COMMERCIAL APPEAL | CHRIS HERRINGTON
Two lessons organizers drew from the success of the Tennessee Brewery "Untapped" pop-up event two springs ago were these: People are drawn to interesting places, and interesting places can suggest their own uses.
Starting this week, the four principals from "Untapped" and a battery of new partners will put these ideas to the test in more lasting form with the opening of Loflin Yard, a one-acre indoor/outdoor bar/restaurant nestled amid residential developments in the fast-growing South End area of Downtown.
Instead of working with a long-abandoned brewery and courtyard, the "Untapped" team of entrepreneur Taylor Berger, attorney Michael Tauer, real estate executive Andy Cates and marketing/public relations professional Doug Carpenter join new partners in transforming a two-story brick safe and lock business, a former stable for Peabody Hotel horses and carriages, a rare open section of the Gayoso Bayou and some connected outdoor lots into a kind of permanent garden party.
After a Tuesday test run, Loflin Yard, featuring pit barbecue, barrel-aged cocktails, live music, outdoor games and more, opens to the public on Thursday night.
"The concept came from the space," said Brad Barnett, owner and operator of Landscape Services Group, who bought the former Loflin Safe & Lock Co. at 7 W. Carolina Avenue with visions of turning it into some kind of commercial space.
"A bar, restaurant, grocery store. I didn't know," said Barnett.
Barnett discussed the property, initially just the Loflin building and a side lot, with Berger, who, with Tauer, Cates and others, had launched the Broad Avenue arcade bar Rec Room since moving on from "Untapped."
"This had been lurking in my mind for awhile, doing something outside, which I don't think Memphis has enough of," said Berger.
With eight parcels of land assembled and building spaces cleared of blight, work on Loflin Yard began less than three months ago. The finished product begins with the roughly 2,000-square-foot "Safe House," a 60-seat bar and restaurant space with accessible choose-your-own-bottle wine racks.
The "Safe House" is backed by the "Smoke House," an open-air cooking space where executive chef Andy Knight will preside over barbecue, smoked trout, grilled vegetables and other picnic-friendly sides, salads and desserts served in shareable portions. These spaces open onto an outdoor deck and seating area constructed around the open section of Gayoso Bayou, with a waterfall feature pulling from the creek below.
This area is flanked to the back by the "Coach House," a 5,000-square-foot refashioned barn where a long front porch will also serve as a stage for live music, which will be booked by Kevin Cubbins, the executive producer of the radio program "Beale Street Caravan." In between is a 10,000-square-foot free-form green space, with picnic tables, lawn seating and games such as horseshoes and bocce.
Behind it all is an unfinished 14,000-square-foot outdoor space backed by an active rail line that traverses the Harahan Bridge.
"It could be (parking) if it's necessary or desired," said Carpenter. "But I could see it turning into a green lawn with music performances. You could almost have three distinct things happening, the restaurant, the Coach House and this back area. I think (the back lot) is about imagination and time."
For some businesses, the active railroad might be a problem, but the team behind Loflin sees it as a big plus.
"It's a great thing. You get the waterfall going, a train coming by and just the activity of people talking. We think the vibe will be awesome," said Cates.
Loflin Yard's location at the corner of Carolina and Florida Street is adjacent to or near developments such as South Junction, the Lofts at South Bluffs and the upcoming Central Station development, with a residential population of roughly 3,000-and-growing in the immediate South End area. The closest bars, restaurants and coffee shops are at G.E. Patterson Street, several blocks away.
"There are a lot of thirsty people here and we'd like to give them something to drink," said Tauer. "This is an untapped market. There are a lot of young professionals, a lot of young families, people with some free time and disposable income, but there's nothing that's an easy walk for them. And like Taylor has said, these people don't have their own backyards."
The Carolina Avenue location also feeds conveniently into the Harahan Bridge cycling/pedestrian path set to open later this year, giving Loflin Yards a potential customer base of cyclists following the Main to Main route.
"I think people are going to walk, bike, Uber, get here in any number of ways," said Carpenter. "And I wouldn't discount tourism, because there won't be anything else like it."
The rural feel of the venue offers both novelty and respite in the context of densely urban residential development that surrounds it.
Loflin Yard's owners and operators are hoping it can become the community backyard for the South end of Downtown. Like a public park, but with bourbon and brisket.