Two muscled bros approached as I was strolling down Hillsborough Street with my main squeeze the other day. They wanted to know how to get to Glenwood Avenue. At the time it was a block away, so I’m guessing they weren’t from around here.
“And once we get there, how far is the beer garden?” one asked.
Ah yes, the Raleigh Beer Garden, with its 366 different beers, meads and ciders on tap. It’s a world record that can give you a headache just thinking about the hangovers to be had trying them all.
The Guiness Book of World Records hasn’t weighed in yet, but no one has spoken up to challenge the claim, either.
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And there might soon be even more unique taps, co-owner Niall Hanley told me, as they add outdoor bars to the third-floor rooftop and the first-floor beer garden.
What good is having a world record if you don’t break it again a few weeks later, right?
On opening night two weeks ago the Raleigh Beer Garden seemed to have also broken the world record for the number of people at a bar on a rainy Tuesday.
“It’s been incredible,” Hanley said. “In my 20-plus years in the restaurant business, I’ve never seen anything like it. I equated to someone the other day, it was like having Saint Paddy’s Day every day for seven days.”
Hanley, who also owns Wake County’s three Hibernian Irish Pub locations, doesn’t throw around St. Patrick’s Day references for just anything.
Last Saturday, a homebrewer friend of mine from Lee County wanted to celebrate his birthday at this new craft beer mecca. About 10 of us got there at 8 p.m. and heard there was a two-hour wait for a table.
We headed, ironically, to the Hibernian, where we were seated immediately. But many others are fine with standing at the beer garden. Lines at the bar are often several people deep from dinner until 2 a.m.
“The demand is just there,” Hanley said. “People love their N.C. beers. Simple as that.”
Some beer fans and brewers in the area, however, fear the huge number of taps will lead to flat or stale beers.
Hanley acknowledges their concerns.
He said they haven’t been buying much in advance for that very reason. It means there might not always be a full stock of beers available – the online menu listed a mere 226 choices last Monday afternoon – but what’s there is more likely to be fresh.
Management has also been researching keg monitoring software. Such systems could help with inventory planning as well as quality control, he said, but there’s been no need to buy any just yet because the crowds have been so large.
In the first week, Hanley said, the beer garden turned over its entire inventory and then some – more than 400 kegs.
“We’re getting phone calls from people coming to Raleigh for this, even from Florida, just to experience it or see it,” he said.
Most hail from much closer. On opening night I met Bruce Sung, a 40-year-old IT consultant who often goes to bars on Glenwood with friends.
They all live within walking distance. Sung said their go-to bar was the Cornerstone Tavern across the street, but the beer garden might replace it.
Either way, he said, they’re spoiled to live near so many nightlife options – a scene that has exploded ever since Sung was an N.C. State student in the ’90s.
“Downtown has just changed so much since I first got here,” he said, as around us hundreds of people stood outside drinking beer on a Tuesday night despite the drizzling rain.
Inside, national magazine writers were taking notes for stories that would soon inspire tourists seeking out Glenwood Avenue, of all places.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
August beer events
Stag’s Head: 7 p.m.-midnight Thursday. The bar and bottle shop at 106 Glenwood Ave. will have specialty beers from around the state on tap. Those include two from Wicked Weed – a Double IPA and a mildly spicy imperial stout – plus Haw River Farmhouse Ale’s oatmeal Belgian pale ale.
Info: 919-839-6207, facebook.com/StagsHeadRaleigh
Crank Arm: Noon-10 p.m. Saturday. The brewery at 319 W. Davie St. will be tapping rare in-house beers and offering live music all day. An atypical biker bar, it caters to the bicycle crowd and is touting this party as a family-friendly affair.