Entering its third season, the Petrifying Springs Biergarten has become one of Kenosha’s most popular summer destinations and entertainment venues.
The biergarten, located on the south end of Petrifying Springs Park in the 4600 block of Highway JR, officially kicks off its 2019 season on Friday following a pair of soft openings the past two weekends.
Through a partnership with Kenosha County, a percentage of all biergarten sales goes towards improving local parks.
The biergarten is open noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Michael Grab, co-owner of the biergarten, recently took time out of his schedule to share a few details about this season and what has made the biergarten a central hub inside Kenosha’s crown jewel of parks.
New additions at the biergarten include year-round bathrooms, an upgraded baseball diamond, a bags (cornhole) league, food trucks, themed movie nights and expanded live entertainment.
Q: It looks like there’s ongoing construction at the biergarten. Can you give a quick update on what’s being done and when it might be completed?
A: The big thing is we’re putting in heated bathrooms that will be open all year round. There’s four stalls for women and two stalls and four urinals for men. It’s definitely going to benefit a lot of people, not only for the biergarten, but also for other parkgoers throughout the year.
Q: The bathroom structure looks huge. Is there anything else in there besides bathrooms?
A: There’s a couple storage units in there as well. The county needs those, and we’ll utilize one to have some backup storage. We have a very small storage space, and it becomes challenging, almost Tetris-like, stacking things and finding places to put stuff. The storage will definitely help us. It also gets us on city water. We were on well water. Any time we’ve had events after mid-October, we didn’t have running water. Everything had to be disposable.
Q: Is there a timeline on when this project might be completed?
A: Bathrooms are slated to be done mid-to-end of June. We’ll start the baseball field after that. That should be done in July.
Q: What type of improvements will be made to the existing baseball diamond?
A: It will be a brand new baseball-softball field with drainage. Any time it rained, that field became a sloppy mess. There will also be a smaller footprint for the bleachers. We’ll use standard-sized bleachers instead of that huge seating area that was there before. That was mostly just wasted space.
Q: Will there still be a kickballl league this year?
A: That is the plan. We’re doing corn hole leagues to start the year, and that’s something that’s new for us. We already have 30 teams signed up. I was pretty surprised how quickly that filled up.
Q: What exactly do you have planned for themed movie nights?
A: The first one up is "Napoleon Dynamite." We’ll have "Vote for Pedro" pins, a tater tot food truck and some llamas. We’re going to play "Sandlot" with the opening of the baseball field. We’re encouraging people to dress up like their favorite characters. The movie nights were getting a little mundane. I thought they needed a little bit of a spark. This is our way of doing that this year.
Q: Anything else new this year?
A: We’ll have the traveling food truck show that maybe you’ve seen in Milwaukee. We’re bringing them in four times, once in June, July, August and September. We’re kind of taking a big leap of faith doing this. We’re the only independent (business) hosting them this summer.
Q: We know there’s plenty of beer at the biergarten. How about food? Are there any new food options in addition to your traditional brat and pretzel fare?
A: I think, for us, keeping it simple is the biggest thing. I research what the other beer gardens are doing so we can stay ahead of the curve. Some of them have introduced large food menus, and, to me, that’s where you can start to get in trouble. We’re trying to remain as authentic as we can with the German biergarten. Last year, we added a sausage platter which comes on the top of a pretzel. We’re working with things we have and trying to do them in different ways.
Q: I think that’s how every restaurant should operate. Do what you do well and stick with it. I’m not interested in going to a place like Cheesecake Factory and thumbing through a 50-page menu. Is that kind of your rationale?
A: When you have a menu that big, what you’ll notice is that it forces people to go back and pick something basic. The waiter will come to the table and then he’ll come back three more times and then you’ll order a burger. We want to keep it simple. We work off margins, and food margins are never the greatest. If we’re sitting on things and have to throw things away, it becomes problematic and not worth it.
Q: Can people bring their own steins to the biergarten?
A: Yes, they can. You can bring your own glass. That’s kind of fun, too, because people dust off these steins that have sat on their shelves or their parents’ shelves for 20 or 30 years. That’s kind of cool.
Q: Are you required to close at 9 p.m.? Have you ever considered staying open later?
A: The park closes at 10 p.m., and it usually takes 30 minutes to rifle people out and get everything cleaned up and ready for the next day. If we stayed open any later, it would be difficult. To me, anything later than that people start getting weird. That has been a real benefit. We’ll let people get a start by us and choose wherever they want to go after that.
Q: How is the new (cellphone) app shaping up?
A: You can download it by searching Petrifying Springs Biergarten. It’s a great way for people to get all of the information about the biergarten. There’s specials and loyalty programs on there. If you sign up, you get a free pint glass.
Q: How many people are employed at the biergarten?
A: We have around 15 to 20. Last year, we were pretty heavy on hiring. We hire a lot of teachers because they’re great workers. The issue becomes late in the year when they return to school, and we kind of scramble a little.
Q: Anything else you want people to know about the biergarten?
A: One thing people don’t understand is that, when they come to the biergarten, that money goes to the park district for improvements. We’re also involved with sponsorships and donations. To me, that’s the most important thing.