The Pump House in Hartford’s Bushnell Park will be reactivated as a beer garden starting on Friday, June 28. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Hanging Hills Brewing Company co-founder Joe Ploof, Hog River Brewing Company co-founders Ben and Joy Braddock, and Hartford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Julio Concepción to find out how the idea came to life.
NAN PRICE: How did the idea come about?
JULIO CONCEPCIÓN: It was the brewers’ idea. I first I heard of it when we regrouped after the Party on Pratt, which took place during March Madness. We got together to talk about how to create more successful events here in the city that involve the brewers.
JOE PLOOF: Ben, Joy, and I had been thinking about doing a beer garden in the city for the last two years. We’ve talked about how we feel that, because our breweries are in Hartford, we have to work harder to get people to come to us. That’s not because we don’t make good beer, or other people are making better beer, it’s just that people who live outside of Hartford often won’t come into the city on the weekend. We want to change that mindset.
We have big ideas that we can turn Hartford into a really successful small city one baby step at a time. This is one of those baby steps. Giving people the opportunity to have this awesome experience in their city. There is so much great stuff here, we need to tell the world how great the city is.
BEN BRADDOCK: After the Party on Pratt, we knew there was an opportunity to expand on the event’s success. We saw that residents of Hartford have been craving something cool and new in the city.
JOE: Right. The Party on Pratt was so successful—beyond the expectations of everyone involved. It made it easier to present our idea to the city, which has welcomed the idea and gone out of its way to help us.
We knew we should get a food vendor involved, too. I have a good relationship with Bob Hagmeier, who owns Harry’s Pizza in West Hartford Center. When I asked him, he didn’t hesitate. He just said: Yes, what do I need to do to help make this really successful?
JOY BRADDOCK: We’re very excited to bring the beer garden to Hartford with our partners. It will be great to give the city something new that excites people while activating a part of the city that goes mostly unused.
NAN: Julio, tell us about the chamber’s role in planning these kinds of events.
JULIO: Our role is to support the businesses that want to do events like this by acting as a convener. We ensured Ben, Joy, and Joe had the tools they needed, which meant all the right people were connected and informed.
I encouraged them to talk with the Bushnell Park Foundation; Thea Montanez, Chief of Staff and Interim Chief Operating Officer for the Mayor of Hartford; and Hartford’ office of Corporation Counsel to draft a lease agreement for the Pump House. They also needed to talk to Department of Public Works because the Pump House is still a working pump house. So, there were a lot of hoops to jump through.
NAN: It’s exciting to have a city landmark reactivated.
JULIO: Yes! The Pump House has been used for Winterfest events. But during the summer, there hasn’t been much activity over there for the last decade or so. Being able to activate that particular area in the park is important. It’s an underutilized asset in the city that can shine during the summer.
JOE: I agree 100 percent! Bushnell Park is such an amazing resource in downtown Hartford. We think offering beer garden type events and partnering with the Bushnell Park Foundation to possibly do a Winterfest event, will remind people Hartford is a great city with a big, beautiful gem right in the middle of it that’s totally underutilized. And the Pump House is a great symbol of that gem.
NAN: Can you estimate the economic impact the Beer Garden will have on the city?
JULIO: I can’t estimate it in numbers. But we know attracting people to the park will have a huge impact. The Beer Garden will only be open a few hours on Fridays, creating a captive audience of people who can visit a play or go to a restaurant or a different bar and stay downtown.
JOE: We felt like Friday night we could attract the most amount of people who are already downtown. And if there was already a group of people downtown, others might be willing to meet up in the city. Whereas, if we held the event on Saturdays, we’d be building the audience from scratch.
JOY: It also gives people the opportunity to stay in the city on a Friday night to visit multiple venues, as Julio mentioned. If successful, we hope to activate the zone from Bushnell Park all the way up to Dunkin Donuts Park.
JULIO: People want to see and do different things in the city. This Beer Garden creates an experience you can’t get in West Hartford or Farmington. This is a Hartford-centric thing using two Hartford landmarks, the Pump House and Bushnell Park, to promote activity in Hartford.
I give Ben, Joy, and Joe a lot of credit for taking this on and moving with it and I’m happy the Chamber could provide them with a pathway to do it. I look forward to having a couple of beers at the Beer Garden!
The Bushell Park Beer Garden will be open from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. every Friday through September (except July 19, during the Hartford Jazz Festival, and September 13, the Friday before Small State Great Beer).