Sharing space: Do children have a place in Asheville’s brewery taprooms?

SIGNS OF THE TIMES: In order to encourage safety and harmony among guests, Wedge Brewing Co. owner Tim Schaller, pictured at the brewery’s Foundation location, posts signs stating an 8 p.m. curfew for underage guests and other guidelines for families to follow. Wedge also trains staff on how to courteously deal with issues such as unaccompanied children. Photo by Cindy Kunst
SIGNS OF THE TIMES: In order to encourage safety and harmony among guests, Wedge Brewing Co. owner Tim Schaller, pictured at the brewery’s Foundation location, posts signs stating an 8 p.m. curfew for underage guests and other guidelines for families to follow. Wedge also trains staff on how to courteously deal with issues such as unaccompanied children. Photo by Cindy Kunst

A July 19 post on Reddit.com’s Asheville subreddit titled “Child-Free Breweries” called out “irresponsible young parents with very young children.” Specifically named were babies who cry “as loud as the music from the loudspeakers” and neglected toddlers who “act out” and want “to run around and bang on things.”

Closing with the question of whether there are any local breweries that don’t allow children, the post quickly became one of the few on /r/Asheville to exceed 100 comments. Some replies seconded the original poster’s opinions. Others, however, broke the news that, while a handful of breweries ban people younger than 21 after a certain hour or designate specific spaces for those of legal drinking age, all Asheville-area breweries are in fact family-friendly.

“The situations where you have hordes of unruly kids beating beer drinkers with sticks or something, I think those situations are extremely limited, if they ever happen,” says Cliff Mori, owner of the Asheville beer education and brewery tour company Brew-Ed.

More often, Mori continues, one sees groups of children playing off to the side with parents casually watching them while having a pint or two. “I think that’s mostly what we see is well-behaved kids hanging out,” he says. “But if you’re really sensitive to that, and you feel like it should be an adults-only space, I could see why people would be upset by it. I just think it’s probably an unrealistic expectation more than anything else.”

The bigger picture

The welcoming environment starts with the brewery owners, and no one on the local scene wants to exclude responsible patrons. Though tasting rooms are designed as spaces for sharing beverages that can only legally be bought and consumed by adults, the presence of younger people is part of a larger social picture.

“I think in the last four years there’s been a big movement in the brewing industry that’s kind of going away from being a regional brewery to being more of a community brewery,” says Joey Justice, co-owner of Sweeten Creek Brewing. “Asheville is a great example of how a city smaller than some of the larger cities in the state can support as many breweries as it does, and a lot of it has to do with that emphasis on community — the ability to find a good, comfortable space close to home. I think that’s why you’re seeing so many of these little breweries pop up right now.”

Sweeten Creek is one of the few smaller local breweries that offers plenty of room outdoors for kids to spread out and play, a luxury more commonly available at Asheville’s larger breweries. Greg Garrison, his wife, Ashley, and their two children, ages 4 and 1, live around the corner from New Belgium Brewing Co. Other than the convenience of proximity, they regularly visit the brewery for the appeal of an open and contained space that has a parklike feel with some shade, food and, sometimes, entertainment.

“The brewery is almost secondary to the space that has been created by the brewery,” Greg Garrison says. “If you think about the number of bars in Asheville or places where you can get a drink versus places where families can take their kids and have food in an open space that’s contained and has just a free-for-all [feel], there aren’t that many. So we as parents are almost thankful for the breweries to provide this space.”

In turn, Garrison does his part to honor the trust placed in him so that his and other families can continue to enjoy the privilege of playing on New Belgium’s expansive lawn and sidewalks. Each time he and his son, Finn, get ready go to the brewery, they talk about guidelines for properly using the space. Garrison sees each visit as an opportunity to teach Finn the necessity of having control around adults, dogs and other kids, abiding by a code of conduct and being responsible, much like being in a park.

Appreciative of parents like Garrison, Brian LaFever, a child-free Asheville resident who frequents Highland Brewing Co., Asheville Pizza & Brewing and both Hi-Wire Brewing locations, has the same stance on children at breweries as he does with the presence of dogs while he enjoys a pint.

