Sunday, October 14, 2018

Imperial Western Beer Co.: Before and After Photos of the Impressive Renovation of the Fred Harvey Restaurant

Imperial Western's cavernous main hall
Though I wasn't fortunate enough to get married there like some people I know, I've always loved the Fred Harvey restaurant at Union Station and hoped that someday it would re-open in its former glory. Designed by Mary Colter, the restaurant opened in 1939 and was the last of the Harvey Houses that operated across the U.S. at train stations and tourist attractions. The restaurant closed in 1967, so the re-opening as Imperial Western Beer Company comes 51 years later.

The vintage Powder Room
There were several attempts along the way to re-open the space, but the confusing mix of owners and the economics of running such a large restaurant in a spot that wasn't necessarily conducive to expensive fine dining made it challenging. But nightlife entrepreneur Cedd Moses came up with the smart idea of utilizing the vast and potentially wasted kitchen area as a full-scale brewery and making the atmospheric space into a kind of Grand Central Oyster Bar-meets-craft brewery, with a side of cocktails in the vintage Streamliner lounge.

Restored front booth area                                                          (Credit: Wonho Frank Lee)
All the vintage details like Colter's parrot-patterned cement tiles and Navaho rug-patterned floor are cleaned up and glowing. The aqua glass tiles of the kitchen have been carefully replicated, and loads of character-filled details also remain in the Streamliner Bar, the Powder Room and in the small patio bar that adds outdoor seating to the mix.

Head brewer Devon Randall has a lot of vats to fill
Making the space accessible and affordable, with menu items all under $20, is the right thing to do as transit improvements at Union Station make the area into even more of a hub connecting all parts of the city. The menu is from the Hungry Cat's David Lentz, with dishes like fish tacos, crispy oyster po'boys and house smoked mussels, as well as ribs, fried chicken and a burger for non-seafood fans.

Ready to brew!
Imperial Western is named for one of the great train lines that services Union Station, as are some of the beers like the Super Chief IPA. Moses' 213 Hospitality opened Arts District Brewing three years ago, so they've had some time to work on their brews before opening Imperial Western, which has 18 beer taps, with mostly their house-made beers.

The cooler doors were retained in the patio bar area
The challenge with a room that holds 435 people is getting everyone served and fed efficiently and keeping up the food quality. It's a challenge that was apparently too much for another large, historic venue, Clifton's Cafeteria, which has abandoned the cafeteria idea and turned into a multi-floor amusement park of a bar.
Streamliner Bar                                                                                        (credit: Wonho Frank Lee)
The cozy Streamliner Bar off to the left looks much the same as ever. The Varnish's Eric Alperin designed the Streamliner's menu of cocktails that are served on tap, perfect for rushed travelers, with reasonable prices under $10 per drink.

BEFORE: Abandoned kitchen area
Back in 2012, I took some photos before the restoration at the L.A. Beer Week festival, so it's interesting to see how sensitively it has been brought back to life.
BEFORE: A beer seminar in the main room

BEFORE: Original ceramic tiles at the Streamliner Bar

BEFORE: Powder Room

BEFORE: Kitchen area

BEFORE: Front booths

BEFORE: Streamliner Bar

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