Owner Mike Tourville showcases view of Williams-Brice Stadium from new rooftop addition at River Rat Brewery
Photo by Anna Frazier.

By Anna Frazier

“I do cuss so… it happens,” said owner Mike Tourville as he gripped both hands on the sturdy wooden table, threw back a gulp of water from a glass with the River Rat logo staring back at him and sat down.

“Let’s knock this thing out”. His laidback personality combined with his go-getter attitude and passion for beer is exactly what makes River Rat Brewery the place that it is. The River Rat team plans to open a new rooftop bar at the brewery. “It’s what’s happening in Columbia,” Tourville said.

He said that it was the right time for the new addition to the brewery and to the niche it has in the Columbia marketplace.  River Rat tends to attract cozy, semi-private events. Tourville said that it’s the behind-the-scenes part of the project that he’s enjoyed the most. The new space is equipped with a covered bar, smokehouse and a full kitchen. His favorite part is the dumbwaiter that allows the cooks to send food up to the rooftop on a conveyor belt that then delivers the food straight to the bar.

“The barbecue is our favorite,” said long-time customer and Columbia local, Stephen Denemark. The new smokehouse creates more brisket and pork options for the brewery. “The smokehouse is gonna be a cool feature. I think it will really attract people. I can already smell the yumminess,” Tourville said.

With the boys working hard and hammers banging, I had the chance to walk up and see the unfinished rooftop. Walking into a giant grain bin circling the spiral staircase surrounded by nothing but galvanized steel felt like I was in a movie. With each twist and turn up the staircase comes a different view of what’s happening outside– from the crowds walking down the road to Williams Brice Stadium on game day to the people playing corn hole in the field below. But once you reach the top, the look and feel is consistent.

Wood and galvanized steel complete the space from the siding on the bar to the railings of the fence. Bert Shuler, project developer and owner of The Shuler Group Inc., said he appreciates the leeway that Tourville gave him to come up with some innovative design concepts. Galvanized steel is implemented to create stability and that signature River Rat style. It adds a rustic,  yet nostalgic vibe.

“We were trying to come up with something that would be a landmark, signature component to the project,” said Shuler. “Going up and down Shop Road you can see it as soon as you turn in from the stadium.”

Tourville and Shuler said that the giant 30-foot grain bin that encases the spiral staircase up to the rooftop is probably what they are most excited about. “It’s very iconic. It’s kind of like a symbol of what we are about as craft beer brewers, which is grain and barley. We use thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds of barley a year. What more iconic to brand ourselves than a big grain bin?” Tourville said.

Shuler said the bin was actually purchased from a local farmer.

Husband and wife, Stephen and Townes Denemark, have been visiting the brewery with friends and family since its opening in 2013.

“We love the kid-friendly aspect of the brewery and that we can always bring them along. But we are excited for the new addition because it will be a nice escape from all the hustle and bustle down below,” said Townes Denemark. The rooftop bar has a capacity of 49 and will be open to ages 21 and up— no children or pets allowed. It also includes a unisex bathroom.

“The brewery has expanded drastically since opening in 2013,” said Eva Moore, Free Times’ managing editor who also runs the food and drink section of the newspaper. She has written feature articles about the brewery.

“River Rat is already very good at sort of creating a sense of place and being a really good place for people to hangout. I think the new addition will only add to that,” said Moore. “Each year or every couple of months they add something to make it a cooler place.”

Of course, with every project comes unexpected bumps in the road. Tourville said working with Richland County is sometimes difficult and too much time and money gets spent on contracts and permits. “Every project goes over budget and every project takes three times longer than expected,” Tourville said.

He hopes the addition will be completed in time for the Carolina-Clemson game. But if it isn’t ready by then, it will open in early December. “I wanna see people up on the rooftop in garnet and black scaring off the Tigers and rooting on the Gamecocks,” said Tourville.

Frazier is a public relations senior