“If they’re well-behaved, supervised and unobtrusive, then I don’t really care. However, the ones who are freely roaming, unchecked [and] detracting from other patrons’ experience — that’s the problem,” LaFever says. “And being able to properly gauge said things is something best left to a jury of other patrons and staff, not the owner [or] parent, because they, of course, will typically balk at the assertion [or] accusation that their child [or] pet is anything but perfect, normally.”

Curating coexistence

Highland President Leah Wong Ashburn is committed to offering a place where all of the above may coexist, an attitude she sees as an extension of how she was raised. Accustomed to staffwide outings with her father and brewery founder Oscar Wong’s engineering company and her parents actively engaging with their neighbors wherever they’ve lived, Ashburn says it’s only natural that Highland would conduct business in a similar manner.

As the brewery has expanded, its leadership has added more space to reflect those values. Poison ivy, underbrush and other obstacles in the meadow behind the brewhouse were cleared, giving families a place to let loose in the afternoons and augmenting the expansive family-friendly taproom. Then, in 2016, Highland opened a rooftop bar for guests who are over 21 as a means of offering a balance between settings.

“You might want to have a family-friendly area one night, and you might not on another night, depending on the occasion,” Ashburn says. “I love being in either place depending on my mood and the day. I don’t want to go to a bar all the time when I want an adult atmosphere.”

Ashburn adds that Highland’s operating hours send a message regarding customer expectations. (“We’re definitely in a social time, but not night life,” she says.) Time restrictions, as well as an acute understanding of space limitations, are likewise important at Wedge Brewing Co., whose expansive courtyard naturally attracts families, but at its core is a railroad lot. To reflect that awareness and encourage harmony among patrons, owner Tim Schaller implemented a policy — documented on copious signs around the property — that children must be within 10 feet of their adult and that after 8 p.m., only people ages 21 and older are allowed.

“That started around safety. There’s the parking lot and the train comes through, and kids find their way over to the fence,” Schaller says. “Like all rules, that’s there to use if you need to. I’ve watched parents who you can tell they’re watching the kid … but if we see they don’t have an eye on them, it’s more for the ones who don’t keep track because that’s not a safe thing to do.”

Wedge trains its staff about the brewery’s approach, which, in the event of spotting a child seemingly unaccompanied, is to go up and ask as nicely as possible, “Where’s your mom or dad?” The next step is locating the parent and informing them of the 10-foot rule — also while being kind. “No one wants to be told they’re a bad parent,” Schaller says.

The Wedge staff begins talking to parents at 7:30 p.m. to let them know about the 8 p.m. policy and give them plenty of time to wrap up their visit. Exceptions are made on nights when movies are screened in the courtyard and if a family is waiting on an order from the food truck of the day, but they try to stick to the 8 p.m. curfew as much as possible.

Despite the admirable intentions at the rules’ core, they’ve been met with occasional fiery criticism from customers. One-star Facebook reviews from 2014 are still viewable online, slamming the child policy after its implementation and calling Wedge “anti-child.” Well-aware of the backlash, Schaller says the funny thing for him is that for four years in the mid-1970s, he ran a nursery on Long Island and feels at ease talking with kids, often more so than with adults.

Space for adults

In addition to highlighting these child-free spaces and times at local breweries, several posters on the Reddit thread pointed to barlike tasting rooms such as One World Brewing — which welcomes families during the day but is also adults-only after 8 p.m. — as an alternative for people who want to have a drink without having to worry about the presence of children, as well as bars themselves. Brandon Skupski, co-owner of the Crucible Bar in the River Arts District, sees his 21-and-older private club as a haven for locals from tourists and crowds, not an escape from children. Nonetheless, he never considered making Crucible family-friendly, mostly for logistical reasons.

“A place like this, it’s an adult setting, it’s a small room, it’s a bar — there’s nothing here for kids to do, and there are plenty of great places in town where they can play outside and do their thing,” he says. “Also, the chances of interacting with adults who don’t want to interact with them is much lower at somewhere like the Bywater or the Salvage Station than they would be here.”

