It’s 5 p.m. and it’s still warm out. So where do I get a drink around here?
Why, she wanted to know, is there no place to get a glass of wine or a cold beer on the Esplanade? Gossett is fun — these days, she does public affairs for Uber and talks faster than their drivers take corners — and it was a good question.
Well, it took three years but on a humid afternoon last week, Gossett and I ambled over to the Owl’s Nest, from Everett’s Night Shift Brewing — one of several beer gardens to open around the city in recent years. We grabbed a couple pale ales in plastic cups and a little food from a truck, and plopped down at a table with a beautiful view of the water and the Longfellow Bridge.
Finally, there are a few good answers to a summertime question that has been plaguing Greater Boston since Prohibition: It’s 5 p.m. and it’s still warm out, so where do I get a drink around here?
Beer gardens are popping up all over the place, tucked into the Greenway or taking over long-vacant land in Allston. You can grab an IPA at a Somerville flea market, or lounge like an aristocrat with a half-liter at the Crane Estate in Ipswich. There’s even a beer garden tucked into a corner of City Hall Plaza. What’s going on here, exactly?
A beer garden isn’t quite a bar, though some bars, to their everlasting credit, cultivate this kind of vibe. And it isn’t a restaurant with a good patio, either: There’s no pressure to buy food — or even beer, for that matter.
“It’s fun, it’s something new in that area that hasn’t existed before,” said Michael Oxton, cofounder of Night Shift, which opened its two beer gardens after answering a request for proposals from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“We’ve only had it open two weeks and we’ve hit capacity most nights.”
That’s about 230 people at once — plus a line waiting to get in — piling into a roped-off square of now-trampled grass for the simple pleasure of drinking a beer outside when the weather is nice.
“We kind of wanted people to feel like this was their backyard in Boston because a lot of people don’t have little backyards,” Oxton said.
So the furniture is sturdy and comfortable. Kids and dogs are bouncing around everywhere. And the beer is excellent, with several Night Shift offerings supplemented by several options from (mostly) New England breweries that Night Shift’s distribution company brought in, like Gunner’s Daughter, a peanut butter milk stout from Mast Landing in Maine. It’s like you’ve got a nice deck and well-stocked cooler right on the Charles River.
Gossett and I chatted about why it had taken so long to make this happen — state land, city permits, safety and security, blah blah blah — but it’s done.
“And it hopefully isn’t the crowning achievement of our era,” she said later.
Indeed. Because, if anything, there’s ample evidence that Boston could do with a lot more of these things.
Over on the Greenway, Trillium Brewing’s beer garden features the brewery’s world-class hoppy ales, sour beers, and killer stouts — and often a perilously long (though fairly fast-moving) line to get in after work. The site expanded considerably this year, but walk by any afternoon and you’ll see people packed in only slightly less densely than in the rush hour Red Line car they’re avoiding.
They’re so popular — the desire for exactly this thing is so great — that they’re bursting at the seams and threatening to defeat their original purpose: relaxing outside with friends and family in a low-pressure, ultra-casual environment that doesn’t take a ton of planning or money.
“Biergartens in Germany are a great excuse to get outside,” explained John “JT” Thompson, Brand Activations and Events director at Notch Brewing in Salem. “It’s almost sort of an anti-event in a sense.”
Notch this year partnered with the nonprofit Trustees of Reservations to host a traveling series of biergartens at the Trustees properties. Sept. 8 and 9, Notch will set up shop at Powisset Farm in Dover.
The “biergarten” concept is a natural for Notch, which specializes in low-alcohol, German-style beers — a great fit for a sunny afternoon. They show up at each site with the kind of tables and benches you’d find at a biergarten in Germany and real glass half-liter mugs — a little thing that makes a big difference.
“It’s sort of a new simple thing that answers a question for a lot of people,” Thompson said.
When Gustavo Quiroga was helping Harvard to decide how to use a patch of long-vacant land on Western Avenue in Allston, the idea of a beer garden came to mind immediately.
The goal was to do something with the old car shop and dry cleaner that would bring some energy and activity to the neighborhood, and create a community gathering space, said Quiroga, director of neighborhood strategy & development at Graffito SP, a placemaking advisory firm.
Working with the Somerville brewery Aeronaut, the Zone 3 beer garden has grown into something that’s part art exhibit, part concert series, and entirely comfortable. Families with young kids dance to not-too-loud live music. Friends pack tables. Food trucks park in a lot around back.
“I think what we’re seeing is a generation of families that don’t want to get a baby sitter and send their kids off while they go out and enjoy themselves,” Quiroga said. “They want to be with their kids, and that’s something that’s within the culture of a beer garden and the culture of a brewery. It’s intergenerational.”
People are sipping beers, but nobody is getting blitzed. Families are turning loose their toddlers with impunity. Dogs are dogging. And, oh hey, there’s that guy you know from that other thing — how’s it going, man, good to see you, isn’t this cool?