Controversy is brewing along with beer at Union Craft Brewing, which closed its tap room this week to children after 6 p.m., a decision that has set off a heated social media debate about parenting and the role of community breweries.
The popular Baltimore brewery, which expanded into a new manufacturing and retail complex in Medfield from nearby Hampden last summer, announced its “Adult Swim” policy Monday, a change from an 8 p.m. cutoff for anyone under age 21.
Like other local craft beer makers, Union Craft aimed to create a family-friendly atmosphere with music, games and food in its new, large taproom that opened in June. But Union Craft said it has struggled to manage large numbers of “unattended children running amok in our taproom” and destroying property.
While some patrons applauded efforts to improve the taproom experience for all, some parents took offense, saying the policy makes no distinction between those who fail to monitor their children and those who do.
“An establishment can make whatever rules they want about children, but I think the policy will result in people going to places where there isn’t a cutoff,” said Becky Kauffman, 31, the Canton mother of a 3-month-old daughter. “It’s a shame this has to be such a blanket ban.”
At its former home in Hampden, the brewery experienced few incidents involving children, said Jon Zerivitz, Union Craft’s co-founder.
“We’ve always maintained that a brewery is a place for the community to come, and try to be warm and family friendly as much as possible,” but problems cropped up with the larger space and the addition of vintage games, Zerivitz said. “We’d see very large numbers of unsupervised children breaking games, sprinting around the taproom, taking over the whole area and creating a dangerous atmosphere.
That disturbed customers and made it difficult for staff members who had to confront both children and parents, Zerivitz said. The brewery tried posting signs with rules for using games, and when that had little effect, shut the taproom to children after 8 p.m. But Zerivitz found himself having “uncomfortable” conversations with parents and kids and needing to offer special training for staff. His employees would remind customers to corral their kids, but typically would not ask them to leave.
“We just saw this increase and it became more of an issue every time we opened, with more damage and craziness of kids running around,” Zerivitz said. “We just felt like something had to be done.”
Union Craft announced the policy, which is in effect from 6 p.m. to close Wednesday through Sunday, on social media Monday.
“Our staff are not babysitters,” the post said. “Our tap room is meant for adults of legal drinking age. The couches, tables, photo-trailer and beer garden are not play structures.”
A subsequent post said the new taproom “almost immediately came to be viewed as a great place to set children free while parents enjoy their beers at their tables, leaving it to us to have to constantly protect and police our property, apologize to other guests, argue with parents, prevent injuries, reunite misplaced children with their absent parents, etc etc etc.”
Union Craft made the right decision, said James Cornblatt, 39, a customer who has attended family-oriented events at the brewery with his 6-year-old son but senses a different vibe in the new location.
“As parents, we give rules. That’s the rule,” said the commercial property manager from Pikesville. “Their business, their decision.”
He added that “no one has license to let their kids run free. I’ve been there and experienced what necessitated this policy — parents drinking beer and kids running amok.”
Zerivitz said the business had purchased vintage games, including skee ball and pinball, for the new facility, but the games were damaged and have since been removed.
The co-founder said he was stunned to see the outpouring of social media posts pitting parents against nonparents in the wake of Monday’s announcement. Some of those who reacted on the brewery’s Facebook page said parents have no right to bring children “out drinking,” while another complained of “entitled parents who think the world is their child's playground.”
“Ankle biters (kids, for the sensitive hipster parents ) should not be at a brewery,” one post read.
But some parents commented that breweries, unlike bars and some restaurants, tend to be family-friendly, a way for new parents to spend time with children and visit with adults, where people are more accepting of children playing or crying.
At Peabody Heights Brewery in Waverly, families with children are encouraged, with no restrictions on hours. On Friday nights, 20 or so families typically make their way in. The tap room hosts birthday parties for 1-year-olds; children can play with toys or relax at a plastic kid-sized table in one room; and children’s books, donated by The Book Thing, are available for the taking.
“We’ve always been a kid-friendly space,” said Edward O’Keefe, director of marketing. In cases of misbehavior, “We’ve talked to parents and come to a happy medium. It’s a case-by-case situation, and most parents are cool about things.”
O’Keefe said he believes most tap rooms in the area allow kids, though some may have restrictions on hours.
“It’s part of tap room culture,” he said. “Tap rooms aren't supposed to be bars, per se. It’s a sort of low key casual space for people to hang out.”
Like Peabody, Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point emphasizes beer — Max’s is known for its vast beer list. But the tavern has long maintained a policy of not allowing in anyone under 21 after 5 p.m. and no kids on the crowded Sundays during football season.
“It’s too hard to control,” said owner Ron Furman. “The last thing you want is a 5-year-old running around, and it’s a bar, with people carrying drinks and hot food. … We’re a tavern, and it’s the place where adults go to drink different beers. We’re not a family-style restaurant.”
Kauffman, the Canton mother of an infant, said she supports businesses’ right to make rules but feels the 6 p.m. curfew at Union Craft is early, especially for working parents. She brought her daughter to Union Craft when friends without children were visiting from out of town.
“It was one of the first times out of the house,” for Kauffman as a new mother, she said. Her daughter “slept the majority of the time, and I don’t think she bothered anybody.”
Zerivitz said the craft brewing industry is grappling with ways to serve the families flocking to such establishments in growing numbers.
“When we open taprooms, we want them to be more than just bars,” he said. “We don’t serve liquor, only open certain hours and we try to program the space. This what separates us from being a bar.”
He expects to lose some business over the policy, especially that of some longtime patrons who might no longer feel welcome.
“Which is a shame,” he said. “We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation. All we’re asking is for parents to be more responsible and responsible for their children. Ultimately, what I hope comes out of this is the awareness has been raised and people are more cautious and careful and considerate.”