In many ways, Father John’s is like any other church built in the 19th century. The massive brick-and-stone building includes a bell tower and sanctuary with ornate, stained glass and a pipe organ. Sacred, sculpted lions guard its entrances and crosses decorate the premises. Weddings, as well as Christmas and Easter services, are held on the property.
And Tuesday through Saturday, patrons can grab a beer in the basement.
Located in Bryan, a small city in northwestern Ohio, Father John’s Brewing Company operates a microbrewery and restaurant in a former Methodist church, which was built in 1895. Visitors can also stay the night at the adjoining Stoned Goat Inn, a former parsonage.
Retired surgeon Dr. John Trippy bought the property to save it from being torn down. Though he has restored the sanctuary, some residents were upset by his decision to allow alcohol into the facility.
“People didn’t really understand my philosophy,” he said. “It’s still very spiritual.”
To represent and welcome everyone, the restaurant showcases artifacts from multiple religions. For example, as soon as you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by Ho Tai, a Chinese Buddha who sits behind the bar and brings happiness and prosperity.
But one doesn’t need divine intervention to find joy at Father John’s. Taking in all the details of the unique atmosphere is part of the fun. The bar is cross-shaped and made from concrete to symbolize eternity. It’s also surrounded by mismatched stools and chairs.
“[It’s] symbolic of all the people who are welcome at the table of Christ — and our bar,” Trippy said.
Depending on the size of your party, you can choose from a variety of charming places to eat (the King’s Table, Queen’s Table, Round Table or Honeymooners’ Table). The most unique is the Camel Room, a Morocco-inspired area where patrons discard their shoes and sit on pillows.
In warmer weather, you can eat outside in the beer garden and enjoy live musicians, who are booked regularly at Father John’s.
As you sit down to eat, beware of the mice. The stuffed animals are located throughout the building. They were given as gifts to people who donated to restore the church organ, but they found their way back. Some are even signed and dated by the donors.
The best way to enjoy the ever-changing beer menu is to order a flight. From St. Michael’s Pale Ale to the Pontius Porter, there are a variety of easy-drinking craft beer selections. The food is American fare, with plenty of seafood options. Trippy likes to request “surf and surf and surf,” or salmon, shrimp and bacon-wrapped scallops.
A signature dish is the bison burger, sourced from Trippy’s own farm in Fremont, Indiana. Order the Robed Monk to get the equivalent of an all-American burger, or take it up a notch with the Last Rights Burger — topped with pork belly, smoked Gouda, onions, pickles and barbecue sauce.
It’s possible to follow the nap-inducing meal with an actual nap by booking a room at the bed and breakfast opposite the sanctuary. Furnished to resemble the late 1800’s, the first floor includes a bar, parlor and music room equipped with a grand piano. A creaky, wooden staircase leads to five bedrooms, each featuring an inspirational message on the door (“Believe,” “Be Grateful,” etc.). And each room comes with a key attached to an extravagant cross.
Inside you’ll find a comfortable bed, old-fashioned photos, a Bible and, depending on your room, a large crucifix on the wall. It’s an environment that is charming during the day and slightly spooky at night. If you’re open to the existence of ghosts, the building is fertile ground for your imagination — and some have said they noticed the presence of a little girl. But you should have no trouble getting through your stay without hearing a peep.
Though it only has a population of approximately 8,000, the city of Bryan has multiple claims to fame, including the Spangler Candy Company, which produces Dum Dum lollipops (visitors are permitted to tour the factory). Bryan is also the site of the Ohio Art Company, which previously manufactured the Etch A Sketch.
Father John’s is only adding to that legacy.
“Most of our clientele comes from an hour to an hour and a half away on Friday or Saturday,” said Trippy, who is also repurposing a nearby train station into a bar. “If I see someone today that’s never been here, probably either the next night or next week or so I’ll see them back with another couple. They just want to see what we’ve done here.”