Home Beer America loves beer and kids (just not always at the same time)

America loves beer and kids (just not always at the same time)

CATEGORIES: Beer   Feature  

Photo by Jess Suworoff for DRAFT

Photo by Jess Suworoff for DRAFT

We get precious few of those moments—the ones when you realize you’re having a lot of fun, and you look around and realize this is what it’s all about.

I had a very clear one two summers ago in Upper Franconia, about 15 miles south of Bamberg, Germany. My family was at a country beer garden called Roppelt’s Keller. We munched on warm, crusty pretzels. My wife and I each drank a kellerbier while the kids sipped juice, whenever they could be bothered to visit the table. Mostly they frolicked in the impressive playground. There was a sand- box, a jungle gym and a zip line that swung through the trees.

Each of us was relaxed, having fun. We were all getting what we wanted.

That part of Germany’s brewing heart- land specializes in full-flavored lagers and shady beer gardens. Many have playgrounds. For the locals, kellerbier is not a specific style of beer. It’s just beer. They grew up around it.

Likewise, “family-friendly” is not a style of place there; it’s not a gimmick meant to attract a certain crowd at certain hours. Family-friendly is just life.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. The first is to empower American beer lovers who have kids to get out and see the world. You’re not outcasts.

The second is to make the point that we might be doing it wrong. Americans are weird about drinking around kids—downright schizophrenic, in fact. It’s not our fault. We inherit a mixed-strain culture—more tossed salad than melting pot—confused by our history and high school health classes, unsure whether beer is bread or poison.

I love my kids and I love drinking beer—both are best in moderation. I see no need to separate the two. Some do.

You know who I mean: the ones who give us dark looks when we have the audacity to bring our kids to a brewpub or beer garden for lunch. Later they’ll go online—such power, right?—and whine about how strollers are ruining their good time.

As if American families ought to be con-fined to churches and McDonald’s.

So what about American beer gardens?

I haven’t been to Greenwood Park in Brooklyn. But thanks to the New York Times, I know that it’s 13,000 square feet of beer, food and tables. It has 60 taps, a large beer garden and bocce courts. It is explicitly “family friendly”until 7 p.m., 21 and over after. Says so on the website. Sounds wonderful.

Unless you aren’t interested in being around wee ones.

“The whole appeal of the bar is to go there in the day and sit there in the sun and enjoy a beer,” a 31-year-old Malcolm Kates told the Times in 2012. “You almost feel like you’re the irresponsible one by showing up to drink around so many children.”

“People go to bars to escape kids,” another online complainer told a reporter. “Bars are for adults, not children.”

Some overly simplistic binary thinking may be at fault here. Drunk/sober, bar/ restaurant, adults/kids. Life is mostly nuance, though.

Yes, there are straight-up dirty boozers that are inappropriate for children, especially at night. And there are restaurants that happen to serve beer and wine and are perfectly OK for all ages, especially in the daytime. Most places and occasions fall somewhere in between.

True: Some kids misbehave in public. This is a nuisance. True: Some adults misbehave in public. Also a nuisance.

But the best way to teach kids how to behave in public is to take them out and show them. Then, in theory, they’ll grow into adults who know how to behave (sorry, no guarantees). Want them to grow up to become responsible drinkers? Same theory.

Some cultures are even more uptight than we are about kids in bars. In Central America, we noticed a definite drink-is-for- drunk vibe. A Costa Rican man once laughed in my face when I said I was taking my son to a bar—at noon, on the town’s main square—to watch soccer. My boy was four. He sat on a barstool and ate chicharrones and asked the staff all sorts of nosy questions (as he does). They laughed and brought him fruit drinks. It was more than fine.

Different countries have different attitudes. My friend Sophia, the well-traveled wife of a diplomat, is Bulgarian.

“In Bulgaria, there’s no taboo about drinking with our kids,” she told me. “You will see kids in cafés with drinking and smoking parents regularly.”

She said that by the age of 11 or 12, most Bulgarian kids have tried beer, wine and maybe even hard liquor like rakija. It wasn’t that weird for kids 12 or older to be sent to the store to buy alcohol, although “nowadays maybe laws are getting stricter on that.” It was also common to see young parents bringing small kids to beer gardens.

