speakeasies during Prohibition.
Update, July 12, 12:15 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Atlanta Brewing Company president and CEO Alton Shields.