By Jon McGinty
After almost 15 years of renovation and repair, the Prairie Street Brewhouse at 200 Prairie Street in Rockford is finally complete. Just this past spring, Rockford Brewing Company, the building’s major tenant, opened two new event spaces—the Petritz Board Room and the Peacock Room—bringing to eight the number of event spaces for rent in the beautifully restored and historic five-story building.
“We can accommodate groups as small as a corporate meeting or as large as a big wedding reception, with various sizes in between,” says Chris Manuel, Vice-President of Rockford Brewing Company and Prairie Street Brewhouse Events.
According to Manuel, about 12,000 square feet of the building’s 85,000 square feet is devoted to such rentable space. The rest includes 10 loft apartments, four offices, a kitchen and two tap room/restaurants. Their next addition will be another kitchen to accommodate their growing catering business. A handful of boat slips and two luxury apartments, featuring panoramic river and city views from the building’s roof-top decks, remain available to lease.
Manuel and partners Dustin Koch and Reed Shostrom formed the Rockford Brewing Company in 2013 and opened the 15-barrel hand-crafted brewery and restaurant the following year. The Brewhouse has rapidly become one of downtown Rockford’s fastest-growing destination hot spots, especially since they started Dinner on the Dock in 2011.
Every Thursday evening May through August, from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., patrons can enjoy live music performed outside (in good weather) as they dine on a “backyard buffet” menu along the Rock River. Large docks allow diners to tie up their boats and attend the festivities. A regular movie series, Brews and Views, will return this September.
“Dustin and I grew up along the Rock River,” says Manuel, “and got our boating licenses as teenagers. Bringing food and entertainment to a riverside location was a ‘no-brainer’ for us.”
The history of brewing beer at the Prairie Street location began in 1849, when Englishman Jonathan Peacock bought a home on Prairie Street and started what he called the Rockford Brewery. In 1857, he constructed the first building at the present site, using artesian wells for water, winter river ice for refrigeration in the summer, and access to the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad for transporting his product.
The company was bought by Croatian immigrant John Petritz in 1899, and he erected the five-story brick-and-stone building which still stands. He also changed the name to Rockford Brewing Company. At the height of production in 1909, Petritz produced 75,000 barrels of beer in one year. Prohibition came in 1917, and Petritz was shut down after trying to produce beer. By 1919, the company became the Rockford Storage Warehouses. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Petritz’s son reopened the business as Petritz Brewery. Under new ownership, it became a cold storage locker in 1934, then the Rock River Brewing Company in 1937. All brewing activity ceased in 1939.
The building was a storage warehouse and automated laundry facility in 1945, washing the bed linens of Chicago and Milwaukee hotels for several years before becoming vacant. The building’s present owners, the Koch family, obtained the property in 2000, and operated the Rockford Marina there until 2004. Since then it has housed a woodworking shop, a photo studio and a t-shirt decorating plant, among other uses. Loyd and Diane Koch’s family began serious renovation and restoration work in 2009, in conjunction with architect Gary Anderson, bringing it to its present multiuse condition and historic preservation. But it seems to also have become one of those “well-kept secrets” of downtown Rockford.
“I still meet people who don’t know we are open for lunch and dinner here seven days a week,” comments Manuel. “Our restaurant and events menus offer everything from fine dining to burgers and cheese curds, and our catering business has grown ten-fold in the last year.”
During last winter, the Brewery collaborated with downtown arts groups to show family-friendly movies once a month. This summer they provide beer and food at several other venues: Music in the Parks at the Sinnissippi Band Shell every Tuesday and Thursday evenings; Wednesday evenings at the Nicholson Conservatory’s Tunes on the Terrace; and Fridays at the City Market dinner cruises on the Forest City Queen.
Brewhouse hours are: Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, view their website at rockfordbrewingco.com.