Estabrook Park beer garden celebrates grand opening
Earlier this month, the beer garden in Estabrook Park quietly opened, echoing a Milwaukee tradition of park-based beer gardens that existed before Prohibition. Tonight, the beer garden will celebrate its grand opening at 6 p.m.
In celebration, two kegs of a seasonal summer beer will be given away for free and the Lakefront Brewery/Palm Gardens' house band, The Brewhaus Polka Kings, will provide their signature oom-pah-pah stylings.
The beer garden is located mid-park, on the west side, just south of the playground.
The beer garden offers Hofbräu lager, Hofbräu Dunkel and Hofbräu hefe weizen on tap for $6 each, but they require a refundable, $5 deposit because they are only served in a glass beer stein. Customers can bring their own mugs, as is customary in a traditional German beer garden.
The glass steins are important to beer garden purveyor, Hans Weissgerber III, for multiple reasons. Glassware creates a true beer garden setting, and plastic blows away and is not as "green."
Miller Lite is also available for $4, wine for $5 (currently, the beer garden serves Riesling, but more varieties will soon be available), along with Pepsi products and bottled water for $3.
The beer garden will be open from noon to 9 p.m. every day until the end of September, and on the weekends through Nov. 24. There will be live music every weekend.
"So far the response has been overwhelming," says manager Steve Schultz. "We're seeing an increase in sales everyday since we opened."
In a couple of weeks, the operation – which currently operates out of a catering trailer – will move into the park building at which point more beers will be available, including Lakefront and Big Bay products.
Brats, hotdogs and hot pretzels are for sale ($4-5), and next year, if all goes well, Weissgerber hopes to add a fish fry, schnitzel and rotisserie chicken and pigs. Customers are also welcome to bring their own food.
"We want people to feel free to bring their own food. We will have a few grilled items for sale, but this is a public beer garden. This land belongs to the people of Milwaukee County," he says.
Technically, it's illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in a park without a picnic permit, so Weissgerber says the beer garden provides a legal space for families to picnic and enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
The beer garden is a business partnership between the Milwaukee County Parks and Weissgerber, who also owns Old German Beer Hall, a catering business, and a beer garden in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Twenty percent of all beer and wine sales and 10 percent of all food and other beverage profits go to the county.
Weissgerber originally pitched the idea six years ago to the county parks. Originally, he wanted to open a beer garden in Downtown's Pere Marquette Park, but it was difficult to get everyone on board, he says.
"I just kept asking every year," he says.
Last year, he got approval to offer a summer solstice keg tapping in Pere Marquette Park and set up a temporary beer garden. He had seating for 150 people. It rained all day, but about an hour before the event was scheduled to start, the sun came out, and more than 200 people attended the event.
"Without telling people, they brought their own mugs, table clothes, blocks of cheese. Enough people knew what a beer garden was. It was inspiring, and it began a dialogue," says Weissgerber.
He says the idea finally resonated also because the parks suffered budget cuts and were more open to the idea of partnering with a private business. Last year, Weissgerber was still living in Glendale and spending a lot of time on the river, and it occurred to him maybe he should focus his efforts on Estabrook Park instead of Pere Marquette.
"I like this area a lot. It's a family area. It's very close to lots of communities," he says.
Weissgerber started walking through all of the Milwaukee County Parks with his 2-years-old son, Hans Weissgerber IV, and decided that Estabrook Park as well as Brown Deer Park – around the boathouse – would be ideal for his vision.
"We'll see where this goes, but Brown Deer Park would be a phenomenal setting for a beer garden as well," he says,
Even though the idea was originally Weissgerber's, he had to bid on the opportunity once the county complied. He bid along with two other businesses, including Sprecher Brewing Co., and won the contract.
"At first it was tough to swallow that we had to bid, but we understood. We stuck to our plan and the fact we got the bid validated our vision that was based on beer gardens from Milwaukee's past and those that are working well in Germany today," he says.
Currently, Weissgerber spends his time living between Milwaukee and Houston, where his wife works as a doctor. Weissgerber grew up in his family's well-known, local German restaurants.
The beer garden, nestled in a grove of maple trees, has a river breeze blowing through on a 95-degree day.
"We picked this space because of the trees," says Weissgerber. "In Germany, they have chestnut trees, here in Milwaukee, we have maple trees."
Being a big fan of the beer gardens of Munich I love the idea .. but would also think the next one should look to the south .. Whitnall park would be ideal .. or Grant...
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