beer is among Milwaukee’s most popular sports each warm summer.
Brewskis have been taken seriously here since at least the 1830s, and
they’ve solidified this position since the community’s earliest
days as a Teutonic stronghold. Folks gathered in numerous beer
gardens, many operated by the city’s major breweries, from the 19th
century until Prohibition pulled the plug on having such fun.
But now, "Gemütlichkeit"
still says it all. Milwaukeeans don’t really need to know how to
spell this little bit of German, a philosophy that means "good
times." Yet it’s the perfect word to describe the wonders of a
comfortable seasonal eve with a foaming mug, a picnic lunch or supper,
and shared table seating. This latter plus is perhaps the best part of
the beer garden ethos, where one can sip and chat with new drinking
Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle, "This concept has
really brought the community together. We at the parks tend to look at
it as a family style picnic that just happens to offer beer and great
In addition to
the overwhelming participation by everyone who comes out and supports
the parks’ efforts, Dargle attributes much of the beer garden
success to the partners who committed to the concept and invested
monetarily and through their staffs’ hard work to make the beer
gardens a family-oriented experience.
The father of
the Milwaukee County beer garden concept is Hans Weissgerber of the
Old German Beer Hall, who manages the Estabrook Park operations.
County parks officials credit him with the vision and insight into
what a world-class beer garden should be.
beer gardens are located at the scenic Estabrook and Humboldt Parks
and the Landing at Hoyt Park. Despite January’s serious vandalism at
Estabrook that damaged the bar there, the popular hangout was happily
up and running in time for its much anticipated spring opening.
Garden, 4600 Estabrook Drive, is considered the first truly public
beer garden in America in nearly a century. The park perches atop the
banks of the Milwaukee River, on a bluff just above a waterfall.
Arriving by foot, pedal-power or automobile, look for the
breeze-billowing, diamond-blue-and-white flag at the park entrance or
paddle in via kayak or canoe.
enjoy a beverage while kids cavort on nearby soccer fields and utilize
the playground, skateboard area and a disc golf course. Generally,
tables can’t be reserved. Beer is served in husky half- or
full-liter glass mugs. A $5 refundable deposit is required for the use
of a mug, or visitors can bring their own stein.
The Hoyt Park
operation, with its views of the picturesque Menomonee River Parkway,
is managed by the Friends of Hoyt Park and Pool, while the Humboldt
Park Beer Garden is operated by St. Francis Brewing Company.
Parks made a presentation at last year’s annual convention of the
National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA), describing the
success of such gardens. Subsequently, Milwaukee has received
inquiries from Seattle, Atlanta, Cleveland and elsewhere about how
these cities can launch such a successful program — one that brings
in more than $500,000 a year to Milwaukee County coffers.
In addition, USA
Today and other publications have ranked Milwaukee County’s beer
garden operations as among the top in the world, along with those in
all this cheer again this year, the Milwaukee County Parks’
Traveling Beer Garden is also off to a gleefully sudsy start. Sixteen
parks are currently on the tour, with each park stop featuring mugs of
beer and related refreshments from Sprecher Brewing Co. New in 2015 is
a menu of German food from Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub, an
independent licensee of the brewery’s name.
Sprecher won the
county’s bid process for the traveling trucks, says brewery
president Jeff Hamilton. "It’s been one of the most fun things
we’ve done. The trucks are great ambassadors for us and a real
success story for the company," he says proudly, adding that
total traveling truck sales last year were around $250,000.
Sprecher now has
four vintage firetrucks refitted to pump beer. One had originally been
donated by noted musician Bruce Springsteen to his hometown of Asbury
Park, N.J. In addition, four old ambulances have been redone as food
purveyors, serving pizza, popcorn, root beer floats, cheese, beer
flights and chips. One of the trucks is available for use by community
groups and another is touring Wisconsin under the Discover Wisconsin
Mobile Experience banner.
On the local
scene, look for the easily-identifiable trucks June 3-14 (Froemming
and Gordon Parks); June 17-28 (Grant and Doctors Parks); July 1-12
(Falk and Sheridan Parks); July 15-26 (Greenfield Park and the
Mitchell Park Domes); July 29-Aug. 9 (Holler and Brown Deer Parks);
Aug. 12-23 (Greene and Red Arrow Parks); and Aug. 26-Sept. 7 (Root
River Parkway South and Juneau Park).
information on the beer gardens, contact Milwaukee County Parks golf
office at (414) 257-8024.