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In Bars & Clubs

Estabrook Park hopes to revive Milwaukee's family-friendly beer garden tradition.

Reviving history: The Estabrook Park beer garden project


Estabrook Park is undergoing a revival of sorts. And that revival will soon include a new-fashioned Milwaukee beer garden.

Read any history of Milwaukee and you'll find stories of historic beer gardens established along the Milwaukee River beginning in the 19th century and continuing through prohibition in the early 1900s. These beer gardens were community gathering places, open air picnic areas with a festive family atmosphere.

The Milwaukee County Park System hopes to bring that spirit back to Estabrook – a park with a long, storied history.

Arguably one of Milwaukee's most scenic green spaces, Estabrook Park is comprised of over 124 acres of land flanking the Milwaukee River between Hampton Avenue and Capitol Drive. Named for Charles Edward Estabrook, Civil War Veteran cum lawyer and Parks Commission secretary, the park is home to the Oak Leaf Trail, which features gorgeous wooded sections of the Milwaukee River, the stately mansions of Newberry Boulevard and the Estabrook waterfalls.

"If you look at the history of the beer gardens in the city, they were a huge community gathering place," says Joe Roszak, chief of business operations for Milwaukee County Parks. "We'd like to emulate that with the Estabrook project. It's a way to bring a part of our rich history back to the parks."

Hans Weisgerber III, the owner of the Old German Beer Hall and future purveyor for the Estabrook beer garden, echoes Roszak's sentiments and adds that the atmosphere of the beer garden is paramount.

"The idea is inclusiveness for all people. A place for community, where people from all walks of life can sit together and enjoy beer, wine, or a soft drink and enjoy the park," he says. "You shouldn't have to own a million-dollar home in River Hills to enjoy a beer in a glass at a park."

And beer in a glass at a park is exactly what Weisgerber is planning.

"We intend to serve everything in glassware with deposits," he explains. "We'd like the beer garden to be part of a green initiative for the park. That way there will be no waste, no litter."

Harold Schmidt, Milwaukee resident and member of Friends of Estabrook Park, a group that has been working to improve the overall reputation and condition of the park, spoke bluntly about the environmental impact of the beer garden.

"Every activity in the park has some negative environmental impact," Schmidt explains. "The soccer fields, picnic areas, dog park, disc golf course, trails ... all leave some scars on the land; but, these can be minimized when responsible people take care of things. Some grass will be removed or destroyed in the beer garden area, but a German-style beer garden of the type we envision demands an attractive environment. We believe this project will have a positive impact on other improvements that are needed in the park."

One of the most positive impacts of the beer garden that Schmidt sees is its potential to attract new audiences and a renewed interest in the park space.

"The beer garden is going to increase positive traffic through the park as it will be a family-friendly destination for food and beverages," says Schmidt, "The facilities will be upgraded with private money, County Parks will have a new revenue stream and more people will get to enjoy the beauty of the Milwaukee River."

The Estabrook beer garden will be located near the comfort station in the park and will consist of an array of picnic tables, with lighting strung in nearby trees. In addition to serving beer, Weisgerber indicates that there are plans to serve traditional items like brats, pretzels, and hot dogs. People will also be encouraged to bring their own picnic items and food.

The beer garden will operate from Memorial Day through Labor Day from Wednesday through Sunday, weather permitting.

If all goes well, Roszak hopes Estabrook will serve as a model for additional beer gardens throughout the county.

"We want to evaluate how it works this season," he says. "If things go well, we can see bringing this to other parks."

Talkbacks

Tiger | March 17, 2012 at 9:11 a.m. (report)

I am looking forward to this Beer Garden in the park, great way to enjoy the out doors and drink some beer. I hope they have the OGBH beer at the park, and also the Miller Lite my wife drinks (only). And we can bring out own food there, this is great, can't wait! Keep up the good work Hans !!!

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