Midtown has plenty of places to party, but the growing neighborhood still lacks places to relax. That's all set to change this fall thanks to the Axelrad Beer Garden. A project by local investors Monte Large, Adam Brackman and Jeff Kaplan, Axelrad will serve as a beer garden, bar and neighborhood gathering point.
When the concept was first announced two years ago, it was known as the Victory Beer Garden, but the partners chose instead to name the venture after the almost 100-year old building at the intersection of West Alabama and Almeda that anchors the property. Brackman tells CultureMap that a member of the Axelrad family contacted him when she read about the project. She expressed concern that the building might be torn down, but Brackman always had an eye on preserving it.
"There’s so much character and charm to old buildings. So much story that you just can’t replicate."
"The fact is you can’t build a building like that anymore. Back when it was built, Alabama was only a two-lane street. One of the lanes that’s there now was their front yard," Brackman says. "There’s so much character and charm to old buildings. So much story that you just can’t replicate."
When the woman made a visit to Houston, she toured the site with Brackman and Large. "She pointed to this corner and said ‘That’s where my crib was. I can remember watching the activity outside that window.’ Then we went to look on the door, and the mezuzah was still there from her grandparents . . . She became one of our investors. She’s a treasure trove of information about the history of what it was," he says.
The first floor of the Axelrad building will house the bar and provide some seating that's protected from heat and rain. Interior design and branding are being handled by Gin Braverman and Evan O'Neil with gindesignsgroup (Oxheart, Camerata, The Boulevardier). "She’s really running with a lot of this," Brackman says about Braverman. "She helped pick out all the finishes and the layout."
No plans have been decided on for the second story, but the space certainly has potential. Formerly home to apartments, Brackman thinks it could house a speakeasy style cocktail bar thanks to its various rooms that would provide for intimate seating areas.
While the interior is important, the garden will be Axelrad's signature element. At 12,000 square feet, it will feature plenty of seating, a place for outdoor games and even an area of hammocks for lounging. Large says he took that idea from a similar setup at the El Cosmico campground in Marfa. "The whole vibe that we’re going for is relaxing, kind of a respite from the busyness, a place to hang out and have a good time. Hammocks we thought were a good addition to that," Large explains.
Designed by landscape architect Jenny Janis, the garden area will feature a mix of indigenous plants as well as a water feature. A series of canopies will provide shade, and video artists will be able to display their work on the building via a projector.
"While we invite the beer connoisseurs, it’s about the setting as much as the beer."
Turning to the food and beverage side, Axelrad will offer 25 taps that mix local favorites with national craft options, as well as a selection of bottles and cans, but Large sees Axelrad as different from beer bars with larger selections and an enthusiast focus.
"We don’t necessarily want to compete with other beer bars," Large says. "We are very serious about the beer. The environment though and the setting and this being a neighborhood spot is very important to us, too. While we invite the beer connoisseurs, it’s about the setting as much as the beer."
Axelrad will feature food from neighboring restaurant Luigi's Pizzeria or trucks parked onsite. Patrons will be able to order a pizza from Luigi's to eat in the beer garden or take a beer from the bar to Luigi's. It's a highly symbiotic relationship that Brackman is particularly excited about.
"I do think that our concept and synergy could increase their sales by 20 percent. They’re willing to stay open later, until two or three. They couldn’t be more excited," he says. "They already serve pizza and wings. We’ve loosely talked about custom pizza flavors. They’re flexible. We’ll do whatever we can to help their business."
That relationship also extends to Retrospect Coffee, which should also open this fall on the same block at the corner of La Branch and Alabama. Brackman says they've dubbed the block "Almeda Yards" and are planning day-long festivals, similar to the way the businesses Mid Main work together on joint events.
Taken together, all of the components represent an ambitious plan for a part of Midtown that's still ripe for development. The project has a lot of moving pieces that all need to come together, but, given the partners success with companies like New Living and endeavors like the Houston Needs a Swimming Hole campaign, it's difficult to bet against them.