The Graystone Wine Cellar occupies the hand-hewn limestone vaults of the 1875 Bavarian Brewery in the heart of the historic Brewery District. The roots of the Bavarian Brewery, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, can be traced to two German immigrants who arrived here in the 1830s: John Blenkner and his son-in-law George Schlegel. They founded the original Bavarian Brewery in the block just north of our current location. The brewery prospered for several years until 1856, when George Schlegel bought out his father-in-law and expanded the brewery. Then, with prosperity on the horizon, George Schlegel promptly contracted typhoid fever and died in December of 1856, leaving the business to his wife, Margaret, and their four children, all under the age of six.
Margaret and her father soon realized their need for a professional Braumeister to take charge of the family business. They wrote to their relatives in Bavaria, asking for help. Their prayers were answered in the form of twenty-four year old Nicholas Schlee, who arrived here in January of 1860, having just completed his training in the Bavarian Steigerwald as a master brewer. Young Nicholas, the nephew of George Schlegel, was apparently a man of great personal resources who pursued his goals with single-minded intent. By April of 1860 he had won the heart of his Aunt (by marriage) Margaret, and they were married on April 19, barely three months after his arrival. Margaret gave birth to their son, Theodore, the following year.
Schlee promptly began a series of expansions and improvements at the brewery, including switching production to the new lager style of beer which was rapidly gaining popularity. In 1866 Schlee purchased three empty lots on Front Street with money he had saved from his salary as Brewmaster. For nine long years he marshaled his resources, until in 1875 he built the new Bavarian Brewery at our current location. Described as “grand” and “splendid” in news accounts of the time, the imposing, deep cellared brick structure of the new Bavarian was the last of the great German breweries to be built in Columbus, ending the period of expansion begun during the Civil War. The new Bavarian ushered in a period of modernization and consolidation in the Columbus brewing industry. By the end of the 1870s, five breweries operated in the district, down from a height of thirteen, even though total production had actually increased.
The 1890s saw the heyday of the brewing industry in Columbus, as well as continued consolidation due to modernization. The three remaining breweries, Hoster, Capitol, and the Bavarian, had total production which was thirteen times that of 1870, with beer shipped to most of the surrounding states. However, storm clouds were on the horizon.
By the turn of the century the market had begun to deteriorate due to competition from Cincinnati and other area breweries, as well as the increasing success of the Temperance Movement, which began in Westerville, Ohio in 1827. In response to these challenges the remaining breweries merged into the Hoster- Columbus Associated Breweries Company in 1904. The new combined company proved unable, however, to weather the storm. In 1908 an Ohio county option law went into effect which resulted in fifty-seven Ohio counties being dry by the end of the year. In 1914 state prohibition went into effect in West Virginia, where fully half of the beer produced in Columbus was being distributed. Nicholas Schlee, by then a director in the new company, died in 1914, and by the end of the year the company was in receivership. The combined breweries struggled on for a few more years, but in 1918, as a “war conservation measure”, the production of beer was entirely prohibited and the proud era of German brewing in Columbus came to a conclusive end. The company struggled on for some time, producing ice and soft drinks, but finally dissolved in 1924 and the remaining real estate was disposed of.
The building and the surrounding area fell into disrepair, and at some point a subsequent owner sealed off the vaults below and built a floor over the old stairwell. In 1980 the Edwards family began to restore the buildings in the area as part of a movement toward urban renewal and historical preservation, and work on the Schlee brewery building began in 1989. During this reconstruction of the interior of the building an unexpected cave-in occurred and the hidden vaults below the building, forgotten for over 70 years, were rediscovered. Restoration of the space now occupied by Graystone began in 1990. At that time our space was just a series of dark, cavernous cellars with no solid floors, no doors, and no electricity. But there was an energy here that inspired us to give the space a rebirth. Graystone Winery opened in November of 1990. For the next fourteen years Graystone produced small amounts of wine, in conjunction with our sister winery, Wyandotte Winery, on the northeast side of Columbus. Our primary mission, though, has always been to play host to some of Columbus’ most elegant, and intimate, private events. Over the years Graystone has hosted hundreds of wedding ceremonies, receptions, rehearsal dinners, birthday parties, anniversary parties, meetings, corporate events, and college organization banquets.
In 2004, Graystone Winery became Graystone Wine Cellar and ceased the on-premise production of wine, although we continue to feature wine from our friends at Wyandotte Winery, as well as a variety of specially selected fine wines from around the world. We also feature locally produced beer from some of Columbus’ finest craft brewers. Graystone continues to provide the perfect intimate setting for your special event, presenting the highest quality menus in the most unique atmosphere in Columbus. Come join us for the finest in Columbus hospitality.