By Megan Smith
Walk through the doors of Axelrad Beer Garden, nestled on the corner of Alabama and Almeda, and you’re instantly hit with a mixture of history and modernity. The walls, adorned with sleek, geometric lines and bright colors, give off a very in-the-now vibe, and the space’s open concept is perfect for mixing and mingling with the garden’s diverse crowd. But underneath that fresh coat of paint lies the strong, sturdy bones of a building that’s over a century old, built with shiplap and love.
The brainchild of New Living’s Adam Brackman, Monte Large, Jeff Kaplan, and designer Gin Braverman of Gin Designs, Axelrad is named for the family whose grocery store once inhabited the building. In fact, while the owners were developing plans for the beer garden, they were contacted by an Axelrad family member with an interest in the building’s renovation. Excited about the project, she became one of its investors. “When we toured it with her, she pointed to a room and said, ‘This is the room I grew up in—I would sit in my crib, look out the window, and watch the cars as they drove by,’” says Brackman. One of the Axelrad cousins, who happens to be a musician, also occasionally plays live at the garden. “So we have Axelrad at Axelrad,” Brackman laughs. “Talk about keeping it in the family.”
The beer garden took nearly four years to complete from start to finish, which Brackman attributes to the team’s desire to pay homage to the building’s history and the surrounding neighborhood. “We are on the border of the Third Ward, Montrose, and Midtown,” Brackman explains. “There are so many developers who go in and tear down good building stock and put up cheap buildings that won’t last. Deciding to restore the building was our way of showing that you can pay respect to what was once there, while still being a bridge into the present and future.”
Axelrad currently features 31 craft beers on tap (including four nitro beers), 100 canned offerings, a plethora of wine selections, and a sampling of cocktails and frozen drinks. Plans to convert the upstairs into a craft cocktail bar are also in development. “We’re definitely a craft beer bar, but we’re also one that’s accessible,” says Brackman. “We have $3 on draft sometimes, and affordable canned beers, so [everyone who] walks in feels included.”
The pet-friendly business also touts a huge outdoor space complete with fire pits, picnic tables, an LED-lit tree, a rotating schedule of food trucks, and a hammock garden inspired by Marfa’s El Cosmico. “We want to celebrate being outside in Houston,” Large says. “Nothing’s wrong when you’re in a hammock!”
Axelrad’s partnership with Luigi’s Pizzeria (which shares their outdoor space) also allows for guests of either establishment to bring food and drinks from one business to the other. “It’s been very synergistic,” Brackman says. “I mean, what goes better with beer than pizza?”
However, the most interesting aspect of the bar is arguably its beer-tap handles, each one a wooden figurine hand-carved and painted by Venezuelan artist Maria Rangel. Large was introduced to Rangel’s work back in the ’90s while studying abroad in Venezuela, when he purchased a few of the figurines for his personal collection. “They are the favorite things that I own,” he says. “I’ve moved a million times, and every time I have to make sure there’s a spot for them.” When it came time to find a unique design for Axelrad’s tap handles, Large reached out to a friend in Venezuela to see if Rangel was still creating the figurines. Rangel was not only still an active artist, but agreed to create more than 30 unique pieces for the garden. “We wanted to make sure they were all different ethnicities, had different hair colors, and represented all types of people,” Large says. But when they were finally finished, the Axelrad team hit a major road bump—due to the current trade embargo between the U.S. and Venezuela, the figurines could not be shipped. As a solution, Large’s friend ended up packing the pieces in suitcases, flying to Miami, and then driving them all the way to their Houston destination. “They’re well-travelled,” Large laughs.
Axelrad isn’t just a place to sit back and have a drink, Brackman says—it’s also a place to cultivate community. The owners are very passionate about supporting the arts, and have several resident musicians playing regularly at the beer garden, including world-renowned New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who brings down the house every Wednesday night. “He sounds just like Louis Armstrong,” Brackman says.
The beer garden has also hosted several progressive community events since its opening, including a “Millennials for Hillary” meet-up, a celebration of Women’s History Month organized by Creative Women Unite, and Femme Fest HTX—a festival celebrating the creativity that women, LGBTQ folks, and intersex people bring to their communities.
“I’m very passionate about equality,” Brackman says. “This should be a space where people feel safe to come and discuss politics, environmentalism, or any other issue important to them.” “We don’t want an exclusive crowd that’s not accepting of everyone,” Large adds. “Whether you’re white, black, transgender, gay, or straight, we want you to feel welcome. We want to be an inclusive space for everyone, and we want to make an impact.”