The irony in transforming a historic church building into Iron Hand Brewing, Mobile’s newest brewpub, is not lost on Rebecca Williams. She’s even decided to place the bar where the former Hunter Baptist Church’s altar previously sat.
“It is ironic,” she said. “The irony is not lost on me.”
She said she wanted a building with “historic character,” but one that had a full commercial kitchen because a brewpub, by law, has to serve food.
“This building had been empty for a couple years,” she said. “It needed some TLC. We couldn’t have asked for a better site for what we want to do.”
Williams also wanted something more intimate than a Dauphin Street location, which made the old Waterfront Rescue Mission building in De Tonti Square perfect.
The building is in the process of being restored to what it would have looked like when it was originally used as a church, with the original flooring intact. The pub will use leftover church pews as banquettes and as a portion of the bar, Williams said.
Williams, a history professor at the University of South Alabama and owner of Iron Hand Brewing, named the brewpub in honor of Henri De Tonti, the namesake of the downtown Mobile neighborhood where the old church building sits.
De Tonti was given the nickname “Iron Hand” by men in his command, after losing a hand in battle under Louis XIV and wearing a metal prosthetic, Williams said. It was because he would wear a glove and knock people out with it, she said.
Later, he was sent to North America with Robert de La Salle and died in Mobile in 1704, one year after the city’s founding.
As for the community named for “Iron Hand,” Williams said her new De Tonti Square neighbors have been welcoming and wonderful.
“The neighborhood association has been just fantastic,” she said. “We want to be good neighbors. We understand we’re moving into a neighborhood.”
The brewpub will specialize in British and American pub staples, such as burgers and fries, fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and other favorites, prepared by her husband, Ben Ross.
The beers, which by law can only be consumed on the premises, will also have a British Isles focus. Iron Hand will produce an oatmeal stout, a porter, a blonde ale, an India pale ale and more. Ross is also the brewer.
“Homebrewing was an extension of his cooking,” Williams said of Ross. “He’ll be the back of the house and I’ll be the front of the house. We’re both working according to our strengths.”
As for a construction timeline, Williams said she hopes the pub can have a soft opening by New Year’s Eve.