Oakland Overflowing With Beer Gardens

By Justin Phillips
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Over a dozen beer gardens now call the city of “Oakland” home, all of which have opened since 2010; however, that number has doubled in the last 18 months alone — and there are more on the way.

San Francisco Chronicle

On a recent weekday in Oakland, only a few hours before the Temescal neighborhood’s post-work crowd found its way to Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack, Walter Pizarro, 36, and his wife, Regina Chagolla, 31, sat down at a picnic table in the shop’s beer garden.

“It isn’t the kind of place we look for, but it’s convenient,” said Chagolla, who admitted that she and her husband prefer the cozy confines of dive bars. “You kind of see these places popping up everywhere.”

Fueled by a confluence of economical and cultural factors, beer gardens are multiplying across Oakland at a dizzying rate, outpacing most other Bay Area cities. It’s a trend mirrored in Oakland’s rise of craft brewers; of the 15 active small beer manufacturer licenses in the city, all but two have been issued since 2014.

Over a dozen beer gardens now call the city home, all of which have opened since 2010; however, that number has doubled in the last 18 months alone — and there are more on the way.

In particular, Temescal has become a hub. Temescal Brewing, around the corner from Arthur Mac’s, opened in 2016, and Roses’ Taproom, just opened last weekend, is a few blocks north.

More beer gardens are coming, including a controversial proposal from Golden Road, which is owned by Anheuser Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer corporation. It, too, is in Temescal.
American beer gardens can be traced back to Germany’s biergartens, which themselves were born of necessity.

In the 16th century, when breweries were banned from making beer during the summer, brewers built cellars in cool areas, often close to riverbanks, to store their wares for consumption between May and September. To cool the spaces even more, breweries planted trees and covered the cellars with gravel. Tables and chairs soon followed, as did the crowds.

Just like those early German pioneers, the Bay Area’s modern beer gardens seem to have tapped into a thirsty audience.

It’s a trend that isn’t new to the Bay Area. Back in 2011, Biergarten in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley was considered a pioneer in aesthetics for its use of shipping containers. Zeitgeist has long been a San Francisco destination, and like Biergarten, still draws crowds on sunny days.

In the Bay Area, where dinner and drinks for two at a mid-level restaurant regularly exceed $100, beer gardens have become a cheaper, family-friendly alternative. Arthur Mac’s menu, for example, is built around $4 pizza slices and $7 beers.

The appeal goes beyond value for consumers, according to Joel DiGiorgio, the owner of Arthur Mac’s who also had a hand in the opening of Drake’s Dealership in Oakland and Westbrae Biergarten in Berkeley. He pointed out that many young people are struggling to find real estate that’s relatively affordable and spacious enough, especially for a growing family.

On any given afternoon, the crowd at many Oakland beer gardens has a smattering of young children with their parents, baby strollers parked next to pints. For consumers, beer gardens have become a replacement for dining rooms and backyards, DiGiorgio said. “They no longer have that space they may have had generations ago.”
For business owners, Oakland’s beer garden market is not yet viewed as saturated, a fact that continues to spur the rapid transformation of the city’s bar scene. Craft beer is popular right now, and beer gardens have become a logical, cost-efficient move for many entrepreneurs hopping on the trend.

“Our initial thinking was pretty basic, and I imagine not too uncommon: rent and construction costs are crazy high, and we’re going to spend all our cash on installing a production brewery,” said Sam Gilbert, founder of Temescal Brewing, which opened last year. “So why not turn the parking lot into pleasant place to hang out, and let good weather and good beer do the rest?”

On the corner lot next to Gilbert’s brewery is a Church’s Chicken. On the opposite side toward 41st Street is Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. The beer garden property is surrounded by fencing and stocked with tables, umbrellas, cinder blocks and plants — or as Gilbert describes it, “DIY-able stuff.” Temescal Brewing’s construction was driven by local labor, a Kickstarter campaign and the contributions of a few artists.

“That never would have been possible working on an interior space of the same size,” Gilbert said.
Up the road, Roses’ Taproom also reaped the benefits of a crowdfunding campaign. It’s a relatively small operation — a small, seven-barrel brewhouse capable of producing about 215 gallons per batch twice a week — but the outdoor drinking space follows a similar design scheme of other setups with wooden benches and plants.

The most common refrain among bar owners is a simple one: With lower costs, beer gardens are better suited for a tumultuous industry, despite being subject to the whims of weather.

“Oakland is cheaper. Licenses are cheaper, rent is cheaper and labor is cheaper,” said Thad Vogler, owner of Bar Agricole and Trou Normand, two cocktail bars in San Francisco, where a Type 47 liquor license, which allows for the sale of hard liquor, can cost upward of $300,000. Meanwhile, a Type 41 beer and wine license in Oakland can cost $3,000 to $5,000.
It’s difficult separating the idea of gentrification from the beer garden movement. The craft beer industry itself is overwhelmingly white, especially in the Bay Area. And neighborhoods like Temescal are still home to Eritrean, Latin American and Korean restaurants, not to mention the minority-run doughnut-wielding corner stores.

“We all have to be aware of it, and we have to make sure we do what we can to keep people from being displaced,” said DiGiorgio, an Oakland native whose father lives a mile or so from Arthur Mac’s. “Gentrification became a nasty word when displacement became a component of it. At its core it’s just taking an area of lower income and bringing it and everyone there up to where it’s middle income. That’s a good thing.”

From 5 p.m. until around 10 p.m., bike racks outside of Arthur Mac’s and Temescal Brewing slowly fill to capacity, suggesting a significant customer base from the local community. The workforce at many beer gardens is overwhelmingly composed of Oaklanders; three-quarters of the staff at Arthur Mac’s, for example, live in the neighborhood. Most walk to work.

“It’s much easier to staff in Oakland as more and more restaurant workers are settling there,” Vogler said.

Trends rarely come with a clear indicator of their shelf life, but when it comes to beer gardens, several proprietors admitted they can see the boom lasting a few more years, especially in the East Bay.

On a recent Saturday at Temescal Brewing, a group of 20- and 30-year-olds, clad in T-shirts, sunglasses and skinny jeans, sipped craft beers while posting pictures on Instagram with captions waxing poetic about the weekend’s paradisaical weather. It’s a familiar scene scattered across neighborhoods from Broadway in Uptown to the warehouses of West Oakland, with no signs of slowing down — at least for now.

“There’s certainly some novelty to the idea,” Gilbert said, before adding a final thought: “Chances are pretty high that the 101st Bay Area beer garden will jump the shark and folks will get bored.”

Prominent Oakland Beer Gardens
Beer Revolution: 464 Third St. (Opened 2010)
Telegraph: 2318 Telegraph Ave (2012)
Brotzeit Lokal:1000 Embarcadero (2013)
Lost & Found: 2040 Telegraph Ave. (2014)
Classic Cars West: 411 26th St. (2015)
Drake’s Dealership: 2325 Broadway (2015)
Temescal Brewing: 4115 Telegraph Ave. (2016)
Stay Gold: 2635 San Pablo Ave. (2016)
7th Street Cafe: 1612 Seventh St. (2016)
Degrees Plato: 4251 MacArthur Blvd. (2017)
Arthur Mac’s: 4006 M.L.K. Jr Way (2017)
Old Kan Beer Co.: 95 Linden St. (2017)
Roses’ Taproom: 4930 Telegraph Ave. (2017)
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