Around a minute to noon on Saturday, small groups of thirsty patrons eagerly waited for The Beer Can to open its doors for the season, basking in the 18 C warmth that would rise to a high of 22 C.
The popular pop-up outdoor beer garden, which enjoyed a successful inaugural summer last year near Main Street and St. Mary Avenue serving local beers, has officially launched its new location at the Granite Curling Club’s east parking lot, across Osborne Street from the Manitoba legislature.
Charlotte Cook-Dowsett, who works nearby, said she was keen to support a local business and has been counting down the days for the past week.
"They were a saving grace last summer during COVID," said Cook-Dowsett, who was first in line with her co-worker Meera Balkaran. "I live alone, so having that sanctuary and space… felt safe to be in the company of others."
"I feel like this is a place where we know that we’re going to feel safe and welcomed, and that’s an interesting balance in these times."
Staff inside the beer garden hurried around putting finishing touches on the place, wiping down tables, a drilling sound ringing in the air accompanied by the smell of freshly cut wood.
Shortly after noon, staff started welcoming people inside in their groups, a gentle breeze carrying the voice of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing.
Within an hour of opening, all of the tables were scooped up. Outside the compound, a growing line of socially distanced groups of visitors winded down Granite Way as curious passersby caught a glimpse of the excitement.
"I was expecting it to be busy, but… it is!" co-owner Jenna Khan laughed.
"I’m really excited," she said, after a brief moment of holding back tears, "especially with the winter we’ve had to have a space where people can hopefully come and connect with their family, with their friends that maybe they haven’t seen in close to a year."
Khan, who co-owns The Beer Can along with Brad Chute and Neil MacDonald, said she hopes guests can enjoy "a little bit of an escape" at the outdoor family and pooch-friendly venue, which, with its Assiniboine riverside location and umbrella-covered seating, gives off a holiday atmosphere.
The opening was a collective hustle, she said, with family and friends lending time to get the place ready.
Chute and MacDonald, who are both members at the city’s oldest curling club, opted to set up shop on the property in part to support the club, which didn’t run its season due to public health restrictions.
"We all really love the idea of making use of underutilized space in curling clubs or schools that are only used for a certain time of year," Khan said.
"That was part of the intrigue in looking at this space, and then the other part of it is just being able to provide a revenue stream for the Granite."
Khan said they plan on running a Thursday night concert series starting in June, with hopes of hosting live dance performances, music acts and theatre.
Seated in the shade near the back, Jacinthe Blab and Mike Oberding sipped on a glass of pinot grigio after finishing their plate of tacos — a new feature at The Beer Can.
"We’re just really, really excited that there is life popping up around here because we love to support the (Granite)," Blab said.
The couple said they felt safe inside The Beer Can but were disappointed by the uptick in cases this week. On Friday, the province counted 295 additional new cases with another 273 announced on Saturday.
"I feel just as comfortable here as I would, say in my own backyard because there’s that much space," Blab said.
"I find that most businesses… are trying their absolute best to keep people safe and also generate enough business to keep them alive."