Growing up in Ann Arbor, the old German guys I knew around town would use the terms “beer garden” and “bar” interchangeably. It wasn’t until I traveled to Europe that I realized that Biergartens don’t have pool tables or jukeboxes and aren’t dark. What we set out to do here at Bill’s Beer Garden is to create a neighborhood, family friendly hangout space. We think of it as the community living room. Meet your friends here, meet new people, bring the kids and have some laid-back summer fun.
Bill’s Beer Garden “pops up” April-October in the parking lot of Downtown Home & Garden. When the store closes its parking lot to customers in the early evening (see hours), it takes about 20 minutes for us to set up the tables and benches and transition from parking lot to the beer garden. Our location at the corner of Liberty and Ashley across from the Fleetwood Diner is one block off the Main St. promenade of diners and strollers. We are surrounded by trees and open to the sky (yes, we are weather dependent). Bill’s is removed just enough from the active downtown street scene that passes by on the sidewalk outside to provide a calm haven to enjoy a beer, have a glass of wine, and do some serious people watching.
It was another business on our campus that provided the serendipitous inspiration for Bill’s Beer Garden. In 2010 we opened Mark’s Carts, a collection of ethnic street food carts that bring an unused lot behind Downtown Home and Garden to life in the summer. On the very first night Mark’s Carts opened a customer asked, “Where’s the beer?” I was dumbstruck. The thought ripened through the summer and one night, after the store was closed, as I was locking up the parking lot, it blossomed. Do we really have to lock the parking lot? If you’re in the Beer Garden, check out Mark’s Carts. Each cart keeps its own hours, but most are open until 9:00. El Manantial, Mexican street food. Simply Spanish, paella and tapas. Great Grilled Sandwiches. Hut-K, super healthy and delicious Indian food. Pita Cruiser, chicken shawarma. Wood Fired Up, pizza. Himalayan Momo, dumplings.
The oldest business on our campus and the anchor is Downtown Home & Garden, which I bought from the founding Hertler family in 1975 when it still went by Hertler Bros. At that time, it was a tired farm and garden store with roots going back to 1906 as a livery stable. The Hertlers’ baby sister, Emma (then 89 years old), turned to her nephew and whispered in a too-loud voice, “Sell it to him, Georgie, he’s a good boy — he gets up early.” It’s been the pleasure of my life to watch our community’s resurgence from down-and-out, abandoned by its anchor stores as they moved to the mall in the ‘60s, and by its factories along the railroad tracks as they moved south and overseas, to become a bustling entertainment and commercial hub. Downtown Home & Garden has changed with the times — from a farm store stocked with DDT, barbed wire, and dynamite, into an organic home gardening hub; from a few pickling crocks into a cookware store; from grain for backyard poultry into a bird food and birdfeeder headquarters; and from a few pairs of gloves and garden hats into a clothier offering sturdy woods-to-boardroom garments from iconic manufacturers Carhartt, Stormy Kromer, and Filson.
In all of the businesses on our campus, the simple goals are to be good contributing members of the community and to exceed your expectations.