The Beer Garden Playdate is a Thing and It’s Awesome!
All Photos Courtesy Dave Lesser
My kids have their school friends and they have their "beer hall friends," and they don't think that's weird at all. We've had a standing Wednesday playdate at Zeppelin Hall Beer Garden in Jersey City (feel free to join us, if you're in the area) since before Simon was born, more than 5 years ago. Bringing your kids to the bar (you can fancy it up by calling it a "beer garden playdate," but let's face it, it's kids in a bar) may seem like the stereotypical dad move, but, yeah, it probably is. And it. Is. Awesome. They look forward to it every week and so do I.
For a period of time, there was also a moms group at the same place on the same night. So, it's not just the dads! Though I suppose some stereotypes did play themselves out. The moms, ever on the ball, negotiated with management to let them use the back room, which usually lies vacant but is sometimes rented out for events. We charmed our way in to join them. Watch out, ladies! We may be out of the game and more than a little rusty, but we've still got it. The moms also generally had more activities prepared than we did. They were always very welcoming of our kids, as we were of theirs when we had something cool going on. One of the extremely talented guys in the group has a knack for making swords out of straws, so he's pah-retty popular with the kiddos. All the little ones mixed and mingled and everyone was very friendly, though, as an unspoken rule, the moms and dads sat at their own separate tables. Maybe we're not as charming as we thought.
At a certain point, the moms stopped showing up. I'm not sure why, but I have a theory. I think it was maybe because their beer garden playdate was too big a pain in the ass. It became a whole ordeal with art supplies and making sure the children were entertained.
That's not how the dads roll. Our beer garden playdate is not only stress-free, but it's a stress relief. It's here that I should note, it doesn't have to be a beer garden. I know not every dad is in drinking distance to their favorite kid-friendly watering hole. There are other (almost, but definitely not quite, as awesome) options: bowling, someone's house or backyard and the driving range, to name a few. The important element is to combine parenting with adulting. And to keep it chill, bro.
I'm trying to remember what it was like in the early days, but I don't recall ever being too concerned about making sure the kids were amused. We brought, and still bring, toys and coloring books, but they mostly entertain each other. That's the point. Well, that and us getting to drink beer and not chase after them while they play. When they were younger, the kids stuck closer to us. Now that most of them are 7 or 8, we give them more leeway. When we're inside, they take the table furthest from the grownups--but still in ear and eyesight--in that back room. When we're outside, we give them boundaries and make sure they're not annoying any of the other patrons (too much), but other than that: have at it, kids! We'll be here enjoying a nice IPA, talking politics, maybe some light bitching about our wives and figuring out what we're going to do with these kids during summer break.
The fact that the playdate group has remained consistent for so long, with a few additions and the inevitable losses along the way, has really engendered a sense of community and even extended family. All the dads trust each other to keep on eye the kids, no matter whose kids they are. If one of the dads with a younger child needs to take her to the bathroom, he has a room full of dads looking out for his older one. But he'd better buy another round on his way back. The oldest kids in the group have been getting together since before we discovered the beer hall; we used to just meet up at each other's houses and local playgrounds. The youngest in the group don't know a world without the Zeppelin Hall Beer Garden. As soon as they see each other, the children start running to give big hugs. It's a weekly reunion. I even get big hugs from some of the little ones I've known the longest, high fives at the very least. Unlike their school friends, who are bound to change somewhat from year-to-year, my kids' beer hall friends have been the same since they were babies.
There have been weeks when everyone was too busy to make it, but, for the most part, the dad and kid beer garden playdate has been part of the weekly routine. It is the only time most of us go out, get a drink and hang with the boys. It's just an added bonus that all of the boys' boys and girls get to hang out, too.
Dave Lesser is father of two living in Jersey City. He blogs about his parenting adventures at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad.