Updated: November 14, 2013 at 9:34 am
There's a lot of history in this old church.
Colorado was not even a state when, in 1872, four brothers founded Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black church in Colorado Springs. A stately stone building later was built on the triangular lot at South Weber Street and Pueblo Avenue.
It's where the local NAACP held its first meetings and where civil rights leaders W.E.B. Dubois and Roy Wilkins spoke when they came to fight for equality in this little city out West. For more than 80 years, it was the spiritual and social nexus of the black community.
Early next year, it will open as a cathedral to the glory of beer, a taproom the likes of which Colorado Springs never has seen, with so many taps craft beer lovers might find religion.
In February, Scott Simmons, a professional track and field coach making his first foray into the beer industry, plans to open the doors of Green Man Taproom and Beer Garden, which he says will have 50 constantly rotating beers on tap.
"Our goal is that somebody can come in every day and say, 'What's new on tap? Can I try something that I've never had or something that wasn't here yesterday?'" Simmons said. "And we can actually have beer at a price point where we're selling a good volume of beer, so we're turning kegs over and have something new and are providing things that are interesting for people who love beer like me."
I met Simmons, 47, last week for a sneak preview of Green Man. He and his wife, Petra, moved here two years ago from Charlotte, N.C., where he had been amazed when some friends opened a brewery with incredible success. But he is no brewer. A brewery, he said, "is a beer factory, regardless of how micro or craft-oriented it is. It's still a lot of work on a production scale."
He was interested in serving some of the great beers he has found while travelling the country as a coach. On a trip to the Pikes Peak region, he scouted Woodland Park as a great location for a taproom.
Then he came back in January, when that mountain town is cold and empty, and began looking in Colorado Springs. Negotiations for a site on Tejon Street fell through, and while looking in Old Colorado City, his broker mentioned a little property downtown that wasn't on the market yet.
It had everything he wanted, including mountain views and space for an outdoor beer garden.
"It's a beautiful building," he said. "The architecture has been maintained. It's been modernized in terms of heating, cooling, electricity. It really is just ready to be moved into."
The congregation, needing more space, sold the building in 1986, and it had a variety of uses, from offices to weddings. Simmons will lease all 6,300 square feet, with an option to buy later.
He plans a large, rectangular bar in the main hall, which is well-lit by massive windows, and will seek city permission to build a beer garden along Pueblo Avenue. He hasn't figured out what form food service will take. But that's OK because Green Man will be all about the beer.
As owner and beer selector, Simmons plans to sniff out beers that area patrons haven't tried, be they rare beers from Colorado brewers or brews from other regions. There will be no cheap domestic beer and limited wine and spirits.
"Somebody comes in and wants a Bud Lite. You don't have it, but you can offer them something else that maybe they haven't tried and they might like it," he said.
Simmons also hopes to have a mural depicting the building's history.
"This building played a role in the civil rights movement. It has a real history and we'd like to commemorate that in some way, not just, 'Hey, your church is now a bar,'" he said.
More than 100 attended a beer-fueled open house at the building Saturday, a fundraiser for Simmons' nonprofit, the American Distance Project, which helps train aspiring Olympic athletes. He plans to continue coaching after the taproom opens.
I asked him, "Is it daunting opening such a large venture without ever having ran a bar before?"
"I've been in a lot of bars, and I've paid attention," he said.