The opening of a beer garden in Olbrich Park this week has been a satisfying conclusion to a contentious process, one of its owners said.
“It’s nice to see a dream come alive and a vision in full operation,” said Mike Bare, who opened The Biergarten at Olbrich Park on Sunday with two partners. “There was so much debate and discussion and that was exhausting. It’s fulfilling now to see it actually working and to see families with kids there enjoying themselves and people on dates.”
In March, after a lengthy process that included 6½ hours of public comment and discussion, the Madison City Council awarded a contract and liquor license to BKM Group, which includes Bare, Eric Kesting and Travis Mueller.
Neighborhood residents expressed concerns about safety, noise and selling beer in a park where alcohol had been banned without a permit since 2015.
In the interest of keeping good relations with the park’s neighbors, the beer garden’s operators have not yet introduced live music, which is only permitted from 4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“That was a point of concern for some of the neighbors during the debate about the project and we want to be respectful at the start and get the operation right before we expand into any type of entertainment,” Bare said. “And once we do, we want to keep it respectful to the park and having neighbors nearby.”
The beer garden opened quietly on Sunday so the owners could train staff and get a feel for the space. Its capacity is 240 people.
It was closed for most of Wednesday night because of stormy weather, but crowds were good earlier in the week, considering the partners haven’t done much advertising, Bare said.
“People either heard about it from a friend or walked by and decided to stop,” he said.
Both the city and BKM paid for upgrades to the Olbrich Park Beach House, which Bare said easily cost “six figures.”
The beer garden offers six beers on tap at $6 per half liter, which is more traditionally German. The half liter is slightly bigger than a pint. A pint is 16 ounces, and a half liter is 16.9.
The beers are: New Glarus’ Spotted Cow and Dancing Man Wheat; Karben4’s Fantasy Factory IPA; Ale Asylum’s Curl Pilsner; One Barrel’s Penguin Pale Ale; and Port Huron’s Honey Blonde. There’s also Ciderboys’ First Press Cider, Sprecher root beer and bottled water.
Bare invites visitors to bring a picnic but is selling three food items: Giant pretzels ($7) from Clasen’s European Bakery in Middleton that are designed for two people to share; Farmer John’s fresh cheese curds ($5); and German-style mini brats from Underground Meats (three for $6).
The beer garden will be open 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sundays.
Last call will happen at 9 p.m. each night because the park closes at 10 p.m. Bare has been strict about getting everybody out by that time. “Ten doesn’t mean 10:30,” he said. “Ten means everybody out and we’re closed.”
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The original version misstated the time of last call.]