May 8, 2024

Triumph Brewing Company to Reopen in June After Long Restoration of Former Post Office

ALMOST READY: What used to be Princeton’s post office in Palmer Square has been transformed into the sleek new location of Triumph Brewing Company. Four separate architectural firms were involved in the effort. (Photo by Anthony Stull)

By Anne Levin

The opening of Triumph Brewing Company, relocated from Nassau Street to the former post office at Palmer Square, has been scheduled for mid-to-late June. A report on the long-awaited project was the focus of a Zoom “meetup” held last Thursday by the nonprofit Experience Princeton.

Kevin Wilkes of Princeton Design Guild, one of four architectural firms involved in the project, said that it has taken so long — 39 months of extensive restorations, rebuilding, and rehabilitation — due to years of federal maintenance neglect. The 90-year-old building has been transformed in an adaptive reuse project that involved restoration of some parts of the former post office, and a complete redesign of others. The entire building was gutted and all systems were replaced to house the restaurant’s dining rooms, bars, and brewery equipment. The budget for the project was not mentioned in the presentation.

Triumph’s former location at 138 Nassau Street closed during the pandemic.

Giddings Associates served as lead architect on the project. Richardson Smith Architects was interior architect, Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner was historic preservation architect, and Princeton Design Guild served as the owner’s representative, doing all of the restoration millwork and new millwork for the project. “We organized as a team,” Wilkes said of the collaborative effort. “We got it done.”

Damage to the building included water penetration, cracked walls, and leaks. “We set out to repair all of this,” Wilkes said. “Paneling had suffered years of bashing from briefcases and keys as you leaned in at the windows. All the gold lettering had disappeared. We set out to take all of those damaged parts out for restoration work. We completely restored all the woodwork and repaired the glass clerestory windows. Everything in the lobby, which is now the main dining room, is original, except for the barrel work.”

Ninety years of nicotine and accumulated dirt were removed from the chandeliers, which were revealed to be copper brass after cleaning. “They are the originals and are exceptionally beautiful,” Wilkes said.

The historic mural in the lobby, which is owned by the federal government, is on loan from the United States Postal Service and was restored by a firm from New York, which spent two weeks touching it up, cleaning it, and regluing it to the wall. It is now illuminated by special lighting.

A second dining room on the Chambers Walk side of the building can be closed off and used for private dining and events. In the center of the building, “you never saw this truly magnificent mail sorting room,” Wilkes said. “It is a two-story space that was lit by skylights on top and high clerestory windows. Here is where carriers would sort the mail. It was lit brilliantly by daylight. We removed the asbestos flooring, and had a tremendous amount of remediation to do.”

The area now serves as the main lounge for the restaurant, and all of the dining rooms wrap around it. A main bar of solid walnut anchors the Palmer Square East entry point.

“It’s a space to have cocktails and snacks,” Wilkes said. “It’s not set up for dinners, but more of a place to relax. The clerestory windows are all there. The skylights were removed, and the windows were lined with acoustic absorption material. That was a problem in the original location, and we wanted to correct it.”

The basement was gutted and dug eight inches deeper, allowing for more headroom and the ability to bury the mechanical systems, as well as the brewery tanks. “It was very complicated to get this into the building,” Wilkes said, acknowledging Princeton’s municipal staff for their assistance when digging was necessary.

There is a downstairs bar, “with completely different character,” Wilkes said. “It’s a rathskeller-type bar, and will be open late hours.”

The main entry to the building is where the post office loading dock used to be. The sidewalk now connects, where it did not in the past.

Before Wilkes’ presentation, Eric Nutt of Triumph said he is constantly asked when the Palmer Square location will open. “My answer is that we’re ahead of schedule,” he said. “We’re doing things now like hiring and training and making the final menu preparations, plus installing computer systems and overhead music. To be honest, with a project of this magnitude, we really don’t want to open until it’s ready. We are hopeful, and we look forward to getting back into Princeton after three years. We’re just putting on the finishing touches. Now the hard work for us begins.”