On Monday afternoon, news broke on social media that the venerable Waldo beer bar Bier Station will close and become a taproom for Crossroads’ City Barrel Brewing.
For the past decade, Bier Station has been KC’s embassy for craft beer culture—a staple on national lists of notable beer bars and the place where brands were launched into the local market and visiting beer geeks stopped for a session.
Via phone, owner and operator John Couture tells Kansas City that it was time for a change.
“This is a good thing,” he says. “I know it’s sad for a lot of people, including me, but if anyone knows Bier Station they know how important political activism and community engagement have gotten for the business and that’s something I want to spend more time doing.”
The exact form that takes is a work in progress, but Couture points to events like a recent wildly successful Josh Hawley Fun Run as a model for the type of work he hopes to do, finding “new ways to raise funds in creative and fun ways for causes and candidates.”
The beer scene has changed a lot in the decade since Bier Station opened—we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of the beer buyer as rockstar, the collapse of dedicated beer media under the weight of apps and IPAs going from a little hazy to very clear to very hazy to filled with children’s cereal to clear again to even more clear.
Microbreweries were the center of beer culture at the start of the American craft movement and have risen again of late, something that impacted Couture’s decision to move on.
“People are going to beer bars less and breweries more,” he says. “So that has been a huge movement since we’ve opened. The beer scene is really changing and the way that I view it is when people like to drink beer, they like to go to breweries now.”
The coronavirus pandemic did change the vibe at the bar. When it came to reopening, Bier Station was on one of the most conservative timelines in the city. They did not fully reopen until late in the fall of 2020 and then closed again for renovation shortly after. Pressed for the dates, Couture offers an all-too-relatable phrase, “It’s all a blur.” When the Station did reopen, it used a new app-based ordering system—you couldn’t walk up to the bar and order a drink, but had to instead use your phone to select and pay.
“Some people loved it, some people did not like it,” Couture says. “I don’t know what the right answer was.”
Couture has no regrets about taking his time to reopen.
“It probably did hurt our business compared to people who reopened faster but it was the right thing to do and I don’t regret it at all,” he says.
Bier Station was, as Couture intended “almost like a beer spot with a coffee shop vibe.” It was part of a great generation of beer shops/bars like Craft Beer Cellar in Boston, Tony’s Darts Away of Los Angeles and the Beer Junction of Seattle. Couture wanted a place where you can “buy beer while drinking beer” and says that the landmark Belmont Station beer bar in Portland was “a big, big inspiration.”
Bier Station will be missed as will its era.