Star Tribune: St. Paul debuts downtown craft beer happy hour Tuesday

St. Paul debuts downtown craft beer happy hour Tuesday

New St. Paul event one of many efforts to reconnect with Mississippi River.
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A summer-long happy hour at Kellogg Mall Park is part of an effort to reconnect St. Paul with the Mississippi River. The longterm goal is to build a St. Paul River Balcony, as seen in this rendering.

Kellogg Mall Park offers visitors a place to relax near bubbling fountains and enjoy an expansive view of the Mississippi River, just a block from the economic center of St. Paul.

But it’s often empty.

“Kellogg Mall Park is one of the most beautiful parks in St. Paul, or the in region for that matter,” said Joe Spencer, St. Paul’s director of arts and culture. “But a lot of people don’t just go because a place is beautiful.”

So Spencer and Brian Horst, who has produced events at various downtown parks, devised a plan to change that using a cherished tradition: happy hour. The Kellogg Craft Beer Overlook debuts from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

All summer, Tuesdays through Fridays, people will be able to buy food-truck snacks and beer, cider or a glass of wine and enjoy the view. Bartenders will sell local craft brews from a trailer with a cooling system, and some afternoons might feature live music.

Horst hopes the overlook will keep people downtown after the workday ends and tempt them to linger until musical or theatrical performances start at other downtown venues.

The happy hour at the overlook continues a city effort to reconnect with the river. The Mississippi has long been an afterthought for downtown employees — cut off from the heart of the city by parking lots, railroad tracks and the natural divide of the cliff.

The centerpiece of the city’s river initiative is a plan for a balcony that would run from Union Depot to the Science Museum of Minnesota. Near the middle of the 1½-mile stretch, by the Wabasha Street Bridge and Kellogg Mall Park, the city wants to add a beer garden. It would hearken back to Tivoli Gardens, the beer garden that occupied the same site in 1904.

While the balcony is years away from becoming a reality, officials said it’s not too soon to start encouraging people to spend more time by the river.

A test run in 2016

The craft beer overlook had a test run last year during the River Balcony Prototyping Festival and for a few weeks following the event. That festival brought art installations to the riverfront, along with beer, music and approximately 1,000 people, said Darlene Walser, executive director of the St. Paul Riverfront Corp.

Walser talked to about 100 event attendees last year, many of whom live or work downtown. They told her they don’t often come to Kellogg Mall Park, on Kellogg Boulevard between Wabasha and Robert streets, and want to see more events there.

Instead of just another planning meeting, the festival was a way to help people picture the future of the river balcony, Walser said, and Horst’s weekly craft beer events will encourage even more people to re-imagine the riverfront.

Horst said the beer overlook will also bring more positive activity to downtown — which has been struggling with an uptick in quality-of-life crimes — while supporting good causes. Various nonprofits, from Great River Greening to the Aquatennial, will get a quarter of the daily proceeds, he said.

Horst did not get public funding for the overlook and said he will rely on sponsorships and his own investment to put on the happy hour. He hopes to continue the beer garden next year.

“If the city and community allow and want this, I will bring it,” Horst said.