Nick Gingold / Craft Media Solutions
As a new parent, I’m always looking for excuses to take the family on adventures out of the house. And fortunately for me, breweries land near the top of the list of kid-friendly destinations. (That is, as long as the place isn’t crammed elbow-to-elbow with surly folks upset over missing the latest can release.)
My son may still be too small to run around and cause trouble, but more mobile, energetic kids have been spotted -- and accommodated -- at many of the places I’ve brought him to over the last year; of course, I’ve been taking notes to prepare for the inevitable. Whether you’re toting a toddler or corralling a passel of preteens, here’s what to look for in a kid-friendly brewery.
Food (or, at least, a BYOF policy)
For the care and maintenance of children of all ages, two rules largely supplant all others: Keep them well-fed, and ensure that they’re well-rested. Food is typically part of the equation at any brewpub, and many breweries either have a regular lineup of food trucks, or allow outside grub. Whatever the setting may be, you’ll want to look for food offerings that either include kid-friendly selections (you probably don’t want Junior scarfing down beer-brined pickles), an honest-to-goodness kids’ menu, or the option of bringing in your own snacks.
Demarcation between public space and industrial space
Many breweries won’t permit kids to take tours, prohibiting kids under a certain age or height from participating -- which makes sense, of course. However, hoses, wires and other bits of brewing equipment spilling over into public areas -- a common sight at some smaller, low-or-no-frills operations -- is always a no-go. These obstacles can pose risks to both your kid and the business.
Once children start crawling, it’s only a matter of time before they’re walking, and then running, so it’s best to hang in a space that allows them to do what comes naturally. The venue doesn’t have to be cavernous, either: just one that provides enough space between your table and the next for the bags, strollers, and other accoutrements that go with bringing a child out in public. Visiting during off-hours, when a brewery is at less-than-peak capacity, helps here. If you have your sights on a place that’s mobbed every hour of every day, save it for months down the road when some of the hype wears off and the crowds start to subside.
When I worked in restaurants, I was taught to take care of any kids at a table first, so I’m always pleased to see waiters who show the care and forethought to fire your kid’s order right away and bring their food out as soon as possible. (Remember Rule No. 1?) At places that only serve beer, though, you at least want to see some friendly faces who won’t bat an eye at a child guest, whether strapped to you or walking by your side, hand-in-hand. Remember, though: no matter how friendly and accommodating they may be, servers are not babysitters.
So where, exactly, are these kid-friendly ideals best demonstrated? The six breweries below are places I’d head to with or without a kid in tow, but their extra amenities and friendly reputations have earned them special spots in my book:
Somehow, amid the staggering number of Portland breweries, I missed Hopworks on my visit last year. (My wife and I did bring our son along to Cascade, which was low-key and enjoyable as he toddled his way in circles around the barrels-turned-tables.) In a city thronged with kids and establishments that welcome them, HUB is the motherlode for moms and dads, providing a hunk of edible Play-Doh (pizza dough, actually) for every child to sculpt with, a lengthy list of food selections for kids, and multiple play areas loaded with trains, chalkboards, and books.
Before and after games at Nationals Park just up the street, Bluejacket is mobbed -- but this three-floor brewery-and-restaurant in DC’s Navy Yard is otherwise the perfect laid-back destination for you and your kids. The space is impressive, with tanks and other equipment in full, dramatic view, and scores major points in the food and service departments: the former is delicious and approachable, even without a kids’ menu; the latter, friendly and polished.
Golden Road’s original pub in the Atwater Village neighborhood leads with family-friendliness and all of the standard, important offerings: a kids’ menu, a wide selection of games, and ample space to walk and play. It boasts an unexpected and appealing touch, too: trains passing by in view of the outdoor seating! The visuals are fun for adults, but they’re a game-changer for little ones who are into Thomas the Tank Engine or anything that goes chug-chug or choo-choo.
Kids aren’t allowed in bars in Washington, so breweries in the state have picked up the slack. And Optimism in the Capitol Hall district of Seattle seems to have it all. Large and spacious? Check. A rotating selection of food trucks that pull right into the loading dock? Check. Plenty of nearby restaurants for additional take-out options? Check. A cozy, colorful playspace designed specifically for children and their families? Quadruple-check.
This jumbo-sized space serves as the dual-purpose tasting room for Denver’s Bierstadt Lager and C Squared Ciders, and the entire dining room overlooks the latter’s isolated production facility. That translates to plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs” over the big machines that are also too far away for kids to mess with. Additionally, the menu presents some German twists on standard brewpub fare, which is a good baseline for kid-friendliness.
Okay, technically Double Nickel is just across the Delaware River in Pennsauken, New Jersey, but it’s a mere 15 minutes from downtown Philly. I especially had to include this spot because it was my son’s first brewery, which also has scads of outdoor seating, in addition to a roomy, bi-level indoor space. After stopping in late last year, I was pleased to see a handful of families with kids during a laid-back happy hour. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area!