Going out at night was different, though. “Unless it is a family celebration or at some- one’s house, going out will be an adult thing,” she said. “Mostly because it involves sitting at a table eating and drinking for four, five hours. The kids don’t have patience for that and parents don’t want to be rushed and bothered.”

Context matters, wherever you are. Mostly it lies somewhere between Happy Meals and late-night boozers. It’s rarely clear-cut and it’s not always easy for parents—or those without kids—to work it out.

Nobody is perfect at this, not even the Germans—but it might help to go and experience their comfort level firsthand. Have you seen the exchange rate lately? In much of Franconia, a half-liter of full-flavored country lager will run you about $2.

And what did you pay for that last pint of IPA? And was it memorable?


Joe Stange is the author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers and co-author of Good Beer Guide Belgium. Follow him on Twitter @Thirsty_Pilgrim.


Brewery Travels: My Favorite Brewery/Beer from Each State

In my ongoing quest to visit breweries all across this great land, I have now surpassed the 400 mark, and they’ve been spread across 37 states and 175+ cities. To celebrate this landmark, I’ve put together a ‘Special Edition’ of Brewery Travels: A rundown of my favorites in each of the states visited so far.

CATEGORIES: Beer   Feature   Midwest Breweries   Midwest Feature   Northeast Breweries   South Breweries   Travel   West Breweries  


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I’ve worked in craft beer for nearly five years now. I’ve had the fortune to try some truly amazing brews: Pliny the Elder, Heady Topper, Bourbon Barrel Aged Expedition Stout. Supplication? I’ve got one in my mini-fridge. The reason I’m telling you this is because I want to frame my statements here properly. I’ve had good beer, trust me. The best beer I’ve ever had, though, was a Miller Lite.

CATEGORIES: Beer   MIDWEST   Midwest Feature  


  • Lisa says:

    It all depends on the setting of the place you are going to. If the owners want children at their establishment them it will be welcoming to families if not then they won’t. It also depends on the child. I know just like dinning out I don’t want to listen to someone else’s child having a full blown tantrum or scream fest.

    • JP says:

      Does anyone want to hear a full blown tantrum or scream fest??? No – and that is certainly the last thing a childs parent want. Show a little compassion and patience; usually these fits for kids don’t last long and parents are generally good about taking their kids out of a situation like that until they calm, or just ask for the bill and leave. I understand where you’re coming from, just hoping that you understand that parents w/ kids have every right to go out and enjoy themselves and not get looked at and treated like complete a$$holes if their child happens to have a less than desirable moment.

  • EMcD says:

    It depends on the vibe of the establishment and the behavior of the kids. Outdoor, German-style beer gardens with playgrounds welcome families, while other places have a distinctly adult clientele. Parents should respect the intentions of the bar owners and other patrons.

    The main point about the debate about kids in public spaces (see the recent kerfuffle over the Portland diner owner) is the increasing tendency of parents not to supervise them or correct bad behavior. Even if an establishment is family-friendly, there’s no reason for kids running, screaming, or throwing things, and yet I see this type of behavior all the time.

    If your kid is screaming or crying, please go outside.

  • Dodi says:

    I agree with Lisa…there is a time and a place for everything. And everyone. I totally agree with the idea of a beer garden that is kid-friendly. I do not agree with bringing children to obviously adult oriented pubs (not sexually oriented (let me be clear), but a nice place for adults to enjoy an adult beverage and possibly get away from the kids). And to the point of children having tantrums, if a parent wants to bring their child(ren) to a restaurant they run the risk of having that child act out. They all do. If that is so, then IMHO the parents should gather up the remains of their dinner (or pay for their drinks) and take their cranky one home. Also do not use being out at a restaurant as a time for the kids to run around and disturb others. I’ve seen many a parent (not just in restaurants) who think that since they are out among other people that they can just ignore the kids. It is not fair to everyone else. Haven’t you ever wanted to go out, just you and your partner, and be adults for a change? It’s healthy, for you and for your kids.

  • Sean says:

    Save dinner with the kids for Applebee’s and the like. Get a baby sitter when going to the pub. I see far more kids misbehaving and parents not handling them than I do well behaved quiet little ones. The pub is not the place for family dinner out.

