Sunday, 1 p.m. This is peak beer garden time, when strollers are unloaded from midsize SUV trunks, and when the gents in Polo shirts and ladies in sundresses opt for a beer to wind down before the week begins again.
The Saint Arnold Brewing Company beer garden had already looked lived-in on this day. The right crowds were hanging out, the kids were splashing at a beer kettle turned upside down and into a fountain, and the music played circa 2008 indie rock on repeat (the beer garden’s theme song is “1901” by Phoenix). It felt like this had been here for years.
Nope. It opened six days before, along with the new attached restaurant, signaling an expansion for Houston's first craft brewery, and the culmination of a lifelong goal for brewery co-founder and owner Brock Wagner.
“I always had a dream—in the 1990s it was a pipe dream—of having a beer garden,” says Wagner. “And when I decided to do it I really wanted to create a destination, something that would be architecturally interesting that you could experience in different ways.”
Spaces include a cornhole area with multiple boards, three bocce courts filled with ground oyster shells brought in from Minnesota (Wagner was surprised he couldn’t get ground oyster shells locally), green spaces made for open play, and an impressive main beer garden underneath a specially constructed “dissolving metal building,” as Wagner calls it. Half of the beer garden is covered by the structure’s roof panels, while the other half is in open air. Ceiling fans hang from the panels, making the space cooler than expected.
“It’s 97 degrees or something, and there’s people sitting outside, some of them in long pants and dresses, and they’re saying ‘Yeah, this is surprisingly comfortable,’” says Wagner.
The main space also includes picnic tables, high-tops, and four-seaters centered around the beer kettle fountain. Small gardens add splashes of color and depth, while a few life-sized Connect Four boards provide nostalgia and a way to pass the time.
From the beer garden patrons can access the restaurant, which echoes the beer hall concept with long tables and an anchoring tap wall. Eyes are likely to focus on the gorgeous multiple chapels, depicting religious scenes, skulls, and serpents—all painted by local artists.
The food menu is expanded, too, with Executive Chef Ryan Savoie’s menu focusing on beer-garden-friendly items like pizza and thick-cut fries that find the perfect balance between crunch and chew, but also savory sandwiches (curry chicken salad, for one) and deliriously flavorful wings. An order of six wings in the fire emoji sauce, furnace hot but infused with a tropical kick and topped with chili flakes, pairs well with just about any Saint Arnold beer.
Wagner says he purposely refused to put salt and pepper shakers on the beer garden tables so patrons didn’t feel pressured to order food. He wants visitors to feel free to experience the space in any way they want—celebrations, random hang outs, day-drinking sessions, big dinners, or whatever.
But still, order those fire emoji wings.