District Court

District Court

New Haven’s “first and only biergarten,” as co-owner Jason Sobocinski puts it, is open. The taps are flowing at Black Hog Brewing Company at Bear’s BBQ Smokehouse at The Stack at District.

That’s a lot of layers to unpack, but let’s start with the beer. Last Thursday, Oxford-based Black Hog Brewing Company, also co-owned by Sobocinski, debuted what it dubs its “collab lab,” a small brewhouse just off the entrance to Bear’s BBQ Smokehouse, where Black Hog brewers can try out something new on a small scale, producing one batch at a time and leaving four others to ferment in tanks along the entrance hall to the young eatery. “It’s such a small system, you can do whatever you want,” brewer Tyler Jones says. The biergarten debuted with five beers—four of them brewed on-premises—including pale ale Get on the Bus, summer wheat ale S.W.A.G. (brewed in Oxford), Service IPA (which donates some proceeds to the Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund), Stacks IPA and King Julian Vanilla Milk Stout.

sponsored by

GRL and Realtors, LLC, serving New Haven, CT

A Festival of Arts & Ideas event paired the debuting beers with Bear’s smoked meats—pulled pork, smoked turkey, pulled chicken, brisket and “granola brown beer brats” served on miniature metal trays lined with brown paper and super-absorbent napkins on the side. Every one of the meats was moist and flavorful, with the chicken a big winner at our table of tasters. Everything is sliced or pulled to order. Four industrial-sized metal smokers—each large enough to cook up to 750 pounds of meat—are visible through windows at the end of the bar. If you’re there around eight or nine at night, you’ll see workers loading up the meat that will smoke overnight for the next day’s menu, Sobocinski says.

Bear’s, which opened last November, and Black Hog are located in The Stack, easily identified by the tall brick smokestack that rises from its outdoor patio, where picnic tables were packed despite a chilly June evening. The Stack is part of the larger District complex, the city’s former bus station gone Millennial. Inside District’s main building, fronting The Stack at the corner of State Street and James Street, COO and community director JoHannah Hamilton showed me around earlier that day.

Offices for two to seven people in District’s 20,000-square-foot Drive Cowork space are all occupied now, but there’s still dedicated and drop-in desk space available, and every first Friday is a free work day for anyone looking to try out the space. From District’s front door, a road painted on the cement floor leads directly to Drive Cowork, but along the way you’ll pass the offices of several of District’s other tenants—12 startups, nonprofits and local businesses, some of whom are just settling in. Space remains for one more tenant. A workers’ lounge, sponsored by Comcast, is an extension of the extra-wide hall (wide enough to drive a bus through), with mobile furniture, a ping pong table, two big TV screens and free wifi.

Behind the lounge, nonprofit school Holberton, which is supported in part by District’s nonprofit wing, has just welcomed its second cohort of students, who are starting a two-year training program for developing software engineers. Rather than upfront tuition, they’ll pay for their education later with a percentage of their starting salaries. According to Hamilton, there are over 70,000 jobs opening up in software engineering and not enough qualified candidates. “You could be 17 or 70,” she says of the Holberton program. “There’s no prerequisite. The admission process is completely blind.” Applicants do have to pass a rigorous screening test. The result is an “incredibly diverse” cohort of students, who will go on to intern with and hopefully work for Holberton’s employer partners in Connecticut who need software engineers.

Another District-supported nonprofit, UofNext, describes itself as “an incubator and accelerator of development programs, experiences and communities” designed for the new “creativity era.” Students enroll in 13-week workshops, 26-week coaching intensives or one- or two-year mastery programs.

The complex also includes a sizable gym, District Athletic Club, with a cross-fit and high-intensity training (HIT) area, a fitness center with weights and machines for personal workouts, a skylit spin studio, a yoga studio with barres, a sauna, a massage room and a small members’ lounge.

“District is a work/learn/play environment,” Hamilton says. “It’s a one-stop shop that’s full-service convenience for businesses that want to stay in New Haven and grow their business in Connecticut.” The “play” comes in not only at the biergarten, the athletic club and the lounge but also outside, where the complex includes a bocce court, a small amphitheater for concerts, a segment of the Mill River Trail for walking and a bike share station.

Play was in full force back at The Stack, where a band played jazzy throwback tunes, a roasted pig was served up and two heated games of cornhole were unfolding on the patio. Other revelers got their heat from Bear’s Grizzly Ghost Pepper hot sauce or from the patio’s overhead heaters and fire pits surrounded by red Adirondack chairs. No one seemed to mind the chill in the air. After all, summer was just beginning.

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Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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