Before he launched Ardent Craft Ales in Scott’s Addition, Tom Sullivan knew the neighborhood as a place to find studio space on the cheap for his post-punk band to practice.
“You could make a mess, make noise and no one would give you a hard time,” said Sullivan, a burly, ginger-haired 44-year-old whose rocker days look far behind him.
In 2012, after he stopped playing in bands and started brewing beer, Sullivan and his business partners eyed Scott’s Addition as a home for their fledgling craft beer company.
At the time, the neighborhood was still something of an industrial back-end of Richmond, home to warehouses and service companies like dry cleaners, plumbers and electricians.
Isley Brewing Co. had recently opened a nanobrewery there. And Reservoir Distillery made whiskey in the neighborhood. But otherwise, it was pretty much a blank slate.
The Ardent team fell in love with an old moving and storage transfer station on Leigh Street.
It was the right size, at 10,000 square feet. It had the right zoning. And it had some art deco touches to the front of the building, with glass and stucco.
It became the home for their brewery, taproom and beer garden.
“When we came to the neighborhood, it was in the process of changing over,” Sullivan said.
Many businesses were closing up or moving to the counties to upgraded facilities. “Honestly, I think it was one of the best-kept secrets in Richmond. ... It was like the last little corner of the city that hadn’t been developed yet,” he said.
“It was not uncommon in the first year or two that we opened for our taproom to be full of people unrolling plans, talking about ideas. We became the developer’s happy hour bar.”
The neighborhood has exploded with more than a dozen new restaurants, cafés, upscale markets and “eatertainment” options, such as Tang & Biscuit Shuffleboard Social Club and The Circuit Arcade Bar.
Scott’s Addition has become one of the hottest real estate markets in the city, with more than $400 million invested in apartment complexes, condos and lofts.
Coming this year: a 25,000-square-foot food hall called The Belleville, the first of its kind in Richmond.
“We went from being in the middle of an abandoned block to having over 100 apartments next door,” Sullivan said. “Now, people walk their dogs by the brewery day and night.”
Colleen Curran covers arts and entertain-ment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She does not live in Scott’s Addition, although she loves to visit the bars, breweries and restaurants as often as she can, which is almost never, since she also has two children.