1,000-plus attend beer-garden opening

Signs for the Aeronaut beer garden share Whittemore Park with the historical marker for local hero Sam Whittemore. / Bob Sprague photoSigns for the Aeronaut beer garden share Whittemore Park with the historical marker for local hero Sam Whittemore. / Bob Sprague photo

UPDATED, July 9: Combine a family-friendly venue, glorious weather and a thirst for something different – and you’ve a recipe for success.

More than 1,000 people visited Arlington’s newest attraction, Saturday, July 7, to enjoy cold brews, delicious food, live music and socialize with family and friends.

Conveniently situated in the town center at Whittemore Park, on the lawn of the Cyrus Dallin Museum, the beer garden attracted a steady stream of attendees the entire time, from noon to 7.

“Barely a half an hour in, the place was almost full and everyone seems glad to be here,” noted Steve Norton, an employee of Aeronaut Brewing Co., the event’s sponsor.

Aeronaut President Ronn Friedlander said, “Things are off to a good start, and I’m pleased with how many people are here. I feel excited by and proud of our work so far.”

Photos set the scene >>

The park was busy, but not jammed, with plenty of room for people to mill around.

People mingled freely while enjoying their beverages and other fare. They also sat on benches, chairs and the ground. Some brought blankets and had a picnic. Children played toy-toss games. Even the dogs who attended seemed relaxed and happy.

With plenty of trees to provide enough shade, and Saturday's moderate temperatures, everyone seemed comfortable and content.

“It’s a beautiful day for an inaugural event, and families are having fun,” said Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, who was casually dressed.

The backdrop of the event is the Jefferson Cutter House, which contains the Cyrus Dallin Museum. Geri Tremblay, its president, said, “It’s great to see the park filled with families having a good time. I think it’ll be a very popular summer event, and hope this encourages artistically inquisitive people to visit our museum.”

Quote bar, red Some history: 'Dry town'? Not for nearly 40 years

The July 7 beer garden at Whittemore Park, which drew more than 1,000 people over seven hours, reflects a continuing change about how residents view alcohol.

Once known as "drunken Menotomy," the Town of Arlington began to go dry in the 1880s and continued the trend until after Prohibition ended in 1934.

Local historian Richard A. Duffy provides some of the history after that. The town was not 100-percent dry during a brief period in the mid-1930s when low-alcohol beer was licensed.

"The 1979 restaurant licensing was huge for the era," he told YourArlington.

Licenses expanded following voter support of a 1993 ballot question to include smaller establishments and allow beer-and-wine-only licenses, etc. A restaurant boom followed.

"But Garron’s Town House, Jimmy’s Steer House and Shanghai Village had been pouring booze for over a dozen years already by the time the additional licenses came along," Duffy wrote.

So what happened in 1979? Duffy explains>

It goes back to 5 Water St. -- later the last location in town of The Advocate's office. When the disused MBTA power station there became available for redevelopment, the initial thinking was that it should become a restaurant, including seasonal patio dining and function rooms for wedding receptions.

Any operation of that scale naturally would need an all-alcohol license to be viable. The Planning Department, then under Alan McClennen, worked hard on that prospect in the late 1970s.

"The old power station ended up as an office building, but the ball then was rolling to have a full-service (in the sense of offering alcohol, not just table service for food) restaurant to generally improve the commercial profile of Arlington. Garron’s Town House expanded with the notion of getting licensed."

The location near 5 Water, is on Mass. Ave.,where Not Your Average Joe’s is today. Before NYAJ, The Chateau was at that site. Duffy quipped: “A glass of jug California Chianti with your fried ravioli, sir?”

As municipalities that previously were dry got into licensing alcohol for public restaurants (private veterans and fraternal organizations had had club licenses for a long while), the thinking was that the establishment should be large enough (99 seats was one magic number) so that alcohol service would be overseen by hospitality professionals.

"That a 30-seat ethnic restaurant, for example, could attend to its cooking and also responsibly serve a beer was a dubious notion in some quarters," he wrote. "More and more, there were successful models for these kinds of operations in other places, so by the time Arlington went in for it, there was sort of a how-to guide to follow.

"I think that the big deal was to ensure that alcohol was an adjunct to a proper meal, rather that having de facto barrooms with food on the side. One famous question asked at a selectmen’s meeting ... was whether or not a grilled cheese sandwich and a green salad would be considered enough to constitute a 'meal' or not. Personally, when I think grilled cheese, I think tomato soup versus salad ...."

