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In Portsmouth: Opening a business during a pandemic

Blue Anchor Beer Garden adds suds — and jobs — in Island Park

Posted 7/20/20

PORTSMOUTH — Thursday, July 16, was a good day for lovers of craft beer.

Just a few hours before Ragged Island Brewing Co. received permission to open a limited beer garden at its new …

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In Portsmouth: Opening a business during a pandemic

Blue Anchor Beer Garden adds suds — and jobs — in Island Park

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Thursday, July 16, was a good day for lovers of craft beer.

Just a few hours before Ragged Island Brewing Co. received permission to open a limited beer garden at its new farm brewery on Bristol Ferry Road, another outdoor beer garden opened its doors for a sneak preview.

Called the Blue Anchor Beer Garden, it’s located at 506 Park Ave., behind the building where Mike MacFarlane plans to open a new restaurant right next door to his Tremblay's Island Park Bar & Grill.

The pandemic has pushed back the opening of the new restaurant, The Blue Anchor, which is about “80 percent done,” said Mr. MacFarlane, who is now hoping to welcome diners by early September.

“I got delayed on a lot of stuff,” he said. “I got delayed on inspections, I got delayed on National Grid, I got delayed on ordering furniture for the inside alone. So for inside, ideally, I’d love to shoot for Labor Day, provided everything ships on time, but I’m at the mercy of a lot of manufacturers.”

In the meantime, he’s bridging the gap with the beer garden, which officially opened to the public on Friday. For the time being, its hours are noon to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. 

“I’d rather start small and build into it, rather than try to have visions of grandeur in the middle of all this,” he said.

Opening a new business while having to adhere to the state’s rigid COVID-19 guidelines wasn’t easy, he said.

“You’re limited on spacing, you’re limited on capacity, you’re limited on social distancing,” Mr. MacFarlane said. “That being said, we’ve got a lot of great people on our team. We looked at everything that was going on and said, ‘Do we stop and wait and see? Or do we push the throttle ahead and keep going?’ I said keep going. I don’t want another empty building in Island Park, and I don’t want this place stagnant for the summer. Let’s get the beer garden open outside. We decided to shift the contractors from inside to outside because we knew it was going to continue for a while.”

Capacity is limited inside the beer garden due to the state’s regulations. Mr. MacFarlane pointed to a drink rail that was built around the perimeter of the area, which has seven spaced-out picnic tables placed against a wooden fence, with an open area in the middle. 

Without the restrictions, he said, “these tables would be closer to each other, and I’d have barstools all around the perimeter, so you’d have this whole thing jamming. But you have to kind of adapt, and move and pivot based on what’s going on.”

Although he’d like to offer live music in the beer garden, under state guidelines the performers would have to be at least 14 feet away from staff or customers. “I don’t have 14 feet back here,” he said.

The menu includes an extensive list of craft beers (Ragged Island included), cocktails, wines, other hard beverages and non-alcoholic drinks. You can also order “small bites” such as a charcuterie box, antipasto skewers, pasta salad and asparagus salad, as well as Italian ice for dessert.

Different from Tremblay’s

“For now it’s just some snacks so you can eat something out here until we get the kitchen open,” Mr. MacFarlane said. “Tremblay’s is going to stay the burger/wing/pub feel, and this will be a couple notches up from that — not fine dining, but I’d call it ‘upscale casual.’ There will probably be a little more seafood. These two places need to complement each other, not compete.”

The new place, he added, will have a “Nantucket/Vineyard/Newport feel,” but without the high prices. 

Before Mr. MacFarlane bought the building last fall, Karl Nelson ran it as Karl’s Park Avenue Pub from May 2018 to July 2019. Before that it was known as The Beachcomber, then The Beach House. Both bars featured live music and drew mainly younger crowds — as well as the police on occasion due to complaints over loud music or drunk patrons causing a disturbance to neighbors.

Mr. MacFarlane lives in Island Park himself, however, and has vowed to run a quieter place that’s sensitive to neighbors’ concerns. In fact, he ripped out the stage area inside and transformed it into a small lounge, complete with a new electric fireplace and a few comfy chairs. 

“In the fall, even if the guidelines don’t change, you could still hang out here and have a drink and social distance,” he said.

He’s also completely redone the floors and bathrooms, lightened up the place inside and out, and ordered a long table for large parties.

“The place has always had a late-night vibe, but this will be a 180-degree turn,” he said. “The neighborhood is thrilled.”

Although he’s thrilled himself about the beer garden and can’t wait for the new restaurant to open, Mr. MacFarlane said he’s more excited about something else.

“You know what the best part of this whole thing is? I was able to employ 14 people in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. 

For more information about the Blue Anchor Beer Garden, call 401/293-5007, or visit blueanchorgrill.com.

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