    • Androo says:

      Perhaps you might wish to understand the roots of pubs (or public houses) in the UK, where families and those without would gather, drink and be merry.

  • Daniel says:

    If done right – Yes. We are only open to the public for a few hours on Friday with live music and 7 food trucks. We have a balloon artist for the kids and plenty of space. There are definitely parent that need to do a better job of watching their kids but at the end of the day we are striving to create a California Beer Garden. And families are most definitely a large part of the experience. – this a video a customer shot on their own accord and posted:


  • Patrick says:

    The main thing I took away from this article, is that I miss chicharrones…

  • Beer Dad says:

    In Indiana, it is illegal for kids to be in a bar. This teetotaler mentality isn’t helping Hoosier families, it is harming them. Beer isn’t something evil that should be shielded from the eyes of children.

    Some bars have opened up family sections to their bars that must have a physical partition separating the bar side from the family side. Locally, we have the Columbus Bar. It is a hundred year old establishment that has the rare combination of having delicious food as well as delicious locally crafted beer.

    They have a box’o’toys for the wee ones and the servers and staff love to talk to the wee ones. The last time we were there, our son had a great time playing with dinosaurs while munching on local food.

    In Indiana, there is such a stigma with bars and children, we are used to just doing a 180 if we walk into an establishment that appears to be a bar, regardless of where we are.

    While vacationing in Michigan, we stopped by Saugatuck Brewing Company. We walked in with our son, surveyed the area as being only a very large but one room seating area. We started to walk out immediately fearing that we broke a similar Indiana law. The host graciously asked us where we were going after just arriving. I told him we had our son with us.

    With a smile, he seemed to know we were from out of town. He invited us in asking us if we were from Indiana. We said yes and he said that he knows Hoosiers before a few reasons… Midwest Pleasantry, mild accents and 180s when walking into the bar with children. After taking our name, the host brought me a Neapolitan Stout to enjoy while I waited and I was blown away by my first experience with Michigan and how friendly everyone in the area is/was.

    The food there was equally as good as the brews I enjoyed.

    What it boils itself down is to how each establishment wants to present itself. Businesses can demand that their establishments be kid friendly or kid free. Allow the ownership to cater to a clientele. I know if I were a small brew house owner, I would want to serve kids there. It would be such an easy way to potentially double your income. Kids need to eat, they will come back to the places their parents took them to as adults (McDonalds Marketing, anyone?).

    It saddens me that my son cannot accompany me after a long bike ride to other brew pubs in Indy or to tasting rooms within Indiana based on a law written by someone in the name of THE CHILDREN. Our family has a long standing Lutheran tradition where beer is as much a part of life as the cup of wine on Sunday Morning Services and alcohol can be enjoyed responsibly in the presence of children.

    Well behaved children, like well behaved adults, should be welcome just about everywhere.

  • Gary Stenzel says:

    I never cared if there were kids around or not. Most people go to places like that to relax and have a good time. The only thing that ever bothered me was when a kid would be screaming and crying and the parents don’t seem to care that it’s creating a stressful, unrelaxing atmosphere.
    Those people really shouldn’t bring their kids, but they don’t usually even realize that there is even a problem with it.
    I love kids, but a lot of people don’t seem to know when THEIR kids are creating a problem.

  • Tracy says:

    My problem with kids in bars is not really with the kids but with the parents. Example: I’m having a few beers with my 40-50 something yo crowd of friends, and we’re having a great time. I – and most, if not all, of my friends – swear. We fucking talk about everything, and we can be fairly vocal (not necessarily loud, just opinionated). The problem? If I drop an f-bomb, and catch the eye of the mom at the next table whose precious child has just soaked up a new word, am I in the wrong??? Her sneer and request that I not use that language around her child tell me I must be. Seriously?? Sorry – Chuckie Cheese is down the street.

