The tall blue and white flags that say “Hofbrau” guide you through Estabrook Park to the newest spot in the county — a sun-dappled juncture of many surprisingly-delightful amenities.
Beer is now flowing at the Biergarten in Estabrook Park, noon to 9 p.m. daily, weather permitting, with the park closing at 10 p.m.
The official opening is June 20, when you’ll be able to go inside the newly refurbished building, as well.
The Old German Beer Hall has the contract to create this experience for a year, according to manager, Steve Schultz, and they are independently finishing out the inside of the service building. Hinweis, they plan to accept credit cards soon (it is cash only currently), and will add Wi-Fi as soon as they can also get wiring or service out to the park. Milwaukee County takes 20 percent of alcohol and 10 percent of food profits in the arrangement.
The growth has been organic and the owners are hopeful.
“We’ve done no advertising at all, and business has been increasingly steady,” said the twenty-something, tall, Germanic Steve Schultz who is managing the Biergarten.
His boss, Hans Weissgerber, concurred. Friends of Estabrook Park also lauds the location and idea.
It was easy to find. I had no idea where to go — the flag is the identifier (and the signage, OK, that too). There is an easy lot to park in. I had the kids along at 4 p.m. on a weekday, and they exhausted themselves at the playground (which is too far to leave any child under eight – the sign even says so), and enjoyed a Sprite and giant pretzel ($3 for Sprite, $5 pretzel which was as big as both their heads put together, is warmed and salted to order and served with brown mustard for dipping).
The glass mug of beer (that was for me, in the pursuit of thorough journalism) was fresh, cold and sturdy to hold down my notes even when it was empty. It is one of the best places for adults of all ages, children, and dogs (fresh water is provided for them) to hang out after, or during, a fun time in the park. You are encouraged to bring in your own food, though smoking, grilling your own stuff, and alcoholic BYO is prohibited. That said, there was a guy sitting on the edge of the tables smoking and playing his iPod loudly and chanting along to long words like “Diieeeeeeeeeeeeee” in a very low, guttural groan. Then he got up returned his glass, put on his backpack, and walked down the path. Milwaukee.
Standing in the Biergarten, you have a 360-degree-view and access to things you won’t find from the street.
— The Milwaukee River literally babbles past; the fishermen are busy and fun to watch (or join, if you get your license), and a new deck with solid railings along the river allows for patrons to enjoy a long walk off a short pier.
— Milwaukee’s Dog Park is adjacent; close enough to be convenient (they share a parking lot) and far enough to be pleasant for those not seeking dog. On our visit, one patron of the Biergarten, who has brought his dog across town for years, was delighted to discover the spot and says his dog “is making out like a bandit. We come three times a week now.”
— One of the city’s oldest (and still free) Frisbee golf courses lines the path across the street and has a league that sets up tournaments.
— There is a small skateboard practice area, “No half pipe,” my son sternly informed me, but in the hour we were there, over 25 different skateboard enthusiasts came, skated and went home.
— A popular children’s playground is adjacent to the building and has swings, relatively new equipment and some shade.
— The Oak Leaf Trail passes by as if the Biergarten is a train station, and many bikers, runners, walkers have been discovering that they should carry more cash if they want to stop and enjoy the hops. The one accident we saw while there involved a biker picking up speed to hit the trail, and a gaggle of people wandering from the playground to the building. All were OK after the crash, but do mind the gap.
The Biergarten makes every effort to reduce waste in its design, which helps them manage being in the middle of a park.
“The deposit on the thick glass stein means we provide a great feeling and also generate no waste,” explained the hands-on summer staffer Charlie Nelson, whose easygoing style resembles a kind of Midwestern Pauly Shore. “There aren’t those cheap beer cups flying all over the place. We recycle the soda bottles and any other containers. People can bring their own beer mug or pint glasses and the size will be accommodated and deposit waived.”
For bikers it may be hard to tuck a beer stein up your shirt, but is something to toss in the car along with the dog, whose park is also adjacent to the Biergarten.
So, how much cash should you bring?
“The beer is the Hofbrau brand we offer at our 3rd Street location,” said proprietor Hans Weissgerber (his real name, he insisted). The offerings being Hofbrau Original, Dark and Weissbeer, Weissgerber explained. The stein glass has a deposit of $5 and beer is $6 for ½ liter and $11 for a liter. They also offer Miller Lite for $4, wine, and soda/water for $3. Usingers Bratwurst are $5, wieners $4 (Nelson calls them that, I thought it was endearing), and the gigantic, warm pretzels are $5 (and they take about five minutes to prepare, worth the wait). This isn’t Jamba Juice, if you want carrot sticks, pack 'em.
The possible dunkel side: The policeman who stopped by yesterday to check it out had some concerns (and asked not to be identified by name, curious, I thought).
“I hope they never put one of these in my neighborhood, because, you know, the kind of people in the park; they’ll come, send their kids over to the playground, get hammered, and then drive home," he said.
He excused himself to go “check for new graffiti in the bathrooms.”
However, the Biergarten staff has not had any incidents to date.
“We generally see people come, stop for a beer, enjoy it and go on their way,” said Nelson.
The history of the Bier Garten in Germany is generally designed to be a happy surprise in a walk-to location in a park or community space. This one already brings people together from all walks of life and will hopefully continue to grow.