Eyes on the Street and a Beer in Hand

Most people associate the term “beer goggles” with an inebriated state of affairs in which a member of the opposite (in some cases same) sex appears more attractive. As an urban nerd, I think “beer goggles” can apply to urban places, as entire cities can look more attractive after a drink, particularly when you are strolling down a sidewalk on a pleasant evening after a nice meal with friends.

In the case of the Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub, however, I hadn’t even raised the first pint of Smokehouse Porter to my lips when I gazed out the large windows toward the intersection of 38th Street and 28th Avenue. Maybe it was just my vantage point, but the street and buildings looked nicer. Maybe it was the early fall sun setting on the brick facades or the people passing by on their way home from the train. However, I believe it was the room in which we were congregated, populated by several dozen neighbors who were there for the grand opening of the brewpub. I had been in this space before, but only when it was a furniture store. Now it is a genuine third place, somewhere to hang out, carouse, converse about issues or nothing at all. It is a place “to be,” and in just one day transformed the corner on which it sits.

My “beer goggle” eyes weren’t the only ones on the street. This pub with its large windows and patio at the corner provides real eyes on the street. I dare any vandal to try and smash the oft-smashed bus shelter glass across the street, with all the beer geeks and their I-phones at the ready to photograph, video or even chase them down (I actually don’t dare you, please don’t smash the shelter). Furthermore, it just melted my heart to not only see the Northbound bike racks and all nearby signs occupied by parked bikes, but it was also a pleasure to see people walk up the street towards the pub, as I had done, since so many of us truly live nearby – it is our neighborhood pub.

Behind all of this is an interesting blend of private market initiative and neighbors who want to improve their community. How? In a word – beer. The owner of the property, Andy Root, bought the building a couple years ago when the furniture store closed and sold. He found a potential brewpub tenant and also began renovating the upstairs apartment units. Jamie Robinson, a co-owner of the Northbound, approached the neighborhood seeking a cash investment in return for free beer for life or a minor ownership stake in the business.

Thirsty residents with a sense that a brewpub on a corner near their home would make their neighborhood more attractive came up with $200,000 in three weeks. I am proud to be part of it. The “free” beer is nice, but the placemaking is priceless. The brewpub opened last week to rave reviews, and that first night was transformative and magical. It was wonderful to wander the restaurant, pint in hand, and exchange greetings with fellow neighbors. As “founding members,” together with regular customers, with our mere presence we will have a part in being caretakers and defenders of this urban corner. Looking out those oversized windows together, we got a collective sense that we had a small role in a transformative moment in our neighborhood.

I’ll drink to that!

this was crossposted at Joe Urban

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.