When Bill Larkin, the owner of Lawrenceville's Arsenal Cider House, decided to host BBQ master Justin "Hootie" Blakey for a cookout last year, a neighbor complained that Larkin didn't have the necessary permits. That prompted Larkin to realize that adding outdoor space would help grow business, so he purchased the adjoining lot from a medical-supply business and began work on the city's first cider garden.
"It took a few months to get all the politics sorted out, but once we had a permit, we built this out in two months," he says. In the interest of being a good neighbor, Larkin even included in the design a large gate that opens to allow light to flood into an adjacent garden.
Now, up to 265 fans of Arsenal Cider can spread out at tables, standing bars, and even bring their own picnic baskets and blankets anytime the cider house is open. Larkin says that Saturday afternoons will feature a regular rotation of music — and often food. Fridays and Sundays will likely also have entertainment in the future.
The garden is just one of a number of ways the Lawrenceville cidery is maturing. Larkin recently purchased a super-fancy filtration machine which, he says, "is going to really speed up production." That's a good thing, because he's already poured 12,000 gallons of cider this year ... and that's before reaching his busiest season (now through Christmas). By comparison, Arsenal served 10,000 gallons total last year.
Larkin also has a bottling machine, so expect bottles of Arsenal Cider sometime in the not-too-distant future. "People just really seem to like what we're doing," he says.
As for the garden, the upcoming change of season isn't going to slow it down. "We'll keep it open as long as people want to sit out here," Larkin says.
In fact, his wife Michelle adds, "Someone suggested we serve hot cider and have Santa out in the snow."