In just a few short weeks, Elijah P. will live again — well, sort of.
Russ Smith, owner of the upcoming Elijah P.’s Burgers and Brews restaurant, says the finishing touches are being polished following an exhausting year of renovations and setbacks.
“It has been a problem child, but I am very excited we are nearing completion,” Smith said. “It is really going to add to the flavor of Alton, I believe.
“It has a turn-of-the-century look to it, with subway tiles, riverfront cobblestones and old fixtures.”
Two years ago, Smith bought the 60-plus-year-old building at 401 N. Piasa St. (next to Frew’s Bridal) without a set plan for its use. The idea of a restaurant dedicated to and decorated with the history of the Greater Alton area grew, and renovations began.
The business is named after minister and newspaper publisher Elijah P. Lovejoy, who was murdered by an anti-abolitionist mob near the site of the restaurant back in 1837.
Smith, who also owns Bossanova Martini Lounge, ran into problem after problem, prompting delays, including a failed epoxy floor and a months-long break for the Illinois EPA to determine the soil on the property was not contaminated due to an oil tank removed from the location.
“That was an 11-month delay,” Smith said. “We didn’t work on the interior renovations inside during that time because if they had said it was contaminated, we would have done all that work for nothing.”
Smith then worked hard to transform the 8,000-square-foot open rectangular space (formerly a Sears appliance store) into a welcoming den for dining, decorated with pieces of our history such as a bar salvaged from a steamboat, lighting from an old schoolhouse across the river and galleries including the Piasa Bird, Robert Wadlow and Miles Davis.
“There will be a room dedicated to the wetlands area, and another room with a steamboat theme to it,” Smith said. “These are ways to market the space not only to local people, but visitors as well.”
An elaborate outdoor pergola seating 75 with fireplaces and fountains (much different than the original concept of a lean-to on that spot) is nearing completion, and future plans include an outdoor bar in the former Sears garage space. Smith eventually plans for the renovation of an additional 20,000 square feet in the rear for small markets or weddings.
“There will be areas to have music inside and outside, and meeting rooms inside for parties of 60 to 70 people,” Smith said.
Being an environmentally friendly business is a priority to Smith.
“We want to do composting and recycling,” Smith said. “We have taken out about 25 percent of the asphalt and are replacing it with green space.”
Elijah P.’s will feature multi-tap beer choices with full bar, gourmet hamburgers and other menu items.
Alton Mayor Brant Walker praised the efforts of Smith and shares confidence in the dream of a history-themed establishment.
“What Russ has done is amazing,” Walker said. “Because of people like this who are willing to take a chance and invest in that area, we are seeing downtown coming back in a big way.”
AdVantage News will keep the community updated on the opening date of the restaurant.