Of Tykes and Taprooms: Do Kids Belong in Breweries?

Unfiltered by | Sep 2018 | Issue #133
Illustration by Chi-Yun Lau

When Chris Lohring and his wife Mary Ellen Leahy opened the Notch Brewing Company taproom in Salem, Mass., the hospitality novices prepared for the unexpected. A long-time brewing industry veteran, Lohring knew he wanted to focus on session beers, specializing in lagers. Leahy and Lohring also knew how they wanted the place to look and feel. They poured themselves into capturing that spirit in the exposed brick room, filling it and an adjacent outdoor beer garden with communal wood tables. When Notch opened its doors, it experienced the usual glitches. The point-of-sale system kept crashing, the toilet backed up, the dishwasher wasn’t fast enough. But the owners couldn’t predict the biggest predicament: kids.

Whether or not children belong in breweries is one of the most divisive issues facing America’s craft brewers, presenting an unexpectedly thorny concern for new taprooms. Brewery owners spend their time securing equipment, passing inspections, and dialing in recipes. But when the doors finally open, they quickly learn that not all of their customers want the same thing. Some expect a quiet place in which to ponder their pints, others anticipate a convivial atmosphere where they can down beers with friends, while still others desire a place for spending time with their families, including their kids. Cue the fight song.

Online review sites and Yelpers tell the story: Half of the commenters bitch about the presence of kids, while the rest complain about any restrictions on children. This no-win situation is a veritable minefield of consumer wrath waiting to happen. I don’t understand the outrage. My parents brought little me to bars in Chicago when they hung out with their friends after work or softball games. I’d often end up falling asleep on blankets on the bar or a nearby pool table. So I have a built-in affinity for welcoming kids into drinking establishments.

Americans have long had an unhealthy public relationship with alcohol, one we are all too quick to pass down to our children. Instead of making it part of the common community experience, we hide alcohol away, treating it as a sinful, harmful intoxicant. I don’t agree that drinking should be relegated to clandestine dens of inequity. With that said, I grew up at a time when you didn’t expect anyone else to parent your kid. If I got out of line, I was quickly set straight by my own parents.

That rule of bar etiquette remains eternal. No one else should be expected to parent for you—not the bar staff, not the other patrons, no one. Your kid, your responsibility. Taprooms aren’t free daycare. And if you don’t parent, expect to be called out for it or asked to leave. If parents follow the rules of good neighborship, kids shouldn’t negatively impact another person’s experience. I also have no problem with reasonable time and place restrictions on kids, including adults only hours in the evening and even prohibitions on children at beer festivals.

Not everyone likes kids, and that’s OK. But when we choose to go out and drink in bars, we willingly cede the personal bubble that is our home and agree to interact with the public. We don’t get to set the terms of whom else establishments serve. And that’s good. We shouldn’t live lives sheltered from one another.

I recently continued my family’s long tradition of bringing kids to bars. On one of our first public outings, my wife and I toted our newborn son, Sheffield, to Notch for his first brewery visit. There we shared beers with lederhosen-clad millennials and raucous retirees, everyone enjoying fantastic lagers and a shared sense of community.