When JP’s Turtle Swamp Brewery opened on Washington Street near Egleston Square, it brought some much needed energy to the corridor.
Now, about a mile down that same street, Turtle Swamp is bringing that same energy to Roslindale Square with the City’s first-ever permanent beer garden in the long-vacant substation building.
“I have now signed a long-term lease there for many, many, many years with the owner,” said John Lincecum, co-founder with Nik Walther of Turtle Swamp – which has a large production brewery with a small tap room on Washington Street in JP. “Signing that made it official for everyone. We have come in as Boston’s first permanent beer garden. It was zoned as a restaurant, but there was just no way anyone could build a restaurant. It would have cost millions of dollars. We really think this will be very significant.”
Turtle Swamp has operated a pop up taproom at the substation for the past few years on special occasions to get foot traffic and a family destination in the substation – in conjunction with Roslindale Main Streets and the City.
It was always a short burst of activity to complement the businesses and restaurants in the area – a large hall in the old substation that could handle music, entertainment and families.
But a temporary situation wasn’t what the owner – Peregrine Corp. – and the City wanted to see for Rozzie Square.
They wanted permanent, and Turtle Swamp came to realize their needs were perfectly in line with the City’s desires.
“Everyone was in a conundrum and what the City wanted was an anchor,” he said. “They wanted a tenant to commit. For better or worse, that’s what we did in JP. It wasn’t too big of a deal to bring my beer a mile down the road to a new, larger tap room. We love Roslindale. My kids go to school in Roslindale. It was a natural extension. Now we’re looking at the prospect of anchoring a neighborhood that’s up and coming. I’ve been offered opportunities in the Seaport, but we don’t want to go to the Seaport. We want to go to places like Roslindale.”
The substation in the Square has long been a topic of conversation, and many have tried to pitch it as a possibility for development. The substation was built in 1911 to provide electricity for the trollies when they switched over from horses to electricity. It is one of only a few trolley substations that are still in existence, and no one ever wanted to tear it down. That included Peregrine, who agreed in their condo development plans next door to save the substation somehow.
“It would have been tragic to tear it down and put up more condos,” said Lincecum.
For Turtle Swamp, one of their main businesses is brewing beer and distributing it to liquor stores and supermarkets. They brew about 8,000 barrels per year, which equals about 18,000 kegs of beer. In their JP brewery, they can the beer and process it to be sold in places like Whole Foods and Blanchard’s. Two years ago, the tap room aspect was put in as an experimentation area in JP and a way to move beer out the door as well. However, one surprise that came their way was how popular the tap room became for functions, special events and in-house entertainment. To their shock, people wanted to host events and come to events at the brewery – making it what Lincecum likes to call a ‘Third Space.’
But with the beer products growing in popularity and distribution, Lincecum said he needed to expand the brewery area in JP – which left the tap room there cramped.
That’s where the large substation in Roslindale Square came into play.
“We need the space in the brewery and I have a big space now that we can use as an event space,” he said. “That was the idea.”
Within the first three months, the Turtle Swamp space at the substation has 70 events planned. There are special events, birthdays, weddings and some very popular brewery events.
One is a Friday Night Jam session where musicians can jump in and out of the lineup in an improvised setting. They also have a Young Classical Music Night every third Thursday where a local resident who plays as an alternate trumpeter with the Boston Symphony Orchestra leads an event.
“Think the impossible: dueling Marimbas,” laughed Lincecum. “They did that and it was amazing.”
Lincecum said he has made a very deliberate decision not to compete with the great restaurants in the Square, hoping to be a complement to them. However, he is in partnership with Exodus Bagels from JP to offer Sunday Brunch items and sandwiches.
“It’s been surprising how quickly Roslindale responded once they knew this was taken long-term,” he said. “It’s been really fun for me. Roslindale would benefit from an anchoring business and we’re honored to be that business…My overall hope is with the concentration of restaurants and with the brewery there now, it will be a bit of a destination.”