By Kristine Hansen | Photo courtesy of New Holland Brewing Co.

Think of it as a picnic with beer. Or outdoor dining in a park.

Have you thought about organizing a small group within your company or organization, or on your client’s behalf, for after-hours fun at a beer garden? These gardens in urban settings — but always with a fair amount of green space — typically start the season around Memorial Day (although some pour beers as early as April), staying open through late October. They also remain open until dark, which makes them an ideal post-workday or post-meeting event.

Even for those who opt for non-alcoholic drinks, the focus at a beer garden isn’t solely on suds. Sodas and kombucha are popular alternatives at beer gardens, with the latter often brewed on site or by a local brewer. Food menus ensure everyone is fed.

Here are five beer gardens around the Midwest with special offerings for groups, including reserving a dedicated seated area (beer gardens usually offer first-come-first-serve seating, not conducive for a large group) and facilitating packages (making the process of ordering food a breeze). Some can even fold in a tour of their operation, adding an educational component to the outing.



Beer lovers can taste their way around not only Wisconsin but the world, because the tap list is that extensive. The food caters to vegetarian and gluten-free diets while also representing signature Wisconsin eats such as Friday fish fry, cheese curds, and Klement’s bratwurst and Polish sausage (the company’s plant is located in the neighborhood). In addition to booking picnic tables for your group that are perched above Lake Michigan on an expanse of lawn in South Shore Park, South Shore Terrace’s indoor space is available for private rental on Mondays all day, as well as Tuesday through Friday prior to 4 p.m. Reservations can include catered food from the beer garden’s menu. As a popular weddings and meetings site and frequent location for local-government meetings, the historic brick South Shore Park Pavilion can hold up to 210 people. It’s available for rentals daily, except for Wednesday, between 10 a.m. and midnight, and includes access to the kitchenette. Street parking is free.



Tucked into the Lake View neighborhood, 6 miles north of the Loop, this beer garden also pours wine and mixes cocktails, which is ideal for a group with varying drink preferences. Groups between 20 and 200 people can be accommodated. Hanging flower baskets and an exposed brick wall cultivate a cozy vibe, and a small stage can host live music or a presentation. Beers at the outside bar range from local brewers (Goose Island Beer Company, Spiteful Brewing and Maplewood Brewing Company) to imports (Hirter Privat Pils from Germany). Food can also be tailored for your group’s needs. On the bar’s menu is everything from salad to barbecue platters, as well as shareable bites like fried pickle chips, fried green tomato sliders and Furious Irish nachos (all the Mexican-style fixings plus Jack Daniels barbecue sauce and choice of meat). Being in Chicago, parking can be a challenge, but if your group is coming from a nearby site, public transportation is easily accessible.



This unique beer garden is open year-round and is tucked away in a forest grove, offering an option for groups meeting in the winter. Igloos for small groups of about a half-dozen people help shelter from the cold as do crackling fires. The opportunity to work with the brewery to plan a private, group event is limited, but thankfully, there are options for small groups. The garden is adjacent to the microbrewery, and you’ll find a variety of beers on tap — from an IPA that’s a collaboration with the Leo Creek Preserve (donating 50 cents from every pint) to a hearty American Stout — as well as ciders and wines carrying the Hop Lot Brewing Co. name. If your group wants to tack on a soft-adventure activity, this beer garden is reachable from the TART Trail, a network of multi-use trails in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. Tacos, burgers (including an Impossible burger), sandwiches and shareable appetizers (such as smoked wings and beer- battered fries) are on the food menu. There is plenty of parking near the beer garden.



This Michigan brewery may have large distribution but its Bridge Street Beer Garden, with a retractable roof and radiant overhead heating system, feels small and intimate. It can hold as few as 20 people and there are additional options inside, which include a full restaurant buyout or five additional spaces and lounges on site. By working with the brewery’s banquets and catering team, food can also be part of your event. On the menu are elevated eats like eight pizzas (such as a vegan option and another topped with chicken and waffle bites), hearty entrees such as house- smoked kielbasa and mushroom risotto (both source ingredients from local farms and food purveyors), and salads and sandwiches appealing to vegetarians. Parking can be challenging and so it’s recommended to carpool or hire a group shuttle.



Operated by the city of Mishawaka, this beer garden along the St. Joseph River is in northern Indiana, 82 miles northwest of Fort Wayne and near South Bend. It opened during the summer of 2020 and operates at night with lights strung overhead, and during the day, with umbrellas and pergolas keeping out the sun.

A rental can include not only the beer garden but also access to Beutter Park Lawn & Stage for an additional fee. As this is a public 10-acre park, the atmosphere isn’t entirely private. Parking is available in the park. If your group is small enough, you might consider not reserving the garden and instead showing up on any given day, especially when live music or other events are happening, further enriching your group’s participation.

The beer garden is not operated by a brewery or restaurant, so beer and food partners change seasonally. This year it’s Sun King Brewery, based in Mishawaka, providing both beer and food (brats, hot dogs, walking tacos and nachos).

Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer from the Milwaukee area who covers food, drink, travel, art and design.