One recent morning, Justin Gerardy was defending his no-minors policy before he could even order his morning americano. A disappointed dad approached him at Broadcast Coffee, just across Jackson Street from Standard Brewing, which Gerardy opened in 2013. A few weeks earlier, someone had posted a message about him on the bathroom chalkboard wall at Chuck’s, a nearby beer bar that teems with dogs and toddlers. The orange chalk scrawl deployed an f-bomb to accuse him of selling out Central District families.
It’s been two years since Gerardy expanded his adventurous brewery into a true neighborhood bar. He wanted to serve liquor, not just beer, which made it more complicated to have kids on premises. So Gerardy converted his hangout into a place just for adults. He still hears regularly of disappointed, even disgruntled parents.
Nearby resident Hilary King says her son was maybe two weeks old when she and her husband took him to Standard for their first outing as a family. They could drink great beer like they used to, and on a lively patio kids were less likely to inconvenience other drinkers. “When we go to a brewery, it kind of feels like we’re all in this together a little bit.” When her family learned of Standard’s new policy, “it felt a little personal,” says King, though she and her husband still visit on date nights.
The high emotions around Standard’s shift are admittedly unusual—seldom does a brewery in a neighborhood thick with families change its policy midstream—but they reveal our depth of connection to local beer, and the new identity this particular adult beverage has acquired in Seattle. Some places, like Capitol Hill’s Optimism Brewing, built play areas into their tasting room. Others, like Fremont Brewing or Ballard’s Peddler, Stoup, and Populuxe provide toys. Spend a Saturday afternoon prowling that area’s brewery district, and kids nearly outnumber drinkers.
Of roughly 50 Seattle breweries with taprooms, barely a half dozen restrict minors, reclaiming beer as a grown-up refuge. One of them, Cloudburst Brewing, will open a second location in Ballard this winter. “The hardest decision for me to make was, are we going to be 21 and over or not?” says owner Steve Luke. He settled on all ages until 6pm, to accommodate fans who can’t otherwise visit without a babysitter. However communicating this policy amid a sea of family-friendly third place breweries can be tricky. He’s working with Western Neon, the iconic local signmaker, to design some sort of glowing pictograph to alert visitors when kids can and can’t enter, a riff on those old-school No Vacancy signs outside motels.
Steven Wakefield, a stay-at-home dad in West Seattle, celebrated his son’s first birthday at the former Big Al Brewing. “Just come and you’ll get it,” he assured confused visiting relatives. “It’s not a bar.” Brewery outings let him sustain his pre-parenthood pursuits while connecting with his family, an option his dad didn’t have when Wakefield was growing up in a Seattle that looks very different than it does today. “This is one of the changes of the city that I really like.”