Hop Lot

Hop Lot Brewing: The Best Outdoor Space in America for Pandemic Drinking?

In Beer Reviews by Karl

We’ve got six reasons why you need to head to the Hop Lot beer garden for safe drinks ASAP:

After spending the past three months inside, we safely and carefully made our way up to Northwest Lower Michigan last week. The Traverse City area is a regular destination for us, and this isn’t the first time we’ve visited Hop Lot Brewing in Sutton’s Bay, but this is our first visit since a recent expansion at least doubled the space.

Even in non-pandemic times, it’s a great time to drink beer outside. But the most important thing we were looking for was an extremely safe place to drink beer.

We found it. Here’s why we love the Hop Lot beer garden so much right now:

#1: So. Much. Space.

Hop Lot

See way back there? Way back behind the trees, just to the left of the wooden building? That’s the entrance. It’s way the hell away from our table.

Upon arrival, guests queue into socially-distanced a line and are taken by an employee to a table or a space around their many fire pits, which they use year-round. We asked to be taken to a table way the hell in the back, separated from the main area (which is also quite well spaced for safely walking through).

We were easily 50+ feet away from anyone else there. And when you haven’t been outside for about a quarter of a year, you need a few extra yards of comfort during a pandemic.

#2: All Ordering Is Done Online

Hop Lot
The view of Hop Lot’s … well, lot.

No standing in line behind other drinkers to get a beer at the bar. No server standing over you with a notepad, waiting for you to make up your mind. You just go online, order some drinks and food, and in a few minutes it’s right there (and yes, you can and should tip).

No waiting to get the tab after you’re done, either — each transaction is a complete process and once you’re done, just get up, put your masks on and head out.

#3: Incredibly Clear Instructions, Directions and Expectations for Guests:

Hop Lot outdoor rules for contactless serving

No question about what to do here. All bases covered. All you have to do is put on your mask, get to your table (each numbered specifically for deliveries) and follow all the steps. It looks like a lot, but it’s pretty simple if you have a phone and a credit card. They’ve got Wi-Fi available, too.

All of this reinforces the idea that they’ve thought this out quite thoroughly … which makes every guest feel safer. Also not unnoticed — nothing flashy here, everything is on simple printer paper so guests can dispose of them after each use. Or pitched in the fire pit. That works too.

#4: Private Table Dropoff for Contactless Dining and Drinking:

The only reason this table exists is to put beer on so you can safely pick it up at a distance from your server.

After you place your order through the website, the beer runners bring your selections out — but not to your table.

At most if not all of the distanced tables, there is a separate side table a few feet away where your beers are placed. Guests then are instructed to pick up their beers and bring them to their seats on their own.

The food works similarly — each table has a buzzer, when the buzzer go off, you queue up on a spaced-out line and pick up your menu items. All of this is with the intent of keeping everyone’s hands to themselves as much as possible. I don’t think we were ever within 6 feet of our server — which is great for not just us, but them too. They don’t know where we’ve been! We’re from Chicago! (We told them that and they didn’t immediately kick us out or anything.)

#5 Also Important: The Beer and Food Is Pretty Good!

You’re not just here because it’s a nice-looking outdoor spot that feels safe to be at right now. Hop Lot’s menu options are also quite enjoyable.

I think you’ll find that the dark beers are the overall star, especially their top-tier brown ale, but you won’t go wrong with their porter or Scotch ale, both reliably available even during summer. They’ve also got the requisite IPA and session IPA, plus a cream ale and a couple lagers to round out the list.

They also offer a variety of ciders and wine options, all under the Hop Lot name, and apparently the sparkling rose is pretty good too.

Foodwise, you’ve got a pulled pork sandwich, a spicy fried chicken sandwich, and some tacos (including an excellent elote taco). Apps include smoked wings, pickle fries, chips and salsa and soft pretzels.

It wouldn’t be a TC-area menu without something cherry related on there too — here it’s a cherry chicken wrap.

All of these items are better than they need to be, given the draw of the surroundings. They could drop frozen crap straight off the Sysco truck and into the fryer if they wanted to, but I’m glad to note that there’s some extra care being tended to everything.

#6: A River Literally Runs Through It.

Okay, so it’s a nice little creek. And it’s behind the space, not in the middle of it. But still, how many breweries have you been to lately that have a bubbling brook 20 feet from your table?

That’s what I thought. Not many.

It’s nice to be able to eat and drink in public after the last few months of safer-at-home orders. More important is making sure people feel safe. Hop Lot gave us the ability to leave our residence with confidence that we weren’t taking any unnecessary risks. I didn’t think I’d feel so comfortable in public at first, but it quickly felt great to be back outside.

You should go. Also, go wash your hands. And clean your phone screen while you’re at it, that thing’s probably filthy. But yeah, go to Hop Lot. Have a beer. Breathe deeply. Feel about as safe as you can ask for.

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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers.If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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