Flash-forward to the summer of 2018, when families have a few beers, and a good time, in Arlington Center
Resident Lauren Scott offered yet another perspective: “It’s the beginning of an era, having a beer park in a town that used to be dry.”

Arlington was considered a dry town from the 1880s until the late 1970s, when alcohol rules loosened.  A 1993 ballot question, supported by residents, further eased matters.

Even people driving by on adjacent Mass. Ave. and Mystic Street seemed intrigued. While waiting in traffic, drivers turned their heads to see what was happening in the park.

All walks of life

People of all ages -- babies, children, and adults both young and old -- were there: families, couples and packs of friends.

A “baby group” even decided to meet there, that’s how family-friendly it was. Carolyn Navikonis of Cambridge came with her husband and 9-month-old infant. “We walked here on the bike path, and came over after breakfast at Kickstand Café, because we wanted to check it out on opening day.”

Beer, food and more

Beer, of course, was the mainstay offering. Aeronaut offered five varieties, each $7.50:

Hop hop and away

Summer in Cologne

Wasted Life

Hermann Hesseweizen


Beer sales were brisk, yet with several Aeronaut employees pouring, wait times were minimal.

With a variety of brew options, there was something for everyone. Town resident Mark Bowers, Aeronaut brewmaster, and his wife enjoyed Summer in Cologne, a new beer released this season. “It’s the perfect beer to drink outside because it’s light and refreshing,” said Bowers.


Arlington’s Tango restaurant provided the food and nonalcoholic beverages: empanadas, steak tips and rice, along with raspberry lemonade, water and soda. This provider of Argentinian fare also had plenty of customers.

Resident Uri Guttman especially liked the steak tips and rice with chimichurri sauce. “However, we need another food vendor, to have variety,” said Guttman. Alternate vendors are slated to provide food at future events.

Argentinian or other such food options not your thing? No worries! You can bring your own food. One father and son brought in a pizza they’d purchased at a local restaurant.

Two-drink maximum

When entering the beer garden, everyone over 21 received a wristband, enabling them to buy two beers. To purchase additional beer, customers first had to buy food at Tango. The beer and food vendors used the wristbands to keep track of all purchases, ensuring everyone complied with the rules.

Live entertainment

Adding to the festive atmosphere were two sets of musical performances.

Local singer/songwriter Ali McGuirk, and Boston Music awards new-musician nominee, was scheduled to perform at 1. However, first-day glitches – sprinklers that had been on until about 11 and electrical issues – delayed her performance until 1:30. But she was an act worth waiting for. She enthralled the audience with her classic soul delivery and unique blend of hypnotic R&B grooves.

At 4, Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band delighted the crowd with their raw energy of avant-garde jazz and funk.

The musical performances were arranged by Aeronaut, which says it is one of the few breweries in the country to have an arts-and-culture department. “We have a strong focus on the arts, and one of our major goals is to shine a light on who we think are the best rising performers in the area,” said Jason McCool, Aeronaut head of arts & culture.

McCool is working with the Arlington Center for the Arts to try and get Arlington bands to perform. “We want to build community support in order to enhance the arts,” said McCool.

Earlier controversy

Although the Select Board approved the beer garden on June 25, there was considerable controversy before this decision was made.

Arlington residents expressed such concerns as the effect on local businesses, lack of bike parking, insufficient number of bathrooms, trampled grass, events occurring on too many days and that Whittemore Park would no longer be a historic public park.

In response, Aeronaut now offers wristband-wearing patrons discounts at Arlington shops and restaurants; a bike rack, porta-potties, and Adirondack chairs; and reduced the number of days. Whittemore Park is town land that the Select Board controls and is not under the jurisdiction of the Park and Recreation Commission. 

Looking ahead

Weren’t able to make it July 7? Arlington’s newest hangout returns every Saturday in July, and every Saturday and Sunday starting in August. 

June 25, 2018: Select Board votes, 4-0, to back beer garden at Whittemore Park

June 20, 2018: Plans for beer garden adjusted in response to some community concerns

June 12, 2018: 3-month weekend beer garden proposed for Whittemore Park

 This feature story, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Sunday, July 8, 2018, and updated July 9, to add a photo link and a sidebar.

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