You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

First Call: Bill's Beer Garden opens, bringing a piece of Europe, a place to gather to the west edge of downtown

By Janet Miller

The western edge of downtown Ann Arbor looked like a page torn from a European tour book Wednesday night with the pre- grand opening, invitation-only party for Bill’s Beer Garden.


Photo courtesy of Phillis Engelbert

The city’s - and perhaps the state’s - only totally outdoor bar will be opened for an abbreviated season with its grand opening Thursday.

And while it felt European right down to the tall hedge of European hornbeam trees, German-made beer garden furniture and the strolling accordion player, the beer is pure Michigan.

The beer garden will have 10 taps featuring an all-Michigan line-up, including microbrews from Ann Arbor, Detroit and Marshall along with a non-alcoholic bottled beer and a bottled gluten-free beer.

“I haven’t talked to anyone in town who said they’re not coming to the grand opening,” said Bill Zolkowski, co-owner of the beer garden. He is a partner with Mark Hodesh, owner of adjacent Downtown Home & Garden and the force behind Mark’s Carts, purveyors of street food, located behind the store.

The opening came more than three months after original projections as the Michigan Liquor Control Commission struggled with the beer garden’s Class C license application, Zolkowski said.

“They’d never given a license for a place that was entirely outdoors and it was a full, Class C (non-restrictive) license for an establishment that’s in a parking lot.”

By day, the space will continue as a parking lot for Downtown Home & Garden. But like Cinderella at the ball, the asphalt lot will be turned into a 160-seat beer garden with a small dance floor four nights a week.

The handsome dark green beer shed with metal roof is a permanent fixture at the far end of the parking lot, with rows of beer garden tables and benches along with round wooden tables under two heated pavilions that will protect customers from rain, snow and the cold.

Hodesh and Zolkowski, a former physics teacher and high school principal, are long-term friends. They met when Hodesh was the late-shift cook and Zolkowski was the bus boy at the Fleetwood Diner across the street from Downtown Home & Garden.

After Hodesh opened Mark’s Carts behind his home and garden store in spring, 2010, his thoughts turned to liquid refreshment.

“After the carts, it wasn’t such a long stretch to a beer garden because the carts need beer,” Hodesh said.

It will help make the corner of South Ashley Street and West Liberty Street buzz with activity, said Connie Pulcipher, a neighbor who attended the pre-grand opening party.

“It’s about more than beer,” she said. “It’s about community and being able to come and meet the neighbors in a more communal setting and with more capacity than a front porch.”

The partners have plans for the future: There will be occasional live music and storytelling, maybe a trivia night, and perhaps food and beer pairings with dishes from Mark’s Carts.

Bill’s Beer Garden will be open from 5-11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and from 4-9 p.m. Sunday. Hours will change seasonally. It will close for the season Dec. 2 and re-opened St. Patrick’s Day weekend. It is located in the parking lot just south of Downtown Home & Garden, 210 S. Ashley.



Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

Is there a daily putsch, or are they by invitation-only too?


Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 2:02 a.m.

invitation delightful.

two canoes

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

@Ron, you are obviously NOT a serious beer drinker. Bitter is a "flavor" (hops) that I personally like. if you don't like it, try something malty and sweet. Mich beer choices are awesome!

Hot Sam

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 12:33 a.m.

Your absolutely right Two...some folks need to get out more :-) There are no tastes our excellent Michigan brewers ignore...

two canoes

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.

What a great idea!!!

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

This will be a tremendous asset to the community and I look forward to dropping by for a pint. I also wonder if something like this wouldn't be great for Liberty Plaza (sans homeless). Maybe even sponsored by the city? Just seems Mark is so good about utilizing his property and monetizing that perhaps the city could learn a few lessons?

Top Cat

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

One of my favorite things...a new beer joint to visit !


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit Der Gem├╝tlichkeit Ein Prosit, ein Prosit Der Gem├╝tlichkeit. Eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa! or something like that..... I can't wait to go and wish them great success!!


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Sounds like the bier garten end-of-season closing is the perfect time for a German-style Christmas market opening complete with gluhwein!


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

Dogs allowed?


Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

EightySeven - I do bring my dog to many establishments with outdoor seating, thanks. Since this is outdoors I just thought I'd ask. Thanks for the attitude


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 11:33 p.m.

Hey Andrew do you ever bring your dog into any other bar? The answer is no, so why would you be able to bring it here? A strict violation of the health code. So keep it at home.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

I know dogs are not allowed at the adjacent food courtyard per health department orders.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:32 p.m.

Since food and drink will be consumed on site, it won't be allowed due to health concerns.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 2 p.m.

good question, in France dogs can sit in a chair in a restuarant with you


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Sounds great. I've been to the gardens in Germany and it's very festive......Bathrooms?

Carrie Rheingans

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

There are indoor bathrooms at the back of the bar portion of the facility - right on location, no need to walk far at all!


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

interesting concept.

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

I was hoping it would be actual German beer, served in glassware appropriate to the style of beer. There are bars that do that, and they thrive. German furniture is no substitute for German beer.

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 10:24 p.m.

"The kind of beer we brew here in Michigan is way headier than your standard, bland German stuff anyway" Oh yes. Both kinds of microbrew beer- hoppy, and hoppy. You can have any flavor you'd like as long as it is over the top hoppy. The bitter flavor often covers the flaws.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

He is serving Michigan beer. Please don't confuse that with generic "American" light beer. The kind of beer we brew here in Michigan is way headier than your standard, bland German stuff anyway. Plus we're not bound by millenia (literally) of tradition and recipes. Today's Michigan breweries are taking bold leaps into uncharted (and delicious) territory!


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

I disagree...about the German beer. I don't think I would be very happy if I walked into a beer garden in Germany and discovered that American beer was being served. Beer gardens should be serving local beers. I do agree on the glassware....are they not using glass 1/2 or 1 liter mugs? They should...and there should be a place to lock up your own stein, just like in Germany, oh and a stammtisch, too! -- that would be really cool!!


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

Always liked the bier garden layout more than the "bar" layout. This sounds like a great place to just go for a beer.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 11:22 a.m.

I am heading down right aft work.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 11:15 a.m.

Sounds like my kind of place. Best of luck.