How the Philly beer gardens grow

The PHS pop-up beer garden at 313 S. Broad, the Kimmel Center's glass barrel glowing across the street.
The PHS pop-up beer garden at 313 S. Broad, the Kimmel Center's glass barrel glowing across the street. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 26, 2013

Avram Hornik has dabbled in dining, but his Four Corners Management has largely thrived on a roster of bars and nightclubs, from Drinker's Pub to Union Transfer, that cater to a more raucous side of hospitality.

A pair of Hornik's latest megaprojects, however, star in a citywide trend of new beer gardens built on the lower-key notions, he says, of "just being together" among birds and "spending hours just talking."

And drinking beer, too, naturally. Lots of it. Because like so much in ale-obsessed Philadelphia, the lure of craft brew has shown an almost transformative power in helping to make the newest gardens a success, from the deck of Hornik's riverside hit, Morgan's Pier, in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge, to the leafy pop-up garden he collaborated on with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in a once-vacant lot on South Broad Street, where as many as 1,000 visitors have turned out over the course of an evening, lounging, munching, and sipping on a pleasant summer night.

The specifics may vary between Hornik's and the many other gardens that have bloomed from Point Breeze to Fox Chase and the tiny backstreets of Midtown Village. But with the requisite basics of picnic tables, a lengthy beer list, and a menu of casual, fun nibbles, all have drawn the enthusiastic drinking masses to the great outdoors this summer.

"I think it's kind of an adult response to the coffeehouse generation," Hornik says. Following the trends of food as entertainment, plus DJ'd music, in Hornik's case, he sees this as a sort of evolution: "where all walks of life gather in a public garden setting, and the entertainment is conversation."

The movement got its first local traction in a big way two years ago amid the gravel courtyard and ping-pong tables of Stephen Starr's German-themed Frankford Hall in Fishtown. It was preceded by a few months, albeit on a much smaller scale, by the gourmet hot dog truck parked on the gated side patio of Kensington's Memphis Taproom.

But nowhere is the beer garden spirit thriving more impressively right now than in the temporary space Hornik opened in late May with PHS and the Groundswell Design Group in a lot owned by University of the Arts between Spruce and Pine.

The 250-seat area is trimmed with temporary locust trees and bustling picnic tables, with people reclined atop the cushions of a terraced rear riser built ingeniously from salvaged shipping pallets. Concession stands have been carved from old shipping containers, where Sly Fox Royal Weisse and Victory Summer Love pour from the taps and Jose Garces is catering chipotle short rib sandwiches and chocolate-peanut butter pies in a jar.

As the sun sets, the garden's light strings blink on and the Kimmel Center's glass barrel glows across the street. With every sip, the sensation of stumbling upon an unexpected urban oasis is almost magical.

The beer garden as urban pacifier has been a theme in some unexpected places, as with the pop-up that has occasionally occupied the Porch, the landscaped median outside 30th Street Station, or the Alley Brewing Co. beyond the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park, an emphatic 18-tap show of the park's commitment to craft beer.

On the formerly vacant lot behind American Sardine Bar in Point Breeze, the feeling is more of a grass- and vine-trimmed backyard garden in a 40-seat space that's been set with lawn chairs and white tables. With the full menu and large beer list available, it's essentially an outdoor (and less-noisy) extension of the pub.

But even more so, much as Philly's sidewalk cafe revolution of the late '90s reflected diners' willingness to engage with their city's streetscape, the mere existence of such a leisurely alfresco idyll at 18th and Federal is an outward expression of this gentrifying neighborhood's evolving state of mind.

"This was the scariest neighborhood in the world seven years ago," says Sardine Bar chef Scott Schroeder. "This is an impressive testament to the positive change I've seen even in the past year-and-a-half."

The blight-to-brew phenomenon was a similar story in the creation of the hot dog alley beside the Memphis Taproom in Kensington. Owner Brendan Hartranft is quick to note, however, that the bar had to first earn locals' trust as a good neighbor before it got their support for a garden with both reasonable hours and a limited menu (and no hard alcohol).

At the Hop Angel Brauhaus in Fox Chase, which recently redid a blacktopped space beside its building with an Alpine mural, picnic tables, and bamboo landscaping, the proliferation of such new spaces has "definitely changed our relationship to the city," says owner Mike "Scoats" Scotese. "That's the appeal. You're forced to slow down and unplug yourself."

At relatively new Brü, the contemporary German wurst hall on Chestnut Street, "garden" is something of a stretch for the picnic table area at the rear of the restaurant. But when the glass garage door rolls up onto tiny Drury Street, the indoors becomes outdoors, and the 19th-century view of McGillin's Olde Ale House's once mostly hidden facade fills the space with almost a European village feel.

The added benefit is that this garden isn't nearly as fleeting as the PHS pop-up, set to be dismantled in mid-October.

When all is said and done, Four Corners Management will donate a portion of the proceeds to the horticultural society, said PHS spokesman Alan Jaffe, and it's on course to succeed "beyond our expectations." For a nonprofit hoping to recoup some revenues from a down year at the Philadelphia Flower Show, "this is a good thing for us."

For Philadelphia's thriving new beer garden culture, though, it is likely just the beginning.


Beer Gardens Blooming

American Sardine Bar

1800 Federal St., 215-334-2337; americansardinebar.com

Eat: tortilla soup; sardines (grilled or in sandwich); open-face roast chicken; onion rings.

Drink: Lancaster Cream Ale (nitro); Ommegang Rare Vos.

Brü

1318 Chestnut St., 215-800-1079; bruphilly.com

Eat: Charred corn and scallion spaetzle; Brü fries; curry wurst; doner kebab.

Drink: Ayinger Celebrator; Staropramen pilsner; Julius Echter hefe-weissbier; Früh kölsch.

Frankford Hall

1210 Frankford Ave. 215-634-3338; frankfordhall.com

Eat: Wursts; roast chicken; jaeger schnitzel.

Drink: Kostritzer schwarzbier; Great Lakes Wright Pils; Gaffel kölsch; Killepitsch schnapps.

Hop Angel Brauhaus

7980 Oxford Ave. 215-437-1939; http://hopangelbrauhaus.blogspot.com

Eat: Hop tots; schnitzel; the Yodeler sandwich with house-made scrapple, kraut, and curry ketchup.

Drink: Penn dark lager;

Roy Pitz Lovitz watermelon lager; Stoudt's Pils

Memphis Taproom Beer Garden

2331 E. Cumberland St. 215-425-4460; memphistaproom.com

Eat: Hot dogs - PA Dutchie, California Uber Alles, HD Hoagie.

Drink: Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA; Sly Fox Pikeland Pils; Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

Morgan's Pier

221 N. Columbus Blvd. 215-279-7134; morganspier.com

Eat: All kinds of melons; crudo of the day; Manila clams and sausage; funnel cake; water ice.

Drink: Watermelon Rickey; Michelada; Shiner Ruby Redbird.

PHS 2013 Pop Up

Mobile Beer Garden

313 S. Broad St.; http://phsonline.org/greening/pop-up-gardens

Eat: BBQ pork or chipotle short-rib sandwiches; pie-in-a-jar; ice cream sandwiches.

Drink: Sly Fox Royal Weisse; Victory Summer Love; Commonwealth Razzberet

Tart cider.


Contact Craig LaBan at 215-854-2682 or claban@phillynews.com.

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