Craft Beer / Food & Drink

New business to reclaim downtown vacant lot, create beer destination

Barrel.slabBy Jeffrey V. Smith
The needs of a non-profit and Estes Park officials’ goal to enhance visitor offerings and have a vacant lot generate tax dollars again have allowed a couple’s business dreams to come true. The Barrel, to be located in the middle of downtown on Elkhorn Avenue, will feature 60 taps of craft beer, high-end spirits and wines from Colorado and beyond in an outdoor beer garden atmosphere when it opens the first week of May.

The husband and wife team of Lou and Ingrid Bush have found plenty of support for their idea of turning a vacant concrete slab, where the former Park Theater Mall burned down more than five years ago, into a pop-up beer garden. They have also received both a use variance and tavern liquor license from town boards with unanimous approval.

“We were on the site a couple of weeks ago… and people saw us through the façade windows and asked, ‘what’s going on here?’ We told them and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh, that’s so awesome,’ and they’re local residents,” Ingrid said. “Everybody we’ve come across is just totally stoked and can’t wait. They’re bending over backward asking what they can do.”

According to Ingrid, everything just “kind of came together serendipitously.” ESTES Performance, Inc (EPIC) and the Bushes approached each at other almost the same time. The couple were looking for a place to realize their beer garden dreams and EPIC was looking for a business to utilize the highly-desirable downtown site of its future theater on a temporary basis. EPIC actually leases the lot from its owner Sharon Seeley while fundraising to purchase it. Seeley is allowing EPIC to keep the rent it collects from The Barrel in an effort to accelerate its capital campaign.  “When we started all nailing down the details,” she said, “it became apparent this is a good win for both of us.”

The idea of The Barrel began when the beer and outdoors loving couple were backpacking in Europe on their honeymoon and fell in love with Germany’s Bavarian beer gardens. The business is ultimately modeled after the pop-up beer garden movement found in East Coast cities and Europe where a run down lot and shipping containers are modified into a bar and surrounded with picnic tables and benches. “That’s exactly what were doing,” Ingrid said. “There won’t be as many trees, because it’s a concrete slab, but people will see some amazing views.” There will also be areas covered by umbrellas for the inevitable afternoon rain storms.

BarrelDrawingBeer will come from as many as seven distributors and will be mostly Colorado-made with some other U.S., German and Belgium options. There will be four nitro taps for cream ales and milk stouts. They also hope to feature mead and cider for gluten-free guests as well as high-end distilled spirits from Colorado and Scotland and U.S. wines. While spirits will be served neat with ice or water, Colorado-produced sodas will be available for self-mixing.  It is expected, the business will become its own destination and draw beer tourists to town.

The Bushes assembled their business plan—recently praised by a town board member as the best he’d seen—for over a year and have always focused on incorporating the outdoors. “My husband and I have been wanted to do something outdoors. Everybody seems like they want to sit outdoors, especially, when it starts getting warm,” Ingrid said. “I know I get the itch to be on some patio somewhere watching the views.” She also explained that since most places in Estes Park are indoors, people feel obligated to go back to their room or home and clean up before going out after being outdoors. “If I’m out on vacation, I don’t want to have to go all the way back to the hotel room or condo and get showered up and then go out,” Ingrid said, “I’d rather go from the trail and grab myself a pint and then go get cleaned up for dinner. If you’re going to an outdoor setting, it doesn’t matter, everybody’s been on the trail. It goes along with our lifestyle, it goes along with Colorado’s lifestyle. It’s a perfect fit.”

In the hope that their clientele will learn something while enjoying a great beer, the couple plan to make The Barrel a “heavily educational” place to enjoy a brew. “We want to have the brewers themselves, the representatives, the distributors do a lot of educational events at our place so people that come to Estes… will have that kind of experience rather than just sitting down and having a beer,” Ingrid said. “We want people to have these memorable types of experiences that get them talking about Estes and about our business and their own experience instead than going to just another beer hall.

The Barrel hopes to open in May and will remain open through the first weekend of November for the Fall Back Beer Festival. “They want to encourage people to stay overnight and eat downtown. They do a lot of beer dinners,” Ingrid explained. “If we’re open, we’re just one more reason to encourage people to stay and book a room in Estes versus going back down the canyon.” They might open some dates in the in winter months as well during large events like Winter Fest, Chili Cook-Off, Whiskey Warm-Up and during the holidays. Because of its location, they will not have happy hours and no smoking or binge drinking will be allowed.

Barrel.layoutEPIC will additionally benefit through cross-marketing and promotions at The Barrel. They will be doing events and capital campaign fundraisers on the site and are building an informational kiosk “so that when people are there, they can see what’s going to be there in two or three years.” If the concept proves successful, The Barrel could eventually be relocated to the rooftop of the Rocky Mountain Performing Arts Center when built and keep their location. Either way, the business can easily be relocated if necessary.

“We are committed to breathing new life into the vacant lot, supporting Rocky Mountain Performing Arts Center and also see value in investing in downtown Estes Park,” Ingrid said. “We look forward to sharing experiences with our guests, meeting people from all over and becoming a favorite destination.”

The Barrel will be located at 116 East Elkhorn Ave. in Estes Park. Visit or or e-mail for more information and to watch for opening dates

Originally published in the April 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly

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