  • Carrie says:

    This is really dependent on where you go, what time it is and how the kids act. People cheer for “21+ bars” not because all kids are awful, but because many kids are (and so are many parents). I don’t care if it’s a bar or a restaurant, if your kid is screaming and crying and bothering other people you don’t just ignore it and tell people to deal because “kids are kids.” You take them outside, you calm them down, you parent them…and some people are awesome at that. However some people just sit there and pretend nothing is happening. I’m glad that they can ignore that shriek, but I can’t and it’s rude of them to do nothing about it.
    Since liquor is reserved for adults, people associate it with adults and figure they could go to a bar and not have to worry about kids which is why they get more perturbed about kids in bars than any other place. I have no problem with kids in bars…I have a problem with the excess of American parents who don’t have any culpability for their children’s actions. I have a problem when people bring them in when it’s late and the kids are obviously tired. I have a problem when the parents are too busy getting drunk to make their kids sit still and enjoy their food. The issue isn’t kids in bars or people who don’t want kids in bars, it’s lazy parents who make all families look bad. If a local bar wants to ban kids because their clientele wants a scream-free zone then by all means the market is there. I’d be OK with them banning bachelorette parties for the same reason.
    So don’t grief Americans for wanting child-free bars, grief the parents who don’t have the decency to respect others’ desire to enjoy a quiet meal or drink.

  • Bill says:

    Good consensus here. A brewpub or nice bar with food menu and no smoking before 7:00PM no problem. As with any establishment, when they are disruptive, run free visiting tables etc. get them out. We always did the same with our kid and grandkids. It’s the parents who allow the behavior who are out of control and selfish.

  • Lucas says:

    Also to consider, is state law. It varies greatly.

  • Dan Kauffman says:

    I live in PA. and when I was a child my family would go out for pizza on Saturday night. The bars we went to always welcomed children with families and people whose children got unruly usually took them outside, settled them down, and came back. Of course, that was in the ’50’s. I took my own children and grandchildren to bars in the U.S. and Canada and bought them Shirley Temples. No one ever objected, commented, or asked us to leave. Of course, I took them at reasonable times for kids and long before evening – and their bedtime – when bands would start to play.

  • Jim says:

    Back in the 60s when I was a kid, I went with my parents to a bar every Sunday after church. Back then people were more respectful. They were just out to socialize and share stories. Now it seems the “goal” is to see how drunk and loud we can get. It’s sad. I have fond memories of my bag of dry roasted peanuts and listening to the stories.

  • Mark says:

    Sounds like the rationalizations of another parent that doesn’t want having children to change anything in their life. But they do. And they should. It seems that every successive generation is opining that it’s their ‘right’ to drag their kids to all of the events they attended before giving birth. Wrong answer. There are things you do with your kids, and there are things you do after providing the babysitter with explicit instructions. You don’t take young children to fancy restaurants to teach them how to behave in public, you take them to McDonalds, or Chuckie Cheese. When they graduate from that, then you try Olive Garden. Just because you, as a parent, feel like doing something or going somewhere, it doesn’t mean that the kids should automatically be included. You don’t take an infant to a night baseball game and stay for the extra innings. It’s common sense to most of us. If you had to pass a parenting exam to obtain a ‘License to Give Birth’, many people would fail.

  • jeff motch says:

    When we opened Blind Lady Ale House we were inspired by a sense of community, where all types of people could come together over good food and good drink. We enjoy a late night at Live Wire with old and new friends as much as a bbq in a backyard with close friends and family. We’ve also loved seeing the changes that have happened around BLAH. Families who first came in with pre-teens who are now sending young adults off to college, 20-somethings proposing in the Hamm’s Room, wedding receptions on a Monday night, employees getting engaged, married and having babies of their own. Bars are what you make them. We choose to make ours a gathering place for everyone in our community.

    In the past 6 years we have opened Blind Lady Ale House, Automatic Brewing Company, Tiger!Tiger! and Panama 66 all here in San Diego. All of these businesses are family friendly and always will be.

  • […] have them. That may sound crazy. It sounded a little crazy to me, at first, and I’m the guy who brings my kids to bars. My wife was nervous too; we shared an unspoken fear that some lout—he’d look suspiciously like […]

  • […] have them. That may sound crazy. It sounded a little crazy to me, at first, and I’m the guy who brings my kids to bars. My wife was nervous too; we shared an unspoken fear that some lout—he’d look suspiciously like […]

  • […] a lot of ‘research’ into places that are kid-friendly to have a beer. There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not it’s ‘ok’ to bring your kids to a brewery. Many places are […]

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