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Midtown BierGarten project gets neighborhood support as it goes to design director

Sean Derfield of River City Saloon in Old Sacramento hopes to open a German-style restaurant/bar in Midtown.

There’s a vacant lot on the corner of K and 24th streets that’s overgrown with weeds and fenced off to keep homeless people from camping. The Golden Bear neighbors it to the right, and Ancient Future sits across the street in a former church.

It’s been empty for more than 10 years, but a local business owner is hoping to change that by bringing another German-style pub to Midtown.

Dubbed "Der BierGarten," the project has been in the works for two years, but hasn’t yet received the final OK from the city. That may change as early as next week, however, as Design Director Greg Taylor is set to decide whether approve the latest plans at a hearing on Thursday, March 21. While initially wary, the Midtown Neighborhood Association has now lent its support to the proposal.

The second rendering of Der BierGarten, which Sean Derfield hopes will replace a vacant lot on the corner of K and 24th streets.

"When we were first starting this project, there was no LowBrau in Sacramento," said Sean Derfield, owner of Old Sacramento’s River City Saloon. "I definitely think we can add another great element – there will now be two great German restaurants in the Midtown area."

Derfield’s vision is to create an open-air restaurant and beer garden, serving only imported German and Belgian beer, and authentic, traditional food. It will include the use of cargo containers – one to house restrooms, and the other to house the kitchen – as well as solar power for nighttime lighting, and water reclamation to reuse rainwater for plants. There will be plenty of outdoor seating, including long, traditional BierGarten tables from Germany, and a bicycle rack so that patrons don’t have to store their transportation on the sidewalks.

The concept is to build something that’s easily replaceable, Derfield said, so that in five years’ time, the landlord can replace it with a building that better suits the area at the end of the lease. And by their nature, cargo containers are very mobile.

"I felt that the rather novel approach of using shipping containers, and doing it as an outdoor venue was a real interesting way to use a piece of land, rather than having a fenced in, vacant lot, as a way of having a part-time, more temporal use," said Matt Piner, vice chairman of the Midtown Neighborhood Association.

And while developing this vacant lot has the support of several community organizations, the concept wasn’t warmly received by all when first proposed.

"Some neighbors were caught by surprise and didn’t know this project was going on," Derfield said.

Though the property is commercially-zoned, it’s in a mixed-used neighborhood, with surrounding businesses and residences. The city’s planning and design commission rejected the original design plans, and the Midtown Neighborhood Association initially had concerns over another business coming in that serves alcohol, Derfield said.

“We were concerned about late night alcohol sales and entertainment, as we already have a recognized (by state ABC and SacPD) over concentration of alcohol licenses in the Central City,” former MNA chairwoman Vivian Gerlach stated in an email.

Also because it’s an outdoor venue, noise can’t be contained within walls, so hours of operation were a concern, said Piner.

Those hours are as follows*
• 10 a.m to 9 p.m. on weekdays
• 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and holidays
* These are the hours for the first year of operation, after that, Derfield hopes to add on an hour to each set of hours

Derfield was forthcoming with his plans, Piner said, and isn’t seeking an entertainment permit.

And while Der BierGarten has the MNA’s support, there are people not affiliated with them who’ve come out against the project, Gerlach said. “They remain concerned about hours, noise and the fact that it is open air instead of closed,” she wrote. “To me, Sean has satisfied most, if not all of our concerns, but I understand some neighbors are still not happy.”

Derfield has also garnered the support of the the Midtown Business Association and the Old Sacramento Business Association, of which he’s a member.

"Derfield’s plan to offer authentic and seasonal beers, along with traditional German food is a perfect match with the demographic of residents and visiting customers who enjoy Midtown as a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment," MBA Executive Director Elizabeth Studebaker wrote in a letter of support.

The Old Sacramento Business Association also chimed in to support Derfield’s plans. "Sean is a savvy, civic-minded business owner who recognizes that the reputation of his business and the neighborhood are intricately intertwined," OSBA Business District Manager Chris McSwain wrote.

While the MNA had concerns at first, Piner said "We don’t want to be obstructionists." He went on to say many neighbors in Midtown have concerns over noise, which is usually brought on by intoxicated people getting drunk at any of the area’s watering holes.