Options are indeed plentiful for local drinkers to find a place and time that matches their expectations. But in the event that both sides of the cultural divide find themselves in the same room, Garrison still sees the potential for a shared, peaceful and enjoyable experience.

“I think that a little bit of love from one side to the other wouldn’t be a bad thing,” he says. “We’re all just people trying to hang out and do things … and experience Asheville and also be responsible at the same time as parents and individuals.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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27 thoughts on “Sharing space: Do children have a place in Asheville’s brewery taprooms?

  1. MikeyP

    One of the things I really like about Asheville’s brewery culture (and maybe breweries in general) is that they are something of a third space between a bar and a restaurant. There’s no pressure to order or turn over a table, but they aren’t bars either – I’ve never seen anyone taking shots at a brewery (maybe WW) and rarely see very drunk people at them, save for occasional big groups of tourists. I’m sure there are exceptions involving very distracted parents or wild kids, but the notion that these are spaces where someone would feel comfortable with a small child is part of their appeal (to me.) This has been the case before and since I’ve become a parent. That said, the cut-off times make sense to me, too. Those Iron Rails get stronger when the sun goes down.

    • Shane

      If you saw a baby in a bar years ago, the would have called the police, then child social services would be called. I saw some years ago a bar downtown advertising ” babies and beer” and had a time line. I think this is totally irresponsible and part of what is wrong with Asheville society… good for rules on this.

      • MikeyP

        I don’t fully understand your comment, but I think the point I was trying to make was that breweries (at least some of them) are very different than bars. Context is everything here – having a toddler in a high-chair while you eat lunch at LAB isn’t really the same as one crawling on the floor at Room Nine at 1am.

  2. John Alexander

    Children are in no way near as troublesome as smokers who feel they can light up anywhere and the establishment owners who allow it (disregarding the law).

    • Lulz

      LOL why ban smoking instead of allowing the free market to dictate who wants to allow it or not? Whiners support bans. See if people were free then they could choose where to go or not depending on their preferences and not YOUR crony and really unconstitutional law.

      • Jenn

        There have been many times I had to sit inside instead of outside because I found the cigarette smoke so offensive. Therefore, why should I not be able to sit where I want because someone has a bad habit? Smoke is offensive and some people have asthma. There should definitely be laws.

        • Lulz

          LOL because in a free country you allow the market to dictate. Don’t like smoke? Then don’t go to a place that allows it. But you don’t like freedom. And you sure as hell don’t comprehend the term choice.

          • luther blissett

            The free market gave us “More Doctors Smoke Camels” and the freedom to sit in the chemo ward.

            Have you ever considered that it’s not everybody else who has a very weird outlook on things?

          • Lulz

            Well if you mean I believe in private property rights instead of Democrat authoritarian rule, you’re right. Again, why are you blowhards not pro choice? Oh that’s right, you think you are accredited with some BS college degree and smarter. Yet have no real grasp of just how horrible your ideology is. Or that freedom entails responsibility of which the left is devoid of. And BTW what you wrote smells of communism.

          • luther blissett

            No, what I meant is that you have an inconsistent and often self-contradicting set of beliefs that work more like stream-of-consciousness reactions or reflex responses. There’s really no point arguing with you because you don’t admit blatant factual errors or the logical consequences of positions you assert.

        • Lulz

          LOL because the carcinogens given off when meat is cooked at high temps.is like healthy.

      • Lulz

        LOL and let me add that the ban has nothing to do with public health. Smoking is banned outdoors now and smokers are relegated to as much as 50 feet away from entrances. And this is to make examples of them to LOL, LOL children. And yet we have complete support for the kiddies to participate in bars now. How strange to punish one legal activity and promote another WHERE ADULTS GATHER. And we are talking about private businesses here. Even worse, how authoritarian of the left to ban smoking because they simply cannot fathom free people making choices. Unless of course it’s to the abortion mills. And let’s remember it was our one term governor Purdue and her democrat majority that enacted this farce. Not one republican voted for the smoking ban.

      • John Alexander

        Your statement is nonsensical and simply weird. Smoking is socioeconomic issue and a health concern. Thankfully time adds a sense of pain and finality to those who choose to light up. I take solace in that reality.

