Charles Storey doesn’t want to jump the gun, but said if all goes to plan Harpoon Worcester Beer Garden will open downtown on May 26.
The president of Harpoon said the beer garden still needs to go before the Worcester License Board on May 19th to get its final approvals, including liquor and entertainment licenses.
The city has been supportive, according to Storey, and he feels confident they will get the necessary approvals in order to have a soft opening on May 26 and be officially open Memorial Day weekend.
The beer garden, which will seat over 200 people, will be located on the pedestrian-only walkway between One Mercantile Tower and its parking garage.
The new venture will be the second beer garden in downtown Worcester with The Beer Garden at The Grid District two blocks away on Franklin Street set to reopen on May 18. The Grid’s Beer Garden offers 56 taps plus a cocktail menu, food, outdoor games and a TV screen in the pavilion for watching sports games and other big events.
The new Harpoon Worcester Beer Garden at Mercantile Center is steps from the newly-opened restaurant The Mercantile, which features a rooftop deck and bar.
Harpoon, the popular Boston-based brewery, has already opened a second location in Windsor, Vermont and opening the beer garden in Worcester is an opportunity to put down more roots in New England, Storey said.
Harpoon has always had a connection to Worcester — one of the founders grew up in the city, and since it’s the second-largest city in New England and just down the road from the brewery in Boston it made sense as a New England brewery to open something there, he said.
Harpoon opted for a beer garden because along with taprooms, it’s the way more and more beer drinkers are engaging with breweries.
Storey landed on the location at The Mercantile after a “serendipitous” conversation with people who work for Conventures, Inc., a special events, marketing and PR company.
Conventures works with Franklin Reality Advisors, the company that purchased and renovated the Mercantile Center, to provide programming for the company and in Storey’s conversations with Conventures, the idea of a beer garden popped up.
“We are excited to have Harpoon as a sponsor and Reunion Tap and Table to help bring this long-awaited Worcester Beer Garden to life,” Chip Norton, managing director of Franklin Realty said in a press statement. “An active and engaging beer garden is something our tenants and neighbors have been craving, and we’re thrilled to open one this summer with these two great partners.”
The North Grafton restaurant Reunion Tap & Table will be responsible for operating the beer garden.
“They will be great operators, they have a true appreciation for beer and hospitality and guest experience,” Storey said, “They are all musicians themselves, as well as folks who book a lot of music, so we’ll have lots of live music on the plaza.”
In addition to music, Storey said they’re hoping to have some fundraisers for local charities at the location, and have discussed possibly organizing a road race.
“It’s our ambition to do more than just beer and music, we want to do other things as well,” Storey said.
The beer garden will be surrounded by greenery in plant beds, have some bean bag toss games and offer Light fare, including pretzels.
While they won’t be the pretzels Harpoon is known for, the owners of Reunion Tap & Table also own Wicked Twisted Pretzels and will be offering their pretzels at the beer garden.
“They completely have the pretzel thing under control,” Storey said. Instead of shipping Harpoon pretzels from Boston, Reunion Tap & Table will be able to make them fresh and nearby.
The menu isn’t finalized, but Storey said he expects it will include a charcuterie plate and a plate with hummus and fresh vegetables.
The beer garden will have at least five draft beers from the Harpoon family, which includes the unfiltered wheat beer brand UFO, on tap and some canned beer as well.
Reunion Tap & Table will also offer local Worcester beers and other New England craft beers.
“We’re hoping to start some collaborations and offer some beer that is a product of Harpoon and another area brewery,” Storey said.
Harpoon has already collaborated with Worcester-based Polar Seltzer to create the Arctic Chill Hard Seltzer, which will also be offered at the beer garden.
The Worcester Beer Garden is looking to operate Thursday-Sunday through the end of September once it opens, according to a press release.
Storey said he wants the beer garden to be at least a multi-year program.
When it comes to Harpoon expanding into a permanent location in Worcester, Storey said it’s too early to say.
He has recognized the “growth and vibrancy of Worcester over the past few years” and is “thrilled to activate Harpoon in this marquee location,” he said.
“Worcester has been ready for this moment for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier to get to work in the heart of downtown,” Josh Briggs of Reunion Tap and Table said, “An outdoor beer garden is a perfect way to full our public space, and we’re excited to bring this to life.”
Storey said they’re hoping to have a launch party for the brewery sometime in June, but right now they’re focusing on final preparations and getting their approvals.
The latest additions are signs that Worcester’s renaissance appears to be largely rebounding from two years of the COVID pandemic, although the shift in foot traffic during the day has hurt or shuttered some smaller businesses in the downtown area.