The benefits of beer gardens in Philadelphia

Last summer, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s beer garden at 15th and South streets drew 52,000 visitors to a place that was previously just another vacant lot. Thanks to that success, it’s back for a second summer — unlike PHS’ other beer gardens, which, since 2011, have popped up for just one season before stepping aside to let a new location get its day in the sun. And PHS even has a second beer garden this summer, much farther south at Ninth and Wharton.

“We’re bringing a touch of beauty to a block — to a site that’s usually been empty and sometimes blighted,” said Alan Jaffe, director of communications at PHS. “People get to understand what they can do in their own neighborhoods with empty spaces: How they can transform spots that have been neglected into something more beautiful.”

The two PHS locations already have a little South Philly competition, in what some might consider an odd spot for a pop-up: Point Breeze Avenue at Tasker Street. This one is from John Longacre, who owns South Philadelphia Tap Room, American Sardine Bar and Brew. Compared to the beer gardens, Longacre called his the most “anomalistic location.”

“It’s one of the most blown out sections of the city,” he says. “It’s on a former commercial corridor that is no longer commercial. This site has been vacant for 20-some years.”

Announcement of the Point Breeze Pop Up garnered mixed reaction, though Longacre said overall the neighborhood responded positively: “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of positive responses and eight protestors.”

Of those eight, Longacre remarked that the most prominent protest came from parents who don’t want their children to witness alcohol consumption in the neighborhood. But, says Longacre, “the reality it is that we cleaned up 30 magnum gun shells, condoms, syringes, you name it, from that lot.”

Other uses planned for the space include a farmer’s market, a CSA drop-off site and a flea market. “We try to bring amenity-based, service-oriented business that neighborhoods actually want. We do it through strategic private sector investment — nothing subsidized, all out of our own pocket,” Longacre says. “We want to prove that the private sector can invest in neighborhoods and be successful. We want to revitalize that corridor back to a thriving corridor like it once was.”

Expectations for the summer

The two PHS beer gardens open today, and the Point Breeze one is new enough that full reception of it is yet to be determined — but expectations are high.

“There were some controversies in the beginning, especially while he was going through the zoning process,” says Anthony Coratolo, board president of the Newbold Neighbors Association, of Longacre’s Point Breeze Pop Up. “But that’s true in all parts of the city. Developers and neighborhood people don’t always agree. But in the end I think there’s been a lot of positivity.”