Any business that opens up is going to find hiccups in the early going. But the Raleigh Beer Garden — a sprawling, multi-story, 366-tap-wielding behemoth of a bar on Glenwood South — should take a minute and drink some water from the opposite side of the glass.
There’s major potential here for a great place to drink beer. Downstairs is all North Carolina taps and, really, there’s almost too much to handle. Navigating the rotating menus — there are a pair above the bar — is somewhere between an airport arrival board and a Vegas sports book on the epilepsy scale.
But, hey, more beer is good beer. So just pick out what you want, stroll up to the bar and tell the bartender you’d like that beer. Come on fellas, it’s all so simple. (Everyone knows it’s ball bearings these days.)
Except it’s not. I went with a friend Thursday, we ordered four beers total and had to go through three misses before we landed on actually available beers. You can’t have a fancy rotating tap board with a list of beers if you don’t have those beers available.
There are roughly 366* waitstaff members in the building. Put someone in charge of knowing what beer is available.
*probably not quite that many
Or, you know, make sure they’re servicing tables. I sat at a downstairs bar table for 10 minutes without a single inquiry into my well being. After asking a waitress for a beer, I was told it was a shift change so I’d be better off going to the bar.
That’s flat-out unacceptable for a service industry business, even more so for a new restaurant.
While I’m complaining! Parking: it’s a freaking nightmare. That’s not on RBG, that’s just a standard Glenwood South issue. But it’s a factor.
Onto the good.
The atmosphere is cool. Really cool even. It feels like a huge camping lodge, with floors of refined wood. Sharp colors and a smooth flow make it an enjoyable place to visit. The architecture and design of the place are different, new and very appropriate for the setting the Beer Garden’s trying to convey. Demand a two-word description and I’d throw out “cozily modern.”
There’s tons of beer too! I still got some Deep River (Rye IPA) and a Crank Arm Zip Away (a lemongrass saison offering not even on the brewery’s list of beer). Making beers you can’t normally find readily available is a big plus to me.
The menu is very accessible online and perhaps even easier to navigate than the actual menus above the bar. You could almost say the same thing for the tap handles.
Pricing — a reasonably serious concern going in — didn’t feel too out of whack. All the beer I drank was local and came in pint glasses, which might be the way to go. (Love me some Sculpin, but not at $9 a pop.)
The upstairs bar is full of worldly, non-North Carolina beers. Separating the two is a cool concept for sure. A major issue with that? You can’t sit downstairs and order a beer from upstairs or vice versa. And even worse, your tab doesn’t translate upstairs to downstairs. (They at least don’t hold onto your card.)
Assuming the primary attraction of a beer garden is, yanno, the actual beer garden, RBG hit a home run with its setup. The only complaint is no waitstaff available outside, but there are so many tables it’s fine. That place is going to get PACKED on the weekends. It’s a nice area that will get plenty of sun, but you legit feel like you’re hanging out in a garden. There’s a very cool feeling about, both in ambiance and atmosphere.
There’s clearly promise here. Judging a book two pages in is harsh. If the Beer Garden fixes all the basic service/restaurant issues and iron out the kinks there’s major potential here.
Having a world record for most beer taps available is fantastic. But quantity should always be secondary to quality.