By Thomas Berger
September 1, 2020

The Patriarch breathes new life into a historic house

The Patriarch Craft Beer House & Lawn was created to bring Edmond a place where people could relax.
Steve Russell, owner of Patriarch (Photo: <a href="">Thomas Berger</a>)

A dozen musicians wielding guitars, dulcimers fiddles, and flutes sent cheery Irish notes mingling with the hum of conversation, sparks of laughter, the clinking of glasses, and the creaks from the old wooden floors.

The mood glowed as friends seated at tables nearby conversed and shared laughs, pausing occasionally to listen to the music and sip from their freshly poured New England-style IPAs.

If there’s something cool to go do, people will come to downtown Edmond.

Patriarch owner Steve Russell

This is a typical Monday night at The Patriarch, a craft beer house located just at the edge of Edmond’s downtown on Edwards Street just off Broadway. The group has been gathering there to play for more than a year and a half.

Such evenings are one of the biggest expressions of friendship and community that has happened there — and very much fit the founding vision for The Patriarch, according to Steve Russell, one of The Patriarch’s owners.

Community through beer

With a tagline of “Community through beer,” The Patriarch Craft Beer House & Lawn was created to bring Edmond a place where people could relax, make friends and have fun.

Monday nights are a perfect demonstration of that vision.

“I mean people bring their instruments. They come. They jump in. They play common songs that they know and it’s very informal, but it’s very beautiful,” Russell said.

Russell added that during the colder months, it’s not uncommon to see people dancing on the first floor, even one older gentleman in perhaps his 80s or 90s who will go for hours going from lady to lady for a dance. 

“Those are the moments when you come in, you look up and you go, ‘This is home. This is where they can come to do that. This is where it’s fun to come do that,” said Russell, commenting how The Patriarch has realized the concept the owners had for it from the beginning — to be a place to relax, make friends and have fun.

This isn’t the only night of live music at The Patriarch, according to Russell. Wednesday night is Bluegrass, and Friday and Saturday nights feature other genres as well. The music is there there to enhance the mood for conversation and community.

The Hunt house

The Patriarch at the Hunt House in downtown Edmond (Photo: Thomas Berger)

The three-story house built in 1903 boasts a bar with 48 craft brews on draft downstairs and spaces throughout furnished with couches and dining room-style tables and chairs. A pergola-covered lawn out back features long tables with bench seating, a stage, a corn husk lawn, and a kitchen serving gourmet pub-styled cuisine.

Russell recounted how when he first moved to Edmond in 2012, there was no place like this. 

“I was driving around Edmond just hoping that there could be someplace to get a craft beer or hang out or do something and realized that there was zero. Nothing,” he said, explaining how after living and working in other cities, he didn’t see why a low-key, relaxing tap house or beer garden wouldn’t work in Edmond — especially considering Oklahoma’s early passion for craft beer with around 10 breweries in the state at that time, among them being Coop, Roughtail, Anthem, Mustang, Marshall, and Prairie.

It was then he decided to look into bringing such a place to Edmond, and his quest for perfect spot began.

“I drove around Edmond a lot just because a lot of the smaller downtowns or suburbs are prime places to do something like this because it brings people back to the suburbs of their small town.”

The Hunt house was where his hunt ended. The white early 1900s-era home, tucked back on a grassy lot with a large backyard with trees, seemed to fit the ticket. 

“I saw this house and thought, ‘Man, that could be the location!'” 

After learning the house was already part of the downtown commercially-zoned business district, making some connections with potential partners in the venture, and months of working with the owner to sell, Russell and his wife purchased the home as soon as it came on the market in the summer of 2014.

Russell said he drew his motivation from not only the fact that Edmond needed a space to showcase craft beer, but that in his own words, “Edmond was needing something else in the downtown area and had a very cold kind of quiet downtown for many, many years.”

But also, another inspiring factor was the need for “community.”

A place to be with others

Russell, a member of Frontline Church, recalled a sermon series that in one of its points highlighted the tendency of people to isolate — to go to work, to go the store and then to go home, only to shut the door and look at their screens.

“We’re increasing in anxiety and depression, and it’s like a lot of that just goes back to not having places where we can just go be with others and not have to be distracted by a television or not be distracted by a screen or a concert and so, well, let’s just do something where we’re bringing people out of their homes.”

Not only did his church seed Russell with part of the vision, it also provided him with a small community to help it bring it to fruition.

It was at a church community group where Russell, himself a home brewer, happened to meet other home brewers and craft beer enthusiasts who later would become fellow partners and owners in Community Through Beer, LLC, The Patriarch’s ownership group.

With them, he would forge his vision of “community though beer” and bring the Patriarch to life.

Following the purchase of the home in July 2014, it took until October the same year to obtain the consent from the Edmond City Council to move forward with the plans. After gaining a 4-1 vote, Community Through Beer began transforming the space, knocking out walls, building the bar, installing a keg room, running tap lines, adding restrooms, landscaping, cleaning and more until finally opening in May 2015.

All through the construction process, the idea of “community through beer” functioned as the plumb-line by which Russell and the ownership group decided how to execute The Patriarch’s unique feel, the goal in everything being to use the home’s environment and space to make people feel comfortable.

“It’s an old house, so you feel like you’re going to grandma’s house when you come in here.”

Russell explained how he and the other owners strategically decided not to use individual little tables bench seating to foster this idea of growing community.

“We said, Hey, people will sit next to each other if they have to and then all the sudden they do and have conversations and they started chatting it up, meeting somebody new, and what better way to do that than when you have had a beer or two — a little social lubricant in there?”

