Beer gardens are a thing in Boston — warm-weather tap rooms where people can gather for a drink after work or meet up with friends on the weekend. Most are run by popular craft brewers such as Trillium (on the Greenway) and Cisco (in the Seaport District).
But a new entrant on the scene offers a civic twist on the beer garden concept. The Anchor Boston, in the Charlestown Navy Yard, uses a portion of the money generated by its beer and wine service to fund free educational and entertainment programs for kids and grown-ups in the surrounding community.
“The beer garden is the revenue stream that supports community engagement,” said John Fitzgerald, deputy director of operations at the Boston Planning & Development Authority.
The authority granted The Anthem Group a six-month permit to operate the Anchor, which sits in an old park between the MGH Institute of Health Professions and the Flagship Wharf luxury residential complex. Boston-based Anthem’s proposal was one of three plans picked by the authority for its effort to open up the Navy Yard and waterfront during the summer for residents, visitors from across the city, and tourists.
In addition, the USS Constitution Museum and National Park Service are teaming up to revitalize the museum’s waterfront patio into a spot to relax and learn about the Navy Yard’s history. Separately, a Charlestown company had been selected to temporarily dock a tall ship and convert it into a floating restaurant, but those plans ran into permitting complications and have been put on hold.
The beer garden seems like a solid idea, and not just because I look for any excuse to have a cold one.
The Anchor is a pleasant way to enjoy the waterfront, with great views of Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline. If Anthem can make the place more than another beer garden, the project could be a model for similar public-private partnerships in other parts of the city.
Chris Sinclair, The Anthem Group’s founder and chief executive, said his company has operated public spaces in locales from the Seaport to San Francisco, but the Navy Yard is different.
“We’ve done the pieces before, but not the package,” he said, referring to the support of community programming by selling beer, wine, and food.
With help from the city, Anthem has restored a fountain on the site, added lighting, tables, chairs, landscaping, and reopened the “crow’s nest,” an elevated deck.
There are 200 board games and a public piano for people to play. Prepared food from local restaurants is brought in.
The beer garden opened in mid-May, but rainy and cool weather early on and a lack of public awareness has limited the flow of customers. And Anthem doesn’t feature the beers of one craft brewer, instead rotating selections among beers from throughout New England. While that may be more equitable, it doesn’t create quite the buzz of a pop-up from, say, Night Shift.
The location is convenient for a couple thousand residents living in or near the Navy Yard neighborhood, employees of local companies, and MGH Institute students and staff. But it’s about a mile from public transit (North Station on the Green, Orange, and commuter rail lines, and Community College on the Orange Line. A ferry runs from Long Wharf, near the New England Aquarium.
The community programming is just getting underway. Sinclair’s plans include:
■ Working with local nonprofits to bring up to 5,000 children to the Constitution Museum over the summer, followed by games and food at the garden (no beer, obviously);
■ Offering family-focused activities such as live music, movie nights, and paint parties;
■ A children’s educational series (the curriculum is still being nailed down);
■ Wellness programs such as outdoor yoga;
■ Events such as a chowderfest (in collaboration with the Warren Tavern).
These are worthy but ambitious goals.
Can Sinclair pull it all off? I’m not sure, but I am rooting for him.