"It’s become a real party scene, and it’s affected the residents," Piner said. "Midtown and our neighborhood in particular is almost 80 to 90 percent rentals."

But it’s not so cut and dry, he went on to say. "Our position as a neighborhood organization is we want to keep the lines of communication open, we want to work with people who are good managers," Piner said. "That’s why we decided to take a supportive position with Sean. He was being exemplary."

Derfield said his goal is to make sure the neighbors understand Der BierGarten isn’t the type of establishment to attract "a bunch of rowdy college kids." It’s to be more family friendly, "stroller friendly" if you will, where people can grab a pretzel, soda or beer, and enjoy them outside picnic style.

The business will also create tax revenue for the city, create jobs and offer a unique spot in the city, while solving the issue of a vacant lot, he said.

"…This concept is different in every way of the many sports bars, pizza and hamburger places that keep popping up," Derfield wrote in a letter of proposal. "In Germany people go to places like what we have planned to socialize with friends while enjoying a meal and meeting new people. They do not go to slam down shots, get belligerent and cause trouble."

The hearing will be held Thursday, March 21, at 3 p.m. at 300 Richards Boulevard, on the third floor. 

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About the author

Karen Wilkinson

  • Ryan Schauland (f.k.a. ryuns)

    I wish them luck. I understand the concerns about noise at an open air bar, but the restricted hours could definitely make it work. I think we can all agree that a taxpaying business is a better use for that space, well, nothing, so hopefully they can work out the kinks.

    By the way Karen, if you want to jazz up the photo feed, their FB page has some interesting computer renderings of the space that were apparently updated after some planning board objections.

  • Karen Wilkinson

    Thanks, Ryan, we also have some images we’re trying to scan in. But I may just grab some FB pics to save some time. I’m all about jazzing up articles:)

  • Catherine Enfield

    So what I want to know is why we can’t get the food truck ordinances passed then? Especially a pod one. This rings of a food truck pod – extremely similar. I’ve already pointed this out to the City. We are still waiting to hear about the pod ordinance, even though they’ve nixed any changes to the street/private property ordinances.

    • bye bye Sacpress

      Because the city council has decided it is their role to use regulations to restrict commerce in order to benefit a small group of restaurant owners.

      This being Sacramento, this type of corrupt behavior doesn’t even raise an eyebrow for most of the residents.

    • William Burg

      Two reasons: “Randy” and “Paragary.”

    • bye bye Sacpress

      Who is worse… Randy Paragary, or our flaccid city council that buys into his BS ?

      You say Randy. I say city council.

    • William Burg

      I say dog, you say tail.

  • Colin Sueyres

    Could you clarify when the actual hearing is set for? The Planning and Design Commission typically meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month, meaning the 14th and 28th (which is also what their website states).

    • Ryan Schauland (f.k.a. ryuns)

      From their Facebook page: “If you live in Midtown and want to support bringing a German Restaurant to Midtown, plan to join us March 21st, 3pm”

  • lmw

    I’ve been waiting all winter for this place. I think it’s a great idea. I hope they get it to go through.

  • This is not Sean’s first rodeo. Sean has been bringing positive, upbeat establishments to the Sacramento area for years and has demonstrated immense accountability and responsibility in doing so. I think this is a great idea as 1/2 the awesomeness of getting to eat in downtown/midtown is patio seating AND with that promises to bring some good revenue. Sean knows how to cater to neighborhood and business needs as he has demonstrated time and time again. Support local business. Hoping this one goes through!

  • I can’t wait for this to open, and I hope it goes through. It will attract business because of how unique the idea is to Sacramento.

    • Yeah, like the one in the SF Tenderloin. Just what we need.

    • “advocate” There is no Beer Garden in the Tenderloin. The one in San Francisco is in an area called “Hayes Valley” It was part of a project called Proxy that was initiated by the mayor at the time ,Gavin Newsom, The area is extremely successful. You can also find converted restaurant cargo containers in NY, LA , Boston, Tokyo and Australia. It’s not something new, just new, just new to Sacramento.

  • I fully support Sean Derfield in his efforts to bring an authentic German BierGarten to the neighborhood. Sean is a respectable business owner who is very conscientious about the needs of the neighborhood. He deserves a chance!

