The Union Square Pavilion has been around since the 1930s. Putting the open-air limestone structure to good use, however, hasn’t been easy.
“The building was originally designed as a forum for community expression,” says Emily Setelin, the marketing lead of Torch & Crown Brewing Company. “It was a place to meet and gather. It’s why it was in the park.”
Since the rest of Union Square seems popular for that type of discourse, the focus of the pavilion — located on the park’s north end near the Greenmarket — shifted in recent decades. A few pop-up restaurants have made a go at the space, but never caught on or quite captured the right vibe.
You may know Torch & Crown — the SoHo restaurant/bar opened in late 2020, notable for its launch during the pandemic and for being Manhattan’s only working production brewery. Now that team, headed up by John Dantzler (Co-Owner and CEO) and Joe Correia (Co-Owner and Head Brewer), hopes to create something that not only lasts more than a few months but respects and utilizes everything Union Square has to offer.
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“A lot of prior concepts here haven’t played with what’s naturally available,” admits Dantzler, who notes that the beer garden launch (which was officially May 11) came only weeks after signing the lease. “When this space first became a restaurant, it was high-end. It felt stuffy. I remember coming here after shopping at the Greenmarket — I’d be in shorts and drinking a $20 beer. Union Square is a young and vibrant community; there are plenty of other high-end restaurants around here already. So we’re not overthinking this. It’s sit outside, enjoy a beer and maybe play some lawn games kind of space.”
While the new Torch & Crown will serve the same beer as its downtown location (including a cream ale, a hazy/fruity IPA and a summer seasonal called Share House), it’ll also offer a full bar and food options with ingredients sourced from the park’s market stalls.
As for the venue itself? The team couldn’t do too much to alter the existing architecture — the Pavilion is, after all, a historic building and overseen by the parks department. “It’s important to respect the space,” says Correia. “And that comes with challenges. For example, we have to break down the bar and lock everything up at night.”
But having a centrally located bar with plenty of outdoor space in New York also offers advantages. There are the aforementioned bar/lawn games (giant Jenga, cornhole, etc.), plus outdoor seating, communal tables and plenty of room for large groups. And on a nice day, “it’s the perfect location to sit on one of the stools, have a beer and people watch,” as Setelin notes.
Even though Torch & Crown only opened a few days ago, it’s already quite popular … proving that the space was just waiting for something easygoing, fun and unpretentious to occupy it. “Within 20 minutes of opening, we had booked a 100-person event,” Correia admits.
Even the beer itself is purposely approachable. “Beer is a wonderful social drink, but sometimes craft beer can feel too exclusive,” says the brewer. “If you dial back some of the great concepts and refine them, you get a drink that’s open to the entire community.” And a space that’s equally welcoming.
The Torch & Crown Beer Garden is located at 20 Union Square Park West. The brewery is also launching a pop-up in Montauk later this summer.
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