As I write this, Cloudburst Brewing just took delivery of a big stack of lumber at its taproom in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood (Cloudburst on Shilshole). Breweries are best known for transforming grains and hops into beer, but in this case, Cloudburst Brewing will transform 2x4s and 1x6s into a new awning that will provide shelter for patrons at the beer garden. In their own words, Cloudburst says, “We’re going ALL IN on our outdoor space.” (Above, a combination of tents and a permanent, covered deck constructed during/for the pandemic at Otherlands Beer in Bellingham.)
Cloudburst Brewing is not alone. In large part because of the pandemic, other breweries and bars are upping their outdoor seating game. Not just with tents, but a surprising number of breweries and bars are adding structures to make their outdoor spaces more habitable.
The pandemic’s restrictions on indoor seating have driven many breweries and bars to the brink of extinction. Creating outdoor seating spaces is a matter of survival. Throughout the continually mutating barrage of stay-safe requirements and guidelines from the state, the words outside and open-air have endured as the only things close to constant. So yeah, going all-in on outdoor seating is a good plan: it’s the fight as opposed to the flight.
Here in Western Washington, beer consumers have adapted to the circumstances and local restaurants, bars, and breweries have noticed. Some businesses are paying attention to the fact that many beer fans are willing to endure the elements and are betting that it’s a trend that will outlast the pandemic.
A post-pandemic world without walls
When the world returns to something closer to normal, the practice of drinking beer outdoors may not seem so odd, regardless of the season. I imagine a lot of people suffering from a sort of post-pandemic stress disorder. Crowded, indoor spaces will take some getting used to and the new normal may see more consumers seeking outdoor dining and drinking options.
Tents are fine, though they can be difficult to maintain over time, especially in a moist and breezy environment like Western Washington, so an increasing number of breweries and bars are creating more-permanent alternatives. Presumably, these structures will outlive the pandemic and offer beer lovers more year-round, outdoor options.
Future Primitive Brewing in White Center, just south of the Seattle city limits, is a perfect example. The brewery’s taproom already offered some covered outdoor space and had plenty of room out front for a spacious beer patio, but when the pandemic drove everyone outside, they adapted by adding tents. As the picture above shows, one of the tents failed in a wind storm, which helped drive the decision to erect a permanent structure that would not only provide a sturdy shelter in the winter but also some shade in the summer.
Across town at Fremont Brewing, where the company’s Urban Beer Garden has always attracted plenty of beer lovers willing to endure the elements, the latest plan also calls for replacing tents with a more stable and enduring solution.
“We will be installing new permanent outdoor shelters with heaters in our outdoor patio,” said Fremont Brewing on Instagram. “Construction will take place over the coming weeks so please pardon our mess, but it will be sooo worth it!”
Farther afield, Birdsview Brewing near Concrete, Washington recently suffered a tent mishap in their expansive beer garden, as pictured below (from Facebook).
The permanent structure that Birdsview Brewing constructed on the patio out front (shown below) seems much better equipped to withstand the elements.
At Stemma Brewing in Bellingham, they added an awning in November. “It’s still what would be considered temporary, but we plan to keep it up year-round,” said Jason Harper of Stemma Brewing. “We saw too many posts about tents blowing down so we were excited to do something a bit more sturdy and also it has a nice curb appeal.”
Other breweries that have upped their outside game include Western Red Brewing in Poulsbo, Big Block Brewing in Sammamish (the taproom), and Otherlands Beer in Bellingham (pictured at top). No doubt there are more.
While some have already pulled the trigger, others like Watershed Pub and Kitchen, in North Seattle, are weighing the options and considering the possibilities. Beveridge Place Pub in West Seattle has applied for permits already.
“Back when we first opened, we considered installing big rollup doors that opened to the patio,” said Ben Curran, one of the owners of Watershed Pub and Kitchen. “We couldn’t really afford it then, but now I really wish we could have.”
Ben explained that they are now revisiting the idea and considering and imagining other possibilities for enhancing and weatherproofing their outdoor seating, which is right now quite pleasantly sheltered by umbrellas and a large tent.
First and foremost, our beloved breweries, bars, and restaurants need to get through the pandemic. Weather the storm. Maintain focus.