Beer and wine gardens have been in Europe for hundreds of years and are run the same way the Lowry Beer Garden is in that they are open air, casual and self-service with communal seating. “You come as you are, bring a large group and it’s no big deal,” says Joe Vostrejs, one of the owners of the Lowry Beer Garden. “That’s very different from a restaurant where, if you walked in with 30 to 40 people, they’d faint!”
Because people are new to the beer garden concept in Colorado, a small percentage of people have had a hard time adjusting. The staff is trained to explain and educate. “90% of the people who walk in, embrace it. The way we think of it is that it’s more like a park that has a concession stand in it. Once they understand it, they love it,” says Vostrejs.
The Lowry Beer Garden opened in May of 2012, with residents of Lowry and nearby neighborhoods enjoying the open-air beer garden all summer long. “What’s going to happen to the Lowry Beer Garden when the weather turns cold?” That’s the question Vostrejs is asked repeatedly. One evening spent basking under a summer night’s sky, beer in one hand, burger in the other, enjoying lively conversation and we don’t even want to think of seeing the place shut down for the winter. Thankfully, it won’t.
Beyond the “garden” area at the front, the Pavilion sits on a concrete slab that is kept warm by hydronic heat via a solar array on the roof. Clear, plastic walls come down, making a cozy room for a couple hundred people. Heat lamps will warm up the open air garden area for heartier souls who just have to be out under the open sky.
These ideas come courtesy of a group of people who know what they are doing. Vostrejs is chief operating officer of Larimer Associates. His fellow partners in the Hangar 2 project are also his Larimer Associates co-workers, Pat McHenry, Rod Wagner and Jeff Hermanson. Through Larimer Associates, they handle restaurant partnerships, architecture and design and residential and commercial real estate endeavors including projects from the Highlands neighborhood to Larimer Square and Cherry Creek.
The Lowry Beer Garden was a long time coming in the vision of Vostrejs who has lived at Lowry since it was first redeveloped. He had driven by the site for years and kept tabs on some of the considerations for the use of that space. He proposed his own which included redeveloping the interior of the 90,000 square foot hangar facility for storage and the adjacent two-story building as retail and offices. Those projects are completed. Ultimately, the team wanted to redevelop the remaining four-acre area into a Colorado dining district and wanted to kick it off with “something unusual and special enough to become iconic,” says Vostrejs.
Vostrejs sees the Lowry Beer Garden as being “custom-crafted for the Lowry neighborhood.” He describes the residents, composed of families, single people and retirees, as appreciating the benefits of new construction but being “urbanistas” who want the amenities of the city. Vostrejs also welcomes people from the surrounding neighborhoods including Crestmoor, Park Hill and Stapleton and anyone else who wants to check it out.
The beer, wine and food are sophisticated, says Vostrejs. Craft breweries focusing on quality, the majority of which are from Colorado and will rotate. There will always be a couple of German beers on hand in honor of the beer garden heritage plus a couple of “guest beers” from out-of-state.
The food menu will evolve and grow as time goes on. Currently, it focuses on a wide variety of burgers, sandwiches, brats, salads and other beer-friendly foods like the Super Giant Pretzel that comes in a pizza box. Based on frequent requests, they will start offering healthy appetizers like scratch-made hummus, peel-and-eat shrimp and more salads. As the weather turns colder, they will add heartier fare that pairs well with beer as well as special events such as cooking steaks out in the garden.
The focus may be on beer but it was a foregone conclusion to make the Lowry Beer Garden family-friendly, given its location. Vostrejs and his team know that kids running around could make for a chaotic scene so they offer board and card games to encourage kids to remain seated, spending time with their families.
Vostrejs notes that the Beer Garden’s clientele morphs as the day progresses with older folks coming in for an early bit to eat, followed by families with younger kids and then, mid-evening, beer takes center stage with a crowd intent on socializing. The place has something to offer everyone.
Through wind, rain, snow, sleet and those glorious sunny days of winter, The Lowry Beer Garden will be open for business, ready to serve for the European concept that seems tailor-made for Colorado.
Coming up: Lowry Beer Garden’s first Oktoberfest, Sept. 28-30. Festivities will include live music, dancing, food and lots of beer.