The latest in what has become a steady stream of Wilmington’s new downtown dining and drinking offerings opened today, a $3.3 million beer garden that has transformed a former industrial site between Orange and Shipley Streets.
Makers Alley offers all the amenities beer garden-goers have come to expect: a comfortable, indoor-outdoor vibe, plenty of beers on tap (from Miller Lite to geeky craft options), games for kids and adults alike and a “bespoke,” tricked out Airstream trailer serving up humanely-farmed beef burgers on Hawaiian rolls.
The twist for this new spot? Their home is a former 19th-century carpentry workshop fronting Orange Street, and the 7,000 square feet of outdoor garden space stretches the full city block, giving the bar/restaurant a distinctly urban character.
Rich Snyder, director of food and beverage with Buccini-Pollin Group (BPG), said Makers Alley’s design was meant to capture an “American cool” look and appeal to everyone from downtown office workers grabbing lunch or a bite after work to suburbanites seeking a city adventure. “Its the kind of place where kids can run around and not bother anyone, and it will be a regular haunt for locals who live downtown.”
The garden area boasts red picnic tables, comfy seating around a fire table, two hammocks, corn hole, and a zig-zag of low wattage string lighting that’s even an eye-catcher during the day. There’s also a fully weather-resistant widescreen TV outdoors and two inside.
BPG architect and designer Sarah Lamb is credited with the idea of replacing low cement sitting walls with the handsome granite walls that surrround the sitting areas outside. The stones were excavated and transported from the Concord Plaza Buccini/Pollin site in north Wilmington. “We’re very green here – reusing anything we can,” said one of the planners.
As the weather gets colder, Makers Alley will crank up the patio heaters and loan blankets to folks who want to sit outside.
We sampled several tasty items on the menu today, including the $7 hummus bowl with grilled flatbread and red peppers, $12 soft Bao Buns with short rib, the $12 Orange Street Cobb Salad and the sinful $8 Tempura Cheese Curds – four deep-fried cheese bites that are definitely meant for sharing. We came away sated and impressed.
The restaurant, located at 804 Orange Street, will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from 11 am to 11 pm Sundays through Tuesdays and 11 am to 1 am Wednesdays through Sundays.
BPG spearheaded the creation of Makers Alley, which occupies space next door to the Mid-Town Park apartment complex they built and opened last year. BPG has been involved in launching other eateries such as Constitution Yards and DECO food hall, but in those instances, they contracted management to outside partners. This is the first time they will be overseeing restaurant operations.
We caught up with Snyder last week as the finishing touches were being attended to – Makers Alley was a frenetic hive of activity and Snyder said he was “really excited – with a touch of panic” about the opening. He gave us a preview of what customers can expect to see once the beautiful garage door opens this week.
TSD: Tell us about the menu.
Rich Snyder: We’ll have 8-10 items on the menu, with some great signature dishes. One is our burger – two, four-ounce patty’s made from fresh sirloin. The beef is from a collective of farmers in Colorado, humanely raised. The burger will be topped with our own “Wilmington Wiz” with fried onions and bacon, served on a soft Hawaiian bun. Delicious.
We’ll also have a confit chicken sandwich, with arugula, blackberry aioli and a brie spread served on baguette. Another signature item is tempura cheese curds. Let’s just say we borrowed the idea from a recent R&D visit to Philadelphia. Our chef is Jim Sparks, who was at Ulysses Gastro Pub – he’s really gifted.
TSD: That wonderful Airstream – is there enough room in there to cook for everyone?
RS: There’s 150 square feet of cooking space in the trailer – just enough to accommodate three people. The Airstream was totally customized, and the kitchen is vintage 1960s, it really evokes the American cool look this space captures. John Berl from right here in Newport, Delaware did the work. We flew him out to California to get the trailer – his company Custom Concessions does this work for customers all over the country.
TSD: This is a beer garden of course, so what kind of beer are you serving?
RS: We’ll have 24 beers on tap but we’re not going to geek out too much – there will be a nice mix of everything from Miller Lite to Mich Ultra to some national and local custom brews. We’ll have something for everyone who likes beer.
What else should people know about Makers Alley?
RS: This is a place that will appeal to families, city residents and business people alike – we have games like corn hole, ring toss and connect four. Three TVs – one outside and two inside. And an old school vinyl turntable where people can bring their own records to play. We’ll likely be open until one AM Wednesday through Saturday … and will try and keep the outdoor area open until it gets too cold. During the coldest winter months it will become a cozy little nook for the locals.