It turns out that Edens, the developer transforming the neighborhood around Union Market, has had the same thought. Earlier this year, Richie Brandenburg, the director of culinary strategy for Edens, approached Jason Strich -- a bartender at Hank's on the Hill who helped make the silver Airstream trailer outside Union Market into a drinking destination called Suburbia -- and asked what he would do with the space. Strich offered to turn it into a beer garden, and while he and Brandenburg brainstormed, they reached out to Gina Chersevani, the driving force behind Suburbia and Union Market's Buffalo and Bergen, to join the project.
There was one condition: "I didn't want to make just another beer garden," Chersevani says. "Big deal." Instead, the trio began to shape the Neal Place Tap and Garden, which is scheduled to open on May 27, just in time for Memorial Day. It will have 25 beers and cocktails on tap, and amusements like bocce, but "we're going to make it a real garden," Chersevani stresses. "A very natural beer garden and community space."
Plans include a garden for Masseria to grow vegetables and herbs; planters full of flowers; and eight varieties of hops on vines climbing up the walls. Polished stone pebbles will be placed underfoot, "so it crunches when you walk," and canvas sails will offer shade. And a buck-a-shuck happy hour Thursday-Sunday means $1 oysters and clams from producers aroudn the Chesapeake Bay.
The taps -- 20 for beer, five for rotating cocktails -- will be housed in a converted shipping container. To make it more eco-friendly, the ice used to keep canned beer cold will be used to water the planters. Ben Matz, formerly the brewer at Chocolate City Beer, and Brian McSwain, a four-year veteran of Suburbia, will be behind the beer program, which Chersevani hopes will be educational. "You say 'This is a saison,' 'This is a double IPA,' and 'this is made with Cascade hops,' but people don't know what that means," Chersevani says. Every few weeks, the beer garden will have a brewer come in and talk about their beers, using the hops growing on the walls – including Nugget, Willamette, Chinook and Sorachi Ace – as a jumping off point. "People can smell them and touch them, and understand what's in their beer," Chersevani says.
Of course, given Chersevani and Strich's backgrounds, there will be cocktails, too, including a version of Long Island Iced Tea involving a cinnamon-tinged house-made soda. Price-wise, "Everything will be between $4 and $9," Chersevani says. "If I'm day-drinking, I hate going to a place and having a $14 beer. I'd rather have people stay and have four or five beers and come back next week, rather than have you come and have one $14 beer, leave and not come back."
Neal Place Tap and Garden, 1300 Fourth St. NE. Regular hours: Opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday_Sunday.