  3. Jenn

    As a parent and a lover of beer I understand both sides of the argument. The fact is that we live in an amazing city that offers great resources for families as well as great beer. I bring my children to breweries where I am able to enjoy myself responsibly. There have been instances I have witnessed a child unattended outside with a parent inside the establishment drinking for hours. I think that is the real issue. There are children in our community and parents who want to experience their community. I have also been at the Wedge with my children and the owner voiced his displeasure with our children being present. There was no music and my kids are well behaved. It was 6:30 pm. This has happened to a few other parents I know. I also know that I will not return to the Wedge because of this. That’s completely fine. There are other locations that welcome my family.

  4. Laura Eshelman

    Please leave your kids at home. The tourist bros and bachelorettes are obnoxious enough.

    • Bright

      Yo! I agree with Eshelman. Surely the kid’s parents might act responsibly, but what about other people? Bars and breweries are where ADULTS go to get goofy. We are not there to babysit your children and “watch out for them” underfoot. No matter the excruciating greed for more money at the breweries, kids in alcohol training programs don’t cut it. I’m at a diff Brewery each week…I drink, I have GROWN kids…I have a blast!

  5. Eric Knopf

    We live around the corner from New Belgium. My daughter, dog, and I walk the path every day. I do not drink alcohol.
    The first time we tried to hang out on the lawn and blow bubbles was a nightmare! She had 8 wands total and shared with the hordes of unsupervised kids that ran over. One kid blew bubbles into my 18 month old’s face several times, even after I redirected him, and his father just stood distantly watching. Only 2 parents out of the over 10 kids came over to thank me and get their children.
    We packed up to leave, and only 2 wands were left, and her soccer ball was missing. When we got to the parking lot, 2 unsupervised boys were out there with her ball trying to break the street lights. So not cool. If you drink, that is your business. Please do not leave children unsupervised at your local brewery…

  6. Alias

    Tired of all the “new-age parents” bringing their kids to adult spaces. If you can afford to buy beers and food at a brewery you can afford to pay a baby sitter for a couple hours.

    • luther blissett

      What’s an “adult space”? There’s clearly a continuum here, and where you draw the line depends partly on the inherent characteristics of a location, partly on local context, and partly on your personal sense of what a “beer venue” should be. Mellow Mushroom sells a lot of beer. APB sells a lot of beer. If kids aren’t hellions in a pizza-and-beer establishment then they’ll probably be fine in a brewery space.

      Like MikeyP says, the larger brewery and bar sites, especially ones with outdoor areas, are the closest thing in the area to German-style beer gardens or parks that permit a sedate afternoon beer. (Thanks, open container laws!) I think local breweries have the balance more or less right. More kids, fewer bros.

  7. Don

    I don’t mind the children at all…. less just have less bros, cigarette addicts, Trump worshiping angry old white men et al. Any questions?

    • Bright

      No questions…you’ve said it all! That’s just a part of the “community” that parents want to “share” with their children? Not smart.

  8. Tourist

    I live in SoFl and have visited many AVL Breweries (Burial is the best!). I have noticed a few places that have kids but most didn’t seem to have any negative issues. Dogs seemed to be the issue. They roamed freely without owners and stuck noses in crotches etc. I do agree that after 8pm, it’s time to get the kiddies out.

  9. dutch

    isnt drinking and then driving with children in the car illegal…or at least frowned upon by the local enforcement teams? perhaps they should monitor the businesses who promote this activity.
    and while I have the microphone, what about the dogs? i was recently enjoying a pricey meal at a fairly upscale italian place in the grove arcade when a family of four plus one large poodle with what I assume was a service dog jacket on, were seated next to me. no one seemed to be medically impaired in any way or even paying much attention to the canine, it was seated on the upholstered bench and seemed more interested in my dinner than any thing else, it really ruined our evening as my wife has allergies to pet dander and the thought of the filthy animal sitting on the upholstery has ruled out this restaurant for future outings, there is a place for animals and its not fine dining….

  10. dutch

    or better yet, dont go to the breweries and let them survive off the income they generate from the familys…

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