When it comes to running a business that depends on walk-in customers, location is paramount.
TapStation, a family-friendly restaurant and brewery that opened in May, might be the most perfectly positioned spot in Apex. Situated on the busy corner of West Williams and South Salem streets near downtown Apex, the two-story space includes a rooftop patio bar, a playground, and ample outdoor seating.
The building formerly housed Holt & Sons, a longtime automotive service station, and the new owners have gone to great lengths to preserve the nostalgic vibe.
“We wanted to maintain the essence and historic status of the building, so we designed the new concept around the service station theme,” explains Jonathan Pierce, founder and managing partner of TapStation, which he runs along with his wife, Maggie Pierce, and Jeff and Meredith Kromenhoek. The two couples also co-founded Scratch Kitchen & Taproom, which has locations in downtown Apex and downtown Cary. And the Pierces are also part owners of The Mason Jar Tavern restaurants.
About three years ago, Jeff Kromenhoek casually approached Jonathan Pierce with an intriguing proposition. “I remember Jeff saying, ‘Hey, what do you want to do with that old gas station on the corner?’” Pierce says. “He then started talking about the idea of a rooftop bar concept.”
After purchasing the property, the new proprietors underwent an extensive process to renovate the building while maintaining its status on the historic registry. Architectural planning took eight months. The Town of Apex had to approve the construction of a second level, which is essentially floating atop the original building, albeit on reinforced steel and fortified concrete.
“We encountered a lot of hurdles, especially since a lot of the planning and construction happened during the pandemic,” Pierce says. “Ultimately, everything came together well.”
Endeavoring to stay true to the service station roots, the owners commissioned local artists Mark “Bash” Hill and his wife, Lola Hill, who specialize in repurposing authentic vintage cars, parts, and signs from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
On the rooftop patio sits a prominently positioned 1957 Chevy 3000 series cabover truck converted into a booth. Elsewhere, Ford Model A axles have been custom fabricated into beer taps.
Antique oil cans now serve as light fixtures throughout TapStation. Timeworn signs fill the walls, while old-fashioned gas pump handles serve as faucets in the restrooms.
Hillsborough-based artist Max Dowdle painted eye-catching murals on the building’s walls.
“To be able to be part of such a wonderful project as TapStation was pleasing on an artistic, as well as a broadly aesthetic, level,” Dowdle says. “I was immensely pleased to add so much life and dynamic color through the use of paint.”
TapStation’s ultra-casual environment beckons guests to relax, hang out, and have a great time. And there’s plenty of room for a crowd.
“We have space for about 400 people,” says Meredith Kromenhoek. “We want to be a fun gathering place, and providing a rooftop dining experience is something new and different for Apex.”
Locals are finding much to like here, not the least of which is an impressive offering of craft beer and quality bourbon.
“Many of the beers are from Mason Jar Lager Company, but a lot are being made on-site,” Pierce said. “We also have at least 60 varieties of curated bourbons.”
As for the food, elevated shareable appetizers abound. We strongly suggest you select several for the table, especially if you have hungry kids in tow.
The wildly popular 2-pound pretzel arrives with kickin’ mustard and beer cheese dip. Order the bang-bang tater tots tossed in a habit-forming spicy sauce and sprinkled with green onions and toasted tuxedo sesame seeds. Pimento cheese egg rolls come stuffed with veggie filling and are served alongside red pepper jam.
The “Clucking Good” section of the menu offers multiple mouth-watering takes on the classic chicken sandwich. Try the Nashville-inspired Hot, with dill pickles and coleslaw. Or go with Fancy, which involves Gouda cheese, lemon-kissed arugula, red onion, and truffle aioli.
There are half a dozen different smash-style burgers, including the top-selling All-American with cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, diced onions, and a signature comeback sauce. Consider the Rise and Shine with American cheese, fried egg, bacon jam, smashed tots, and kickin’ ketchup. You’ll be glad for the roll of paper towels at the center of the table so you can wipe your chin often.
Oversized all-beef hotdogs also vie for consideration. For a straightforward option, choose the Carolina dog with kickin’ mustard, chili, and coleslaw or the Slum dog with bacon, beer cheese, onions, and chili. More adventurous possibilities include the Chicago dog with a fried pickle spear and sport peppers, or the jalapeño-stuffed Popper dog wrapped in applewood bacon and crowned with beer cheese sauce and ranch spread.
Bratwurst fans will appreciate the Korean slaw brat simmered in Holt & Hops beer and served with kimchi, Asian slaw, kickin’ mustard, and kickin’ ketchup. The Hawaiian brat features grilled pineapple-mango salsa, fresh jalapenos, avocado slices, kickin’ mustard, and cilantro.
For a first-rate artisanal grilled cheese sandwich, be sure to order the Figgy Piggy with Applewood-smoked bacon, goat and provolone cheese, arugula, and house-made fig jam on sourdough. Even the classic grilled cheese contains a twist: It’s made with cheddar cheese and cream cheese.
In the mood for a salad? Available in “half tank” and “full tank” versions, you’ll get your fill with any of the five tempting selections. The Green Goddess Cobb features three types of greens topped with grilled chicken, grape tomatoes, bacon, boiled egg, feta, pickled onions, and Holt & Hops IPA-roasted spent grain. It’s drizzled with a sublime scratch-made green goddess dressing.
And don’t ignore the simple goodness of the beet and goat cheese arugula salad with lemon-honey vinaigrette.
“We wanted our salads to stand out,” Pierce says. “People may be surprised to see that a burger place has such good salads.”
For dessert, lean toward an adult milkshake like the bourbon vanilla with salted bourbon caramel or a house root beer float. There’s also apple pie egg rolls or funnel cake with powdered sugar.
“Funnel cake just feels nostalgic,” says Meredith Kromenhoek. “It goes well with the gas station theme.”
When you go, don’t be surprised if the parking lot is completely full. Additional spaces are accessible on both sides of Salem Street. TapStation is open Tuesday through Sunday with continuous service for lunch and dinner. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
320 S. Salem St., Apex