Motor Row Craft Beer & Wine Festival

The Motor Row Craft Beer & Wine Festival — a celebration of food, music, beverages and classic cars — transformed Wabash Avenue into a multigenerational playground of outdoor recreation between 16th and 18th Streets during its first annual run over the weekend of September 5th and 6th.

Live bands headlined by Run DMC cofounder Darryl McDaniels energized the north end of the street while tastings from 14 craft breweries mellowed out the south. Between the music and the beverages, a row of vendors tempted parents, a number of activities thrilled the kids and a collection of privately-owned classic automobiles created an open air museum of old-school vehicular beauty smack dab in the middle of the midway.

The weekend was conceived by Lifebrand Hospitality co-founder Kenny Johnson — who also owns the Bureau Bar and The Velvet Lounge — and Kimbark Liquors & Wine Shop owner Jonathan Swain.

“Jonathan and I wanted to do something around craft beers and the boom that’s happening,” explains Johnson.

Since the two of them wielded enough expertise to quench a block party full of thirst, they immediately began assembling the non-liquid components that would be required to throw a successful fest. One of the first people they called was Tina Feldstein, founder of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance.

“We had a meeting at the Bureau Bar telling her what we wanted to do and hoping to get the non-profit arm involved,” Johnson says.

Feldstein was not only on board with the idea, but she also suggested one of its signature themes: classic cars. The collection that eventually graced the fest was a fitting nod to the area’s former reputation as the greatest automobile showroom in the Midwest.

“It’s an aspect that I think will grow,” Feldstein says. “We’ll go really historic, as far back as we can.”

Among the enthusiasts who drove in to show off their rides was Spencer Leak, owner of Leak & Sons Funeral Homes in Chatham. His early model bright red Corvette Convertible dominated the display.

Johnson and Swain partnered with Special Events Management to coordinate and organize the festival. When it came time to book the music, CEO Hank Zemola mentioned that Darryl DMC McDaniels was available.

Johsnon did not hesitate to put the legendary artist on the bill. “If we can get DMC,’” he responded, “let’s get him.”

Although putting McDaniels on the bill increased the event’s popularity, it was the assistance and blessing of Ward 3 Aderman Pat Dowell that made it a success. “She was very supportive from the start,” Johnson says. “We definitely could not have done it without her.”

When it came time to festivate, Johnson and Swain figured they had all the elements in place, but Mother Nature proved them wrong. “Saturday and Sunday morning, we had a burst of lighting and rain came down for like 30 minutes,” Jonson recalls. It was “the greatest challenge” he had faced throughout the process.

Fortunately, the storm subsided and the sun shined, welcoming thousands of attendees and making way for what Johnson describes as “the greatest reward.”

“Seeing the peoples’ response was amazing,” he says.