  • M Smith

    We’ve been watching this lot for any inkling of activity – glad to hear we may have a decision from the City soon. I wonder if (read: hope) the management team will reconsider offering only German and Belgian beers. Local German-style and Belgian-style beers might widen the appeal.

    • Ryan Schauland (f.k.a. ryuns)

      That was another topic that came up on their facebook page. Here’s our exchange:
      They said: “A new Month is here, and we are working on our beer list. Feel free to tell us what Beer you like. Please no domestic corporate beer.”

      I listed a bunch of great local stuff. (Not that I don’t love Belgian beers, but my expertise is closer to home and it’s hard to know what kind of Belgian stuff they could get on draught.)
      They said: “We will be featuring a few locals but mostly keeping it with German and Belgium.”

    • So, they mentioned grabbing a pretzel with a beer. I hope their idea of food extends a little bit beyond that & some packaged weiners boiled in beer. Let’s bring out the sauerbraten, schnitzels, rouladen, & other good stuff. Throw in a few authentic desserts, too. But that type of heavy food might be a tough sell.

  • Jason Tarman

    About time something happened with this property! Excellent concept conceptually and architecturally. Look forward to seeing some physical activity on this one soon……

  • Loni Foster

    I am former resident of this block of midtown and just because a business has “walls” doesn’t mean it contains the noise. The Golden Bear, right next door, has a large patio area that remains full and noisy until closing time at 2am. Der Biergarten won’t make the neighborhood any louder and I hope it gets the approval needed and look forward to spending some summer days there.

  • nolongerinsac

    Let’s hope this biergarten includes some St. Pauli style frauleins in dirndls.

  • William Burg

    The project is not going to the Planning and Design Commission, it is going to the Planning Director. The Planning Director hearing is scheduled for Thursday, March 21, at 3:00 PM at 300 Richards Boulevard, 3rd Floor. There is no sign indicating the meeting, and you have to be led through by staff (the meeting is held in a meeting room behind a security door)–tell them that you are there for the Planning Director meeting at the Planning desk in the 3rd floor lobby and ask to be shown to the meeting room.

    The planner on this project is David Hung. Comments, like those being made on this article, can be sent to him at dhung@cityofsacramento.org or at (916) 808-5530.

    • bye bye Sacpress

      Good info William. But geesh come on Sac planning… Have you ever heard of transparency and public access?

    • Colin Sueyres

      THANK YOU.

    • Ryan Schauland (f.k.a. ryuns)

      No way I’ll make that meeting, but I did email Mr Hung. I linked this article, because I think, given the sensitivity this group has about noise and quality of life issues in the grid, the support expressed here is a good indication that the project should be allowed to move forward.

    • Oh, whoop-dee-doo. 3PM on a weekday. I suppose the only people who can show up are the ones who don’t have jobs. Way to go. But then those types of middday, weekday meetings are the norm to limit the input from most of the working stiffs. Otherwise, it sounds like a great concept!

  • This is an easy call: if Vivian supports it, I will too. I wish Sean the best of luck! Perhaps they’d like a group bike ride to visit…. 🙂

  • Personally, I like the cargo container idea. Here’s a question for Sean, how portable are those containers on your end? For example if you wanted to change locations when the lease was up, could you essentially pick up and move to a different lot?

    • The containers could be disconnected from the foundation and all electrical and water capped off within a week. Put on the back of the delivery truck and placed on the next location. The city has asked us too clad the containers, so they don’t look like containers, so we would have to cosmetically fix them at the next location as there would be some damage.

  • jhar, please don’t take this the wrong way, but all you have to do to find out about neighborhood associations is to ask the city; when my wife and I moved to Midtown Four years ago, we went to the City’s website, typed “neighborhood associations” into the search box, and found this: http://www.cityofsacramento.org/ns/nadb/

    Was it that you didn’t know that organizations like this existed? If not, I understand–it’s part of a learning curve–but now that you do, I hope you’ll get more involved. 🙂

    • William Burg

      I didn’t know about any neighborhood associations until I had lived in the central city for ten years either–most are very small organizations with few members and miniscule budgets, so they have a hard time marketing themselves.