Patrons drinking at Patriarch in Edmond (Photo: Thomas Berger)

Changing what’s most important

Another discussion among the ownership group had been the question of what was more important, The Patriarch’s focus on craft beer or its focus on community and bringing people together. 

While initially the ownership group said both were equally important, with time and experience, that answer has changed.

“We’ve decided over the last couple of years that, no, really, people are here because they want to be around other people. So that community element that we bring to Edmond is actually stronger, we feel, than the actual beer game,” said Russell, adding though that the beer, is still very important. 

“By all means, we want to be top in the state with the beer game here. We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a staff that’s been with us for years that know their beer and they know it well.”

Over the last five years, the selection of brew offerings at The Patriarch has changed as well, thanks to the more recent proliferation of breweries in the state.

Russell explained how from day one, the members of the ownership group agreed The Patriarch would not sell any beer from any one of the big brewery companies like AB InBev or Coors and the like. 

Furthermore, they agreed they would serve beer only from small breweries, with a goal of 50 to 65 percent coming from Oklahoma. 

Back then, with only 8 to 10 breweries in the state, meeting that goal was difficult.

“You were just about carrying everything everybody makes to get up to 25 taps moving,” he said, saying now how easy it would be to go 100 percent brewed in Oklahoma.

“We’ve watched since 2015 to now in 2020 the craft beer scene in Oklahoma go up three or four times — I mean just in terms of quantity of breweries and quality of brews to now. It’s neat because we get 48 taps going and two of them are ciders, of course, but 46 taps in the house and we’re constantly kind of working with breweries to see who’s going to have what.”

Helping create a draw to downtown Edmond

Calling back to the original motivations for starting The Patriarch, five years later the tap house has brought Edmond a showcase for craft beers and a hothouse for growing community, according to Russell, but what about bringing life to Edmond and creating a draw to the downtown?

“What we’ve seen happen since this place opened was quite a bit more interest in business development in downtown Edmond,” he said, mentioning the new parking available now on the north end of the downtown and a number of new businesses in Edmond. 

“You know, the Railyard development has come up over the last couple of years, which gives even more of a ‘Come gather downtown feel.’ The Mule has made an anchor point here for their lunch and their dinner menu. Frenzy Brewing just opened up. They want to be sort of like the brewery of Edmond.”

“I think everyone just started to realize that it’s okay to just come to Edmond and have a night out, you know, so you don’t have to go downtown OKC. You don’t have to go to the Plaza District. You don’t have to go to the Paseo. You can stay in Edmond. You don’t have to go over by Quail Springs Mall.”

Russell said he thinks when the idea for The Patriarch was first presented to the city council, their first reaction was “Oh, that’s a cute idea. Yeah, you know when it fails in a year or less, at least you gave it a try.”

“But we knew going into this that, no, there’s market for it,” he said. “We have a business. It’s fought through the last five years, you know, and what I think what people have seen is ‘Oh, there’s a business that survived five years. It might be okay to invest in downtown Edmond.

“We see traffic right? It’s beautiful out on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. I mean, there’s cars everywhere. We fill up the post office. We fill up parking down the street. I mean, you can get 400 people in this place, and we’ve seen it. 

“It just, I think, opened everyone’s eyes to the reality that if there’s something cool to go do, people will come to downtown Edmond.”

Patriarch’s tap tower in downtown Edmond (Photo: Thomas Berger)

Paying respect with the name

Asked why the name The Patriarch was chosen for the Edmond attraction, Russell replied it was out of respect to the man who played a major role in Edmond’s history.

He explained how a banker named William Hunt moved to the area from Missouri and in 1903 built the house which The Patriarch now calls home. It was Hunt who helped found Citizens Bank of Edmond.

“William Hunt, by starting Citizens Bank of Edmond, we feel was one of the biggest catalysts for the formation of Edmond,” said Russell, explaining how this all happened shortly after the railroad came through, before Edmond was established as a suburb of Oklahoma City.

“He was here starting the bank and starting to create a draw for people to come to the north side of town from Oklahoma City. And so when he built this house, it became just a staple in the area as one of the older homes, especially in downtown, and one of the longest surviving homes.”

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we name the business to pay homage to who could be considered maybe the patriarch of Edmond, William Hunt? So that’s kind of where we landed on the name.”

Thanks to The Patriarch, Hunt’s house, more than a century later, is still drawing people to Edmond’s downtown and helping bring new life and to create community.”

“It’s kind of rinse and repeat. Put some effort, put some gas on it and watch people come together. We love this community. We love just everything about it, and I think it’s a really great place for raising my kids, for family and friends. You’ve got church. You’ve got restaurants. You’ve got everything you need. And it’s a group of people that respect each other and get along.”

“I am just happy that we get to have an old place like this to come enjoy.”

Steve Russell, owner of Patriarch (Photo: Thomas Berger)

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About Thomas Berger

Thomas Berger is the owner of Ciskus Creative, an Edmond-based creative agency focused on creating marketing content for small and medium-sized businesses.

Prior to starting his own company, he worked as the communications/marketing specialist for an Oklahoma City-based office technology company. Former to coming to the Oklahoma City area, he had worked as a career journalist for more than a decade — initially reporting for several newspapers in western North Carolina and northeastern Oklahoma and later as a multimedia journalist for KJRH Channel 2 in Tulsa.

Thomas has lived in Edmond with his wife Alison since 2013. He has a passion for traveling, photography, learning languages, landscaping and coffee roasting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Carolina University.