Olan Thomas Park, the normally quiet park at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Paper Mill Road will be transformed into a pop-up beer garden this weekend as part of Newark’s new Parks on Draft initiative.
The Newark Parks and Recreation Department is partnering with local businesses for the event, which is intended to capitalize on the trend of outdoor beer gardens, highlight the city’s park system, support businesses during the Main Street construction and raise money for the parks department.
“We need to attract a younger audience into town,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said. “We need to attract a 25-to-45-year-old who’s going to come into town, see the great value of living in a town as vibrant and dynamic as Newark is and want to actually buy a house here.”
The beer garden will be open Thursday and Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free parking is available at Curtis Mill Park and Old Paper Mill Park.
Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen will offer craft beer and food for sale. Rainbow Records will spin records on Saturday, and Empowered Yoga will offer free classes on Sunday. Local musicians will perform acoustic sets. Takeout from nearby Wood Fired Pizza will be available, as well.
City Manager Tom Coleman called Olan Thomas Park a “hidden gem” and said it’s an ideal place for the event because it’s close to Main Street and has few residential neighbors.
If the event is successful, Newark officials hope to make it a regular event series next summer that would rotate between the city’s various parks and partner with different businesses at each location.
The concept is modeled after Philadelphia’s Parks on Tap program, which started in 2016 and is now held at different parks each weekend throughout the summer.
Coleman told city council Monday that an obvious concern is that the event could get out of hand, but he said there are many ways to control it. Grain’s staff will check IDs and issue wristbands, and the area where alcohol is served will be fenced in.
“As JT would say, this is chill, but this is not a party,” Coleman said, drawing laughs as he displayed a photo of John “JT” Parr, the comedian turned “party advocate” who flew in from California to satirically protest Newark’s unruly social gathering law in March. “The goal for this is not what you see in the backyards on Chapel Street or Wilbur Street.”
He said the city wants to create a family-friendly environment that appeals to families, young professionals and “other laid-back patrons.” He pointed to Constitution Yards at the Wilmington Riverfront and the Victory Beer Garden at Longwood Gardens, which have a similar vibe.
“I feel confident we can do this, because there are so many successful examples nearby,” Coleman said.
Lee Mikles, co-owner of Grain, said he plans to serve craft beer, not “$2 beer,” as well as more sophisticated food options such as chicken-brussel-and-apple skewers and burgers with mushrooms, Swiss cheese and fig jam.
“These are all things attractive to families,” Mikles said. “There are other ways for troublemakers to get in trouble.”
Alcohol is banned in city parks, but on Monday, city council passed an ordinance allowing it to be sold during special events approved by council.
“Main Street is open for business, but we can’t get away from the fact there’s been some harm because of the construction,” Clifton said. “This is just one more way to say, 'Here we are.'"