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A biergarten on the Monon? 

click to enlarge Final site plans for Bent Rail Brewery and Coffee House call for the demolition of parts of the Monon Fitness Center building to make way for parking space, as well as a biergarten with a stage.
  • Final site plans for Bent Rail Brewery and Coffee House call for the demolition of parts of the Monon Fitness Center building to make way for parking space, as well as a biergarten with a stage.

Breweries seem to pop up daily around town, but biergartens remain scarce - at least in the classic sense, meaning brewery/restaurants with large areas of outdoor seating attached. But if all goes well at a zoning hearing on December 13, that will change as the Bent Rail Brewery and Coffee House breaks ground on a now-blighted spot in south Broad Ripple: the old Monon Fitness Center at 53rd and Winthrop.

The project is the newest venture of Derek Means and Craig Baker, the talent behind The Local Eatery & Pub in Westfield. Before starting The Local two years ago, the pair had extensive restaurant and brewery experience. Baker worked as a brewer at McMenamins in Portland, Ore., then started a restaurant, Echo, in the same city. He sold Echo back to his business partner before moving back to the Midwest.

The plans for Bent Rail first took shape when Means and Baker explored the possibility of adding a brewing component to The Local, but found they didn't have the space. Moving forward, the pair came across the abandoned, graffitied former fitness center, which was before a commercial dry cleaner. With its ample acreage and proximity to the Monon, it seemed the perfect spot.

"There are a lot of families in that area and young professionals aged 28-45, which is our core demographic for crafted ales," explained Means, who would be Bent Rail's general manager. "That along with access to the Monon, it just seemed a great match. That area is really growing and changing, and we feel we could be a great part of that."

Plans for the property involve extensive renovation, including demolition of three buildings to provide parking spaces (adding up to a total of 133 off-street parking spaces). But it's the outdoor music space and capacity of the restaurant that has some neighbors in the area concerned.

"Everyone seemed very comfortable with the idea of a brewery and restaurant [in that area], but the element of having an outdoor biergarten and live music is what's concerning many of the residents," explained Mary Owens, land use director for the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association. "We want to make sure that this new venture can peacefully coexist with many residents who have called that area home for several years."

At issue for many residents along Carrollton and Guilford are noise levels and parking. While the capacity for the indoor restaurant would be 350 occupants, the plan currently allows for a maximum of 1500 attendees for an outdoor concert. This capacity would undoubtedly require street parking, even with a planned bike garage that would hold 150 bicycles for Monon Trail travelers.

"None of the restaurants along College Avenue have sufficient parking according to the city ordinance standards - everyone seems to need a parking variance if you're going to open a new restaurant. The Bent Rail project has more parking, based on occupancy, than any existing restaurant in the area - but it's the scale that worries people," continued Owens.

Part of the negotiations currently include plans for controlling the noise on concert nights. Means and Baker are making efforts to address the concerns of residents. "We've changed our capacity numbers, redesigned our outside area, and are working with an acoustic engineer to control the sound from the start. We understand the concerns surrounding noise and parking, and are doing everything we can to minimize the impact on the area," said Means, adding that the music planned for the outdoor space would tend more toward bluegrass - no Top 40 or hip hop.

If the city approves the variances, the owners hope to be up and running by June. The brewery would offer eight regular beers and two to three seasonals on tap under their own label, with limited bottled brands as well. The food would be French peasant, i.e. simple and gratifying comfort food, meat-heavy with charcuterie and a pizza oven. The coffee shop component, located within the existing building, according to blueprints, would open at 7 a.m. and offer house coffee and bakery items.

From at least one neighborhood association perspective, Mary Owens is hopeful that agreements can be reached. "It's a strong project from an economic development standpoint. We want to be known as a welcoming community to new businesses, and this is a substantial investment in an area that's been long overdue."

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