      Midtown Neighborhood Association only took on that name about 4 years ago–prior to that they were the Winn Park Neighborhood Association, then Winn Park/Capitol Avenue Neighborhood Association, and when some residents on the western end of Capitol Avenue near “the Handle” wanted to join, the name was changed to “Midtown Neighborhood Association” for simplicity’s sake.

  • James

    As somebody who has lived in Karlsruhe and Mannheim Germany I can’t wait for this to open.

    • Vielleicht sollten wir tragen unsere Lederhosen!

    • You don’t like LowBrau at 20th and K? I think it’s great–a real restaurant. You can even sit inside or outside

    • LowBrau is only a few blocks away and we have eaten there and enjoyed it more then a dozen times. A great place and we were both approaching the city at the same time. Two different concepts from food to atmosphere thou.

  • Brittany85 nailed it.
    “Sean has been bringing positive, upbeat establishments to the Sacramento area for years and has demonstrated immense accountability and responsibility in doing so.” and, “Sean knows how to cater to neighborhood and business needs”
    I agree with her completely. Sean has a proven track record in running businesses in Sacramento for over 25 years. He participates in community efforts to revitalize his hometown as well as Old town, and now (hopefully) Midtown. Lets get out out of each others’ ways, stop all the rhetoric and politics and get Sacramento growing again. Ironically, as I type this, the news is reporting that the Coca Cola bottling plant in Sacramento may be closing? Yet another business leaving Sacramento & California. So to the people in the community that oppose this, Growth is Good! Growth Works! Help stop the withering, Support this (and any other) Bona Fide business in our community!!!

    • Thanks Naki! It was honest opinion for sure. Change is a positive, especially with a project like this one! The concept reminds me of a place in the bay I frequented with my family as a child, just seans would have a more contemporary and (knowing sean) atmospheric approach. Stoked to see this happen!

  • I really hope this goes through, we need more people reinvesting into Sacramento and helping to revitalize those areas like this one that have been nothing but an empty lot for many years now. I understand the concerns but I think it will work out in the end.

    • Thanks Seamus, we to believe that more people should invest in the city rather then get free $$ to do so. This project is not cheap. We could have easily bought one of the local bars that are currently for sale at the cost of this project. Not to mention all the headaches we have dealt with.

  • I’ve stared at that empty gross lot forever, Sacramento get your act together and let people like Sean invest in the future in Sacramento.

  • I love it, especially the idea of relocating and expanding. The huge nasty lot on 19th & Q is big enough for a whole brewery! I would love to see this place grow to become something like that, especially with Brew It Up being gone.

  • Why not? #GoodForEveryone

  • Good Luck Sean with the new Bar… It looks beautiful…. Can’t wait ti visit it… What a great idea…

  • I fell in love with Germany during my visit in 2007. The food, the beer, the people. It will be great to have a little taste of that so close to home.

  • This is a great idea for the area, and if Sean is the one making it happen it will be done right. Can’t wait to come down for a visit, makes downtown Sacramento more appealing to me.

  • Wenn mann keinen Biergarten will, dann muss er französich sein! haha

  • Looking forward to this addition to our neighborhood. I have visited the River City Saloon and it is a nice establishment. Sean is a responsible owner and any addition to our local economy along with providing any new jobs can only be good!!! Good Luck!

  • This is a GREAT idea – you have my full support!!! Good-luck to you Sean!!!

  • Im sure its been said but i will add to it. Iam shocked how long it is taking the city to approve Sean to build a new business in town with so many companies leaving Sacramento you would think they would have been jumping at the opportunity. I hope that the ugly empty lot will soon be filled with the German beers and great food. Good luck to you Sean.

  • What a great venture other than just another cookie cutter bar redux. This can be a great asset providing residents with another fun and interesting option for socializiation and interaction in MidTown. Hopefully the city won’t discourage this special opportunity.

  • Scotty B

    Great concept and great for Midtown. The out of control party bars in midtown have already been established. Look at LowBrau, hipster, casual, late college, early career types mixed with normal folks. Establishments that can’t control the vibe within their walls and take pride in their brand and community have much bigger problems. I think this place will do very well. Imagine if it was open right now with this amazing weather we have!!! Good luch Sean!

  • BTW… Sean is half German and has been to Malsch, Germany a few times and does understand German Cultture!

  • Kent Strong

    This will be a great addition to Sacramento. I look forward to opening day.

  • I haven’t read all the comments so sorry if this is a duplicate. Lowbrau is not a beer hall in the traditional sense. It is a nightlife spot and we need a REAL beer garden, the two shouldn’t even be compared. The only common denominator is the Germanesque name. Zeitgeist in SF has a massive outdoor area and it is one of he most popular places in the mission. Sacramento people need something less of a scene, more laid back. This would be an amazing addition to all the new breweries opening up. A place where people can go, socialize, and enjoy great beer in a relaxed atmosphere.

  • I love Hayes Valley in SF and I know this concept would work in wonderful midtown Sacto! I am in full support and wish you well Sean and team to see this thru — your commitment is commendable!

  • Natalie Kuffel

    Am I the only one that remembers Roots N Kulcha? It was a Caribbean, vegan food truck that used to park on that lot. I think they went to the bay area after the anti-food truck ordinance passed in 2006. So the lot wasn’t completely empty for the last 10 years.

  • I wanted to go in Beergarden when i visit Sacramento on June
    Greetings from Germany

  • What happened to the containers?!!! I was hoping that when David Taylor became urban design manager Sac could finally start getting innovative with design. Not leading edge, that ship sailed a decade ago…but AT LEAST start playing catch up. Wallpapering the containers with a faux skin is EVEN WORSE…it’s a step backward. What a disappointment.

    • William Burg

      Kind of a Freudian slip there…David Taylor became urban design manager?

  • The Sacramento community needs more business owners as dedicated, enterprising and responsible as Sean Derfield. He has been in this business for decades and is an excellent businessman; more importantly he truly understands the delicate balance between business and the surrounding community.

  • This is such a GREAT concept!!! I can’t wait for this to be available. The idea of an outdoor venue is exactly what the area needs – especially with the weather coming and since Sean Derfield is involved you know it be done properly!!!!

  • Midtown Sacramento needs a business like this! It’s unique, eco-friendly, and well planned!! So many businesses come and go, with little to no concern regarding noise, garbage, and their carbon footprint so long as they had their spotlight and made their quick buck. I appreciate that Der BierGarten is looking at everything from their building materials to solar power and water reclamation. How many businesses are doing that??? Let’s not forget this is a business that will also bring much needed jobs to our city and will be putting an end to that unsightly corner that has been weed ridden and empty for years. I am truly disappointed that the city is taking so long to approve a project like this.

    Cheers, Sean Derfield, and thank you for being so conscientious. Not many restaurant/bar owners are this imaginative, intelligent, and responsible!!! Can’t wait to spend my summer days or nights at a place like this!

  • Looking forward to checking it out Sean. It will be a welcome addition to Sacramento.

  • Amy Bishop

    Sacramento needs more outdoor beer gardens like this – we have all this amazing weather, it’s a shame we can’t enjoy it more like this!

  • I mentioned shade is a must on their fb page a while ago when they posted drawings and they never replied. In Sacramento, especially the Summer this is a must. Good luck if you don’t have a plan in place for it…As far as All the bickering when it comes to bringing more business to downtown, what a waste of energy. These forums can be so juvenile!

  • 2, TWO, Dos, Zwei, YEARS to do anything in the City of Sacramento.

    Way to go to support local entrepreneurs. No wonder, you could go broke waiting.

  • We’ve had a lame city council that scares away the dreamers for over 40 years now. To say they lack direction is a gross understatement. If the BG doesn’t go through someone should reopen Pava’s!

  • You’re going to open up a Bier garden in one of the greatest craft beer cities in America and only serve German and Belgian beers? That is a little short sighted don’t you think? We’ve been kicking ass in European brewing competitions for a reason: American craft brew is freaking amazing.

    • Just a quick update. We will have locally brewed beer as well. But No corporate American beer. We have been visiting many local breweries and will have many rotating thru.

  • He says: “Der BierGarten isn’t the type of establishment to attract “a bunch of rowdy college kids.” It’s to be more family friendly, “stroller friendly” if you will, where people can grab a pretzel, soda or beer, and enjoy them outside picnic style.”

    We will see – of course people like to drink beer in volumes will love the place. You can’t ‘control’ who drinks there. Look out people – more drunks